The most complex film of this period is perhaps the least known: The Straits of Love and Hate (1937), loosely inspired by Tolstoy’s much-filmed Resurrection, which had been one of the staples of Japanese film adaptation in the silent era. Here the balance between distance and involvement is perfectly achieved – one sympathizes profoundly with the ill-treated heroine while remaining aware of the social conditions which create her plight. In fact, of all Mizoguchi’s prewar films, this is the most positive in its feminism: his heroine is not doomed, but permitted to rebel successfully against the cruel patriarch who seeks to separate her from her child. By comparison the rather better known Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (1939), for all its staggering formal beauty, is a little monotonous emotionally. Another story of a woman who sacrifices herself so that the man she loves – a kabuki actor – can achieve professional fulfillment, it is as affecting as any film Mizoguchi made, but the emotional complexities which give The Straits of Love and Hate, Five Women Around Utamaro (1946) or A Woman of Rumour (1954), amongst others, their enduring fascination, are less visible. Mizoguchi compensates with one of his most astonishing exercises in mise-en-scène: a stylistic mastery which is admittedly a little less closely bound up with the experiences and feelings of his characters than was generally the case in his work. Even so, his style in this film, confining actors to a single plane within an expansive screen space, using repeated sound effects as leitmotifs, is unique in the cinema of its period, and confirms Mizoguchi as one of the great avant-garde directors. —Senses of Cinema
Kenji Mizoguchi entered the film world as a promoter of Western novelty in Japanese cinema and exited it as an acclaimed international director who exemplified Japan at its most traditional. After The Life of Oharu and Ugetsu won prizes in successive Venice Film Festivals in the early ‘50s, Mizoguchi became an icon for the nascent French New Wave. His mastery of mise-en-scène was lauded by Jacques Rivette, while Jean-Luc Godard praised his metaphysics and his stylistic elegance. Mizoguchi is still recognized as one of the 20th century’s greatest filmmakers. Born in Tokyo, in 1898, Mizoguchi was the middle child of a roofer/carpenter. His family’s financial situation went from modest to desperate when his erratic, dreamer father tried to make a killing by selling raincoats to the military during the Russo-Japanese war. Not having enough money for food, Mizoguchi’s older sister was put up for adoption at age 14. She was later sold to a geisha house. Mizoguchi himself… read more
Mizoguchi's adaptation of Tolstoy's Resurrection is sadly in very poor condition these days. The print I saw was muddy and dark but amidst the gloom we can still see the beauty of Mizoguchi's compositions and his daring use of deep focus. His camera pulls back to a discreet distance to tell the emotionally complex story of a girl made pregnant by her irresponsible lover. A lost gem in desperate need of restoration...
I would probably give this 5 stars if I'd seen a version with legible subtitles. Even so, the staggering formal beauty and emotional subtlety far outpaces his breakthroughs Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion. If someone would do a better translation, I could confirm that it's a masterpiece.
Agreed. A proper translation as well as a restoration (the film is in terrible shape for those who don't know) would make viewing this alot easier. What's incredible is that there's still so much to admire formally, but I have to admit I had a difficult time focusing because of the rather low quality of the only available print I've seen.
A rare poster for a missing Mizoguchi, and some other of his posters of the 1920s and 30s.