Osaka Elegy (1936)

The first film from the Kenji Mizoguchi box from Eclipse. Our heroine is Ayako, the switchboard girl at a pharmaceutical company, who finds herself the focus of two disintegrating families (three if you count the relationship between her and the man she loves that doesn’t even get the chance to start first): her own and that of her boss. The boss is a bitter, resentful old prick, unhappy with his lot and in search of a mistress. Ayako’s father is, meanwhile, about to be sued for embezzlement by the company he works for. Put someone who needs money together with someone who’d be happy to give it with certain strings attached, and you pretty much have the motivating force behind Osaka Elegy‘s narrative, which is about as heavy as it sounds; is it just me or is the word “comedy” rarely mentioned in the same breath as Mizoguchi’s name? Anyway, this was his fifty-somethingth film (even Mizoguchi didn’t know how many films he’d made in the silent era before it) in just thirteen years, yet it still has an oddly “early work” feel. Mizoguchi himself said this was his first “serious” film and other critics appear happy to accept the idea (impossible to verify in the absence of almost all his earlier work, of course) that here he finally became “Mizoguchi”. However, his undeniable sympathy for his female leads is usually tempered by the little hope he offers them in the face of Japanese manhood, and so it is here: the men in this film are, frankly, a pack of ungrateful and rather useless cunts who all let her down in some way or other, particularly the father (who she saves from legal action) and her brother (who comes home demanding money to pay for his tuition, which she gets for him) who both turn her out of her home as if she’d done nothing for them. It was a powerful kick in the teeth to the increasingly right-wing Japanese society of the 1930s (and would be banned during WW2), but it’s not the most uplifting viewing.


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