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Kenji Mizoguchi: Fallen Women: Eclipse Series 13 (The Criterion Collection)

Machiko Ky˘ , Aiko Mimasu , Kenji Mizoguchi    Unrated   DVD

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Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Art, Missing Parts Dec 10 2008
By William Shriver - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
THE SET: I'm finding there is a sort of "as is" quality to Criterion's Eclipse Series. It appears from the running times of these films that Criterion has used the same versions that came out on VHS in 1979. Critic Tadao Sato, who wrote on Mizoguchi's work in 2006, was able to view complete copies of the films. That being the case, I wonder why these films are missing a collective total of 75 minutes?

Here's the damage: 18 mins. missing from OSAKA ELEGY, 26 mins. from SISTERS OF THE GION, and 31 mins. from WOMEN OF THE NIGHT. Of the films collected here, only STREET OF SHAME is offered in its entirety. So, as I look at the films below, I have to view them as I do the Venus de Milo--parts are missing, yes, but the greatness of the art still shows.

OSAKA ELEGY (1936) Isuzu Yamada stars in this and in SISTERS OF THE GION. She had recently come out as a lesbian and was in a great deal of family turmoil. Mizoguchi harnessed that defiance in the two films; had it not seeped in, the films would have been relatively simple stories about the victimization of women. Instead, in OSAKA ELEGY, Yamada (as Ayako) is a skilled passive-aggressor in her own right. The men surrounding her are weak. She manipulates situations to her advantage, but all in the interest in restoring her family's fortunes. Inevitably, she is rejected by the loved ones she has saved from ruin, and is left to an uncertain future. In style, the film is naturalistic, yet full of eloquent tracking shots. If Truffaut was right that every tracking shot is a moral judgment, then there is real shock in the final two shots, which cut from a tracking shot alongside the homeless Ayako to a frontal shot in which she purposefully charges the camera, looking directly into the lens. It is a great cinematic moment, one which launched Mizoguchi as a serious film director. [4 stars]

SISTERS OF THE GION (1936) Locale is hugely important in these early films. Just as scenes of Osaka's bunraku puppet theatre counterbalance the melodrama of OSAKA ELEGY, the environs of Kyoto's medieval Yasaka Shrine are a meaningful setting for SISTERS. It is a feudal world hanging on in modern society, with it's pleasure-giving women the last class of slaves. Omocha (Yamada) is a geisha who has been educated in public school. She has freethinking ideas that don't conform to those of her highly traditional sister, Umekichi. Again, the mean are weak and short-sighted, and from Omocha's perspective, begging to be fleeced. Mizoguchi's reputation as a "feminist filmmaker" is solidified in Omocha's final speech, as she rails against the institution of the geisha. [4.5 stars]

WOMEN OF THE NIGHT (1948) In this post-war film, Mizoguchi shifts his concern from the formal world of the geisha, to the underworld of the panpan girl. Seamlessly blending location work in bombed-out Osaka with studio sets, the director tells three intertwined stories in a way that feels very modern. Mizoguchi's later style is evident from the beginning, where a reverse angle suddenly turns a public market into a private space for intimate conversation. It is the sort of shift that recurs in all the later masterpieces. The three stories document three sisters' different trajectories into and out of prostitution. The men are not uniformly spineless, as in the two earlier films. Two male characters urge the women to a virtuous life, yet it is hard to know whether to take that at face value. They do offer alternatives out of prostitution, and Mizoguchi never shows the panpan girls as mere victims. Clearly, Mizoguchi does not subscribe to the theory of social determinism, and the subject of free will figures into the complexity of this masterpiece. [5 stars]

STREET OF SHAME (1956) In the last film before his death, Mizoguchi uses five protagonists to examine prostitution in the broader context of the servitude of women in society at large. As the radio blares news of a parliamentary debate over anti-prostitution laws, Mizoguchi steps back to show dispassionately the day-to-day workings of a brothel. The movie seems to take human exploitation as a given, and when the five prostitutes try marriage or return to family, their lives actually get worse. After spending a career focusing on this particular societal ill, Mizoguchi seems to suggest that it may be better than the alternatives. Ironic that the anti-prostitution bill passed after the release of STREET OF SHAME, and just before Mizoguchi's death. [5 stars]

