by Allan Fish
(Japan 1937 89m) not on DVD
Aka. Aien kyo
All your answers were “no”s
d Kenji Mizoguchi w Kenji Mizoguchi, Yoshikata Yoda, Matsutaro Kawaguchi novel “Eesurrection” by Leo Tolstoy ph Minoru Miki ed Mitsuo Kondo, Tatsuko Sakane m Mizuo Ukogami art Hiroshi Mizutani
Fumiko Yamaji (Ohumi Murakami), Masao Shimizu (Kenkichi), Seizaburo Kawazu (Yoshi), Yutaka Mimasu (Kenkichi’s father), Ichiro Sugai (Sanjuro Mori), Haruo Tanaka (Hirose), Kumeko Urabe (Ume), Kaoru Nobe (Satako), Yoshiharu Oisumi (Kota), Akira Harue, Taizo Fukami, Kiyoshi Kato,
When Artificial Eye released their four film Blu Ray set of Kenji Mizoguchi’s work, while one was grateful for Hi-Def releases of Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion, Five Women Around Utamaro and, especially, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, one was still left with a sense of there being something missing. Actually, one could make a case for two other Mizoguchis that should have been in that set. My Love Has Been Burning, however, does at least exist in a decent DVD print and tracking down a fan-subbed version isn’t too difficult. Straits of Love and Hate has had no such luck. For many years the only so-called English subtitles were unintelligible and it was on Youtube of all places that a print with decent English subtitles was first glimpsed.
Straits tells the story of serving maid Ohumi. Working at a country inn in the Japanese mountains, she’s seduced by the innkeeper’s son, Kenkichi, a graduate returned to his home. Kenkichi tries to persuade his father to let him become a teacher in Tokyo, but his father will have none of it. Ohumi is pregnant and needs Kenkichi to do the honourable thing, especially as Ohumi’s uncle has turned up at the inn and Ohumi is scared he’ll sell her into a brothel. They run away on the train and stay with friends of Kenkichi in Tokyo. Kenkichi, however, would rather loaf at home and sponge off his hosts than actually look for work, sending his pregnant wife out onto the streets to look for work for herself. She’s rescued from the sinister attentions of a pimp by Yoshi, who helps her to get a job, but on her return finds that Kenkichi has run back home to his father and left her stranded with a baby on the way.
Tolstoy’s ‘Resurrection’ had been filmed faithfully if vastly edited by Rouben Mamoulian as We Live Again with Fredric March and Anna Sten only a few years earlier. It, too, is rather overlooked today – surprising, considering Mamoulian was at his peak at the time – but at least prints of We Live Again are in a decent state, even if never released to DVD. Straits exists in a sort of permanent night, a dark grey haze that ruins the effect not only of the individual compositions but of Mizoguchi’s use of Minoru Miki’s deep focus photography (one shot of Ohumi reading her spineless lover’s farewell letter through a door in the background while her hosts are seen in the foreground, all in focus, is worthy of Gregg Toland’s work for Goldwyn).
As one might expect from Mizoguchi, the film is not merely on the side of the woman but is essentially her story; Kenkichi remains largely on the periphery. It’s never truer than in a marvellous scene where Kenkichi is in the audience of a theatre, up in the galleries, and Ohumi is doing a spoof of her own life with Yoshi on stage, and Kenkichi is forced to face his own cowardliness and shame (echoes of the play within the play in Hamlet). If he’s not worthy of consideration, Ohumi certainly is and Fumiko Yamaji’s performance is comparable with those of Isuzu Yamada in Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion. She transforms from pitiful innocent girl to cynical woman of the world, vowing not to love another man and happily drinking in a bar with the uncle she once feared, laughingly telling him “I’m for sale at a discount now” as if she was even willing to countenance incest. The original release version was supposedly 108 minutes, another reason to wish that the resurrection of Tolstoy’s title would stretch to the film. Straits must be restored and then placed in Mizoguchi’s pantheon where it deserves to be.