Miss Oyu (1951)

I picked up the Masters of Cinema Late Mizoguchi box recently, which bundles together their four volumes of 1950s Mizoguchi twofers. That’s pretty much how I come to have watched this, as I already had the Criterion Ugetsu and likely wouldn’t have double-dipped just to get this otherwise. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I would’ve been missing much either. Mizoguchi seems to have been fairly unhappy with the film himself, and Tony Rayns’ DVD introduction suggests what he calls the “miscasting” of the title role might’ve been at least one of the reasons why… apparently Kinuyo Tanaka was an enormous star of Japanese cinema (not to mention its first female director), and I apparently have seen her in a few films, but I don’t actually know anything more about her than what Rayns says about her being too strong an actress to properly play a character as repressed as Oyu is meant to be. She’s a widow who’s still bound to her husband’s family, according to custom, and cannot remarry until they release her. That liberation will come, and rather horribly, but too late: Shinnosuke has his eye on her (and, apparently, likewise), but must settle for Oyu’s sister Oshizu, who effectively throws herself away so he can still be close to Oyu. Oyu, though, seems to see it as more a case that she can stay close to her sister; when the latter confesses why she married Shinnosuke, I think I at least partly understood the idea of Kinuyo Tanaka being miscast in her role cos I didn’t believe her at this point. It’s hard to entirely disagree with the point made here that the plot kind of sounds like something out of a screwball farce; maybe it would’ve been more palatable if the whole self-sacrifice of Oshizu business were less hard to accept. Points to Mizoguchi for not letting this get any more unnecessarily melodramatic than it already is, but there’s something about the whole thing I found awfully difficult to like.

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