Saturday, July 23, 2011

WOMEN OF THE NIGHT (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1948, Japan)

A tale of two sisters of diametrically opposed alignments who are consumed by post-war poverty and the need to survive in a patriarchal society. Director Kenji Mizoguchi directs his attention once again to the troubled lives of woman, suffering the insufferable burden of moral obligation in a world of the double-standard.

Fusako stumbles through the rubble strewn streets of post-war Osaka desperately trying to sell her summer clothes for a few yen. He child is dying of tuberculosis and she needs money for medicine and food, while awaiting word of her husband’s return from the war. Mizoguchi’s neo-realistic style is reminiscent of Rossellini’s War Trilogy as he weaves the diseased environment into the very fabric of the narrative. Fusako is revealed to be a good wife, abiding by the strict cultural mores, and even states that she couldn’t face her husband if the child dies: a telling statement that reflects her desire to adhere to her matronly position of duty and honor, even though she has no control over life and death. Soon her world crumbles around her, like the very city that she haunts, and she becomes a ghost of her former self, her vampiric existence walking the streets in need of sustenance: money.

Mizoguchi doesn’t shy away from this deplorable nightlife, the filthy streets and morality, as hatred consumes Fusako; she becomes a wraith full of syphilis and vows to pass on this deadly burden to every man she touches. Her sister Natsuko, once seemingly the black sheep, consorts with a drug dealer but has never pimped her body for profit or need. Mizoguchi does not judge these sisters but allows sympathy and insight into their now inhuman condition, the elemental conspiracy that has almost destroyed them: they are victims. More importantly, Mizoguchi directs the blame at the system, both religious and patriarchal, that enables this debasement. It’s the men who pay for sex, and it’s the Church who fails to understand their impoverished needs, blaming the woman for only wanting to “have fun” instead of work real jobs.

The final scene becomes a Hieronymus Bosch triptych as Fusako attempts to leave the fold but is beaten into submission, her sacrifice to enable another to escape. The prostitutes scream, pummel, and gnash teeth in a rubble strewn church yard where the Virgin Mary is only glass, fragile and opaque. Fusako is not blinded by faith or deceived by good intentions; abandoned by an opaque god, she can only rely on herself.

Final Grade: (B)

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