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June 17, 2005

Bad Guy /Lady of Musashino

Lady of Musashino
Kenji Mizoguchi - 1951
Region 2 DVD

Bad Guy
Kim Ki-Duk - 2001
DVD

Two films came in from Nicheflix that unintentionally complimented each other. Made fifty years apart, the films are linked by shared theme of a woman's honor. Where they are different is that Mizoguchi's fallen women, whether that descent is real or percieved, often commit suicide at the end of the film in response to the codes of society. Kim's female protagonists live by their own moral code in defiance of society.

Mizoguchi's film takes place in an area outside of Tokyo in the years following World War Two. Michiko is introduced as the dutiful daughter who has impulsively married a teacher, Tadao.
Just before he dies, Michiko's father discusses the marriage and characterizes Tadao as vulgar. Shortly after, Michiko's cousin, a former soldier and prisoner of war, Tsutomu, returns to Musashino. Mizoguchi dramatizes the post war search for absolute moral values by positing the platonic love between Michiko and Tsutomu against Tadao's attempts at adultery in the name of rebellion towards social order.

All of the men are opportunistic and deluded. Tadao sees himself as a version of Stendahl's Julien Sorel, and sees the post war era as a time to fulfill his desires as the wartime demand for self-sacrifice is over. Michiko's other cousin, Eiji, has profitted from manufacturing munitions. With the war over, he persuades Michiko to mortgage her land so he may keep his business, lessening her security. Tsutomu, returning to college, has some casual affairs with other students who share his nihilistic viewpoint. He also becomes absorbed with the history of Masushino.

Michiko can be viewed as also deluded. Her actions are guided by thoughts of not shaming the family name. There is no traditional family following the death of Machiko's parents. Her own marriage is characterized by both her and her husband as loveless. It is also childless. The family name idealized by Machiko ends with her. Her cousin Eiji has a tradional family, but his marriage is also described as loveless. Eiji is open about his affairs. Tsutomu has thus far lived with situational families - the military, his cousin, and other students.

Mizoguchi concludes with the encouragement to live in the world as it is. Musashino's identity as a separate city has given way to its merging with metro Tokyo. Likewise Tsutomu has to find a way to live that is not rooted in a long lost past, nor is totally transient.

Mizoguchi's final film was about prostitutes, Street of Shame. The prostitutes of Bad Guy are less idealized. While Mizoguchi's characters are often in their situations due to an otherwise hopeless situation, Kim's characters are less thoughtful, living on instinct and impulse. We are introduced to Sun-hwa as a college student, waiting on a park bench for her boyfriend. Han-ki, a street punk, is sitting on the bench, occassionally glancing at Sun-hwa. Her boyfriend initiates a fight with Han-ki who grabs and kisses Sun-hwa. The fight spills to the street and ends with several soldiers holding down Han-ki. Sun-hwa spits on his face. Later, Sun-hwa is seen at a bookstore by Han-ki. He has a crony leave an wallet near her. Sun-hwa is caught stealing the wallet. She finds herself taking out loan for money that is claimed to be missing by her "victim", for $15,000.00 with her face and body as security. The only way she can repay the loan is by working as a prostitute for Han-ki. For Mizoguchi, the prostitutes are victims due to circumstances. Sun-hwa's dishonesty to herself and others has forced her into prostitution.

The pimps, prostitutes and gangsters of Bad Guy are the marginalized of society. The characters live in an insular society that has its own peculiar code. Sun-hwa's eventual acceptance of her fate is counterpointed by the emergence of Han-ki's stunted humanity. The ideal of Mizoguchi's world has been replaced by ambiguity, ambivalence and resignation. In a recent interview, Kim discusses that his goal for the audience is to be "psychologically happy". "I wish to show human behavior and human nature rather than show talking. I think actions are a more powerful media to deliver my message. There are no lies in the movements of human beings. They are honest, no matter whether it is good or bad."

Kim's films are now getting theatrical release in the United States. While I have his other available films in my rental queues, I strongly recommend The Isle for those who haven't seen it. This is one of the best films in terms of visual composition, perhaps more striking now when too many contemporary directors seem to plant the camera without thinking. What also makes Kim interesting is that he deliberately pares down dialogue with the goal of making his films understood visually, by the widest audiences possible. Says Kim, "I think that laughter and crying are the best dialogue."

Posted by peter at June 17, 2005 04:31 PM