Osaka Elegy (Kenji Mizoguchi / Japan, 1936):
(Naniwