The camera cranes down from the cloudy night sky to a placid wharf suddenly festooned with celebratory banners, and the changing winds in the Meiji epoch are felt at once. Itís the 1880s and, after getting a whiff of activism, the provincial heroine (Kinuyo Tanaka) leaves for Tokyo to fight for equality with the Liberal Party (or, as her father calls it, "the Thievesí Party"). She writes Joan of Arc pamphlets and attends demonstrations, her hometown beau (Kuniko Miyake) and the party leader (Ichiro Sugai) are the men in her life, both betray her (the former is a government spy, the latter a hypocritical libertine). Parallel to this is the trajectory of the servant (Mitsuko Mito) who, sold to pay off her parentsí debt and thrown in prison for torching the silk mill where she was enslaved, ends up a concubine for Tanakaís husband. Kenji Mizoguchi, furious and delicate, on the limits of enlightenment -- rallies and debates arenít enough when liberation isnít extended to both sexes, every woman must start her own personal revolution. The high-angle tracking shot of rebels coursing through a village was not forgotten by Visconti (cf. The Leopardís view of the Risorgimento), though itís in its moments of extraordinarily charged stillness that the filmís vision of feminist revolt crystallizes. Two long, unbroken scenes between Tanaka and Miyake take Wyler to school: The first, filmed tatami-level, is a boardinghouse confession and scuffle that climaxes with knocked-over veils blotting out half the screen; the second, bracketed by doors creaking open and slamming shut, finds the couple nearly reuniting in a jail visiting room, each shift in the relationship sharply mapped out as homilies of domesticity ("A woman can only become a woman with the love of a man") are brought out and turned down. Spiritual and literal flames for Mizoguchi, who expands the Guernica note from Women on the Night in a severe account of the private upheavals that shape history more than treaties and parades. With Shinobu Araki, Eitaro Ozawa, Koreya Senda and Eijiro Tono. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce