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August 05, 2011

The Woman in the Rumour

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Uwasu no Onna
Kenji Mizoguchi - 1954
Eureka! Masters of Cinema Region 2 DVD

Released about five months prior to Chikamatsu Monogatari, The Woman in the Rumour (and yes, I'm using the British title here), was a studio imposed project. The story is essentially about a young woman, Yukiko, who returns home following a suicide attempt, after a broken engagement. Her fiance's family objected to Yukiko's mother running a Kyoto brothel, still legal during this time. The mother, Hatsuko, brings in a doctor, Matoba, to examine Yukiko. While the daughter gradually opens up about her disappointment in love, and her objections to the brothel, Hatsuko looks to setting up the young doctor with his own practice, and a more intimate relationship. Things go badly when Matoba reveals his love for Yukiko. The younger women, meanwhile, sees how her mother supports her employees, who often work out of economic necessity on behalf of their respective families. The title refers to Hatsuko, who is unaware of how others see her relationship with Matoba.

I might sound heretical to some, but when I saw this film I thought about Douglas Sirk. This is not simply in terms on the essential narrative, two women of different ages in love with the same, idealized, man. Also there is the consideration of how a filmmaker can simultaneously fulfill his artistic ideas while at the same time fulfilling the mandates of the studio, much like Sirk did, working on behalf of producer Ross Hunter and Universal Studios. This also is a reminder of some aspects of writing about films from other countries as there is less thought about the commercial or studio demands made upon a filmmaker. This is not to take Kenji Mizoguchi down a peg or two, but to note that he was no more an independent artist than peers like Sirk, Vincente Minnelli or Nicholas Ray.

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The Woman in the Rumour is also an illustration of the gap between what filmmaker may express and their personal lives. Again, Tony Rayns introduction is helpful on that score. Foremost might be Mizoguchi's prickly relationship with prostitutes and actresses. When Rayns mentioned that Mizoguchi regularly went to the "pleasure quarters", I swore I heard the head of Herman G. Weinberg's ghost explode. Which reminds me, that I need to see Street of Shame again. At any rate, Mizoguchi, far from condemning prostitution, was only against women forced into the profession according to Rayns.

The character of the young doctor may be Mizoguchi's proxy, and again provides a mixed reading of the film. Yukiko discusses her education as a pianist, and mentions how women are generally less valued than men. Matoba presents himself as a more enlightened male, encouraging Yukiko to again pursue her musical ambitions, and at the same time explaining that the women who work for Hatsuko are not to be seen as victims. At the time the film was made, Kinuyo Tanaka, the woman who played Hatsuko, had also become Japan's first female film director. A frequently used actress in Mizoguchi's films, Mizoguchi attempted to use his influence to keep Tanaka from taking on a second directorial assignment. In addition to having a former muse become, to some extent, a competitor, I suspect Mizoguchi chafed at the idea of Tanaka taking on a project written by critical rival Yasujiro Ozu. The Woman in the Rumour was Mizoguchi's last collaboration with Tanaka.

In black turtleneck shirts, her hair pinned back in a boyish cut, and slender frame, Yoshiko Kuga, as Yukiko, made me think often of Audrey Hepburn or Jean Simmons. I've seen Kuga in other films, most notably Zero Focus, where she stars as the wife in search of a missing husband she barely knew. Coincidentally, Kuga starred in Kinuyo Tanaka's directorial debut, Love Letter. Kuga never became famous outside of Japan, and I wonder if it was because no one thought to exploit her similarity to Hepburn or Simmons. This still photograph indicates another side of Kuga that inspires a deeper look into her filmography. Tanaka might have played the title character in The Woman in the Rumour, but the film becomes Yoshiko Kaga's, especially in the final scene, when Yukiko cheerfully accepts her fate to follow in the path of her mother.

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Posted by peter at August 5, 2011 08:07 AM