Women of the Night (1948)

This Mizoguchi film often gets discussed in terms of neorealism, but I’ve seen one review that also characterises in terms of film noir, and that’s an interesting perspective too. Once again we have a tale of two sisters (plus a sister-in-law), but there’s a crucial difference at work between this and Sisters of the Gion: by now it’s post-war, not pre-war (albeit still a conservative society under occupation), and we’re dealing with prostitution rather than geisha. Fusako loses her husband (whose family she stayed with) and her small child and gradually drifts into prostitution; Natsuko returns from Korea (where their parents were evacuated to, and died) and enters an affair with her sister’s boss, who runs a nightclub and smuggles opium on the side. Needless to say, this won’t end well. Mizoguchi apparently repudiated his late 40s films, including this, for their “barbarism” after converting to Buddhism in 1950, and there is a certain roughness to the film. Neorealism gets invoked thanks to the somewhat mediocre film stock he was apparently forced to shoot with (the print on the Eclipse disc is OK, but never exactly beautiful to watch) and his location work, but some parts, particularly the ending, involve a kind of expressionism that jars badly with those other scenes. Plus the storytelling involves some passages of time that are elided poorly and so don’t adequately prepare the viewer for certain changes in Fusako’s character. It’s pretty harrowing stuff, though—it would’ve had to be emasculated if it had been shown in America at the time—and if the first two films in this box set offer the unpromising thought that Japanese women can’t count on men to not be bastards, Women of the Night offers the more despairing vision that they can’t count on their fellow women to be any better either.


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