It's interesting to watch these films in the order that they were made. OSAKA ELEGY has a single protagonist; SISTERS OF THE GION has two protagonists; WOMEN OF THE NIGHT has three; and, STREET OF SHAME has five. Mizoguchi seems to have been working from a micro perspective of his subject to a macro view, and in the process his subject went from being the stuff of a personal tragedy to that of a societal cancer. Even so, these films are not political tracts. Rather, they are personal films full of vivid female characters we cannot fully pity but who deserve much admiration.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fallen women were his obsession Dec 3 2008
By blue - Published on Amazon.com
This box set consists four excellent films of a great master, Mizoguchi who were obsessed with the stories of suffering women. Sometimes I have to agree with people who call him a sexist because of this, his favorite theme, with which he beautified the images of fallen women in so many of his films. However, I think his sexism was more complex than the simple belief of male superiority. As many Japanese men in those days grew up with witnessing their mothers and sisters sacrificed themslves for their husbands, sons and brothers, also most of Japanese women used to be forced to get married with men whom their parents chose, they usually loved their sons more than their spouses, you can see a strong tendency of oedipus-complex in many Japanese classic films. As a matter of fact, I see the similarities in films from Italy where boys are raised by their strong mothers(or is it just a stereo type?). Two of the films of this set are from pre-war era and considered his turning point works. And especially I loooove "Sisters of Gion" which is the story of two Geisha sisters, the older one is very traditional and the younger one is the very modern thinker, who believes Geisha is the profession to manipulate men, which is a bit unusual as Mizoguchi's heroines. Though I adore this character brilliantly played by young Isuzu Yamada, of course she has to fall as this is Mizoguchi's film, and at the end of the story, she gets hurt terribbly and says "Why does a thing like Geisha have to exist in this world?" And her sentiment reflects in some characters of "Street of Shame" which is Mizoguchi's final film. The young prostitute, who sacrificed herself to raise the bail money for his father, also believes she has to manipulate men. And the middle aged one, who has a sick husband and a baby, says "What kind of civilized country is this? A woman has to sell her body to survive and still cannot feed her family. But I am not gonna die, I will live through this to see what it will lead to" when her husband attempeted a suicide. This movie is also one of my favorites of Mizoguchi's and features the amazing assembly of superb actresses, it's almost a bloody battle, the most notably Aiko Mimasu's unforgettable performance as an old prostitute who goes insane because of being dumped by her own son. Yes, it is true that Mizoguchi beautified or even idealized the misery and struggle of women, but still it cannot be helped to be impressed by these Mizoguchi women's strong instinct of survival, either they express it agressively or passively. I have a mixed feeling about this set, I think pre-war films and post-war films better be gathered separately like Ozu's sets from Criterion, or probably "Sisters of Gion" and "Street of Shame" deserved to be released as an indivisual DVD with extras like commentary. Well, I really hope they keep putting Mizoguchi's great films on DVD along with other great directors' films like Naruse's and Kinoshita's. BTW some pics used on the cover of this box set are not from these four films, even one of them is from Shiro Toyoda's "Geese", I guess the person who was in charge of the artwork does not know much about films.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Speaking For The Downtrodden Nov. 8 2012
By Bryan A. Pfleeger - Published on Amazon.com
Kenzi Mizoguchi is probably the least known of Japan's great directors. Over his lifetime he made over eighty films spanning the twenties through the fifties. Mizoguchi's fascination was with the women on the lowest socioeconomic rung of Japanese society:the geisha and the prostitutes.

Eclipse Series 13 explores four of his most powerful films on this subject and takes a look at how Japan was slowly changing its culture to meet the needs of these women. The set is dived into prewar and postwar films.

Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion both from 1936 are both exceptional films. Osaka Elegy explores a woman's fall from grace as she resorts to a compromising relationship in order to alleviate her family's economic woes. Sisters of the Gion tells the story of two sisters, both geisha and how their outlook on their profession influences how they see tthe world.

The post war Women of the Night(1948) explores the common prostitute in a neorealist type production with non professional actors and rough camara wor. Street of Shame (1956) which would be Mizoguchi's last film takes am almost clinical approach to the daily life of five women working in the Dreamland brothel at a time when the government was tring to outlaw their profession.

The set brings together four films that would not ordinarily been available. For this they are to be commended. The editions look as good as this source material is likey to look and sound. There is some question about the running times of these films being altered but I'm not sure on that point since the films do appear to be complete. As is the case with the Eclipse series no extra features except liner notes are provided.

Well worth the time spent viewing.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful collection from one of Japan's premiere classic film directors April 3 2012
By Christopher Barrett - Published on Amazon.com
I agree with the other reviews, that this is an amazing four film collection. This missing segments are short and not really important overall. I think that perhaps the reels Criterion used either had parts missing or beyond restoration. Sadly this happens with many classic Asian films (and pre 1945 European films).

The main reason I am adding this review is to let buyers know that Amazon.com is rather high on their price. The actual Criterion website sells this set NEW for $47.96 (as of 4/3/2012) and includes free shipping if you spend $50. I just wanted to point this out so Amazon can get in gear and adjust their price to match the manufacturer price. Or do like I did, just buy from Criterion, or buy a used copy from a reputable seller.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No, not the Twilight movie... March 3 2011
By Michael Valdivielso - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Henji Mizoguchi's work is a study of how Japan treated women, and how they treated themselves, over a period of many years. In fact the first film in the collection is from 1936 and the last is from 1956, which means we follow the lives of women from before World War Two, and see how the war effected their lives aftwards. It is hard to do these films justice and, I have to say, they can get very depressing if watched all together. The endings rarely hold out any hope for the women, as they are really directed towards Japanese society do something to help them. They are mirrors he placed in front of the viewers to see a part of their nation that few dared to even notice. To understand them you do need to understand the times and settings they were made in, so be sure to read the inserts. I liked the fact that the women are not shown as weak, but strong characters trapped in ways they just can't deal with. They don't want to be lectured, sometimes they don't even want to be helped - they just want to be allowed to have a life. A normal life. If you enjoyed these films I would also suggest When a Woman Ascends the Stairs: Criterion Collection which is just as powerful but maybe not as depressing.
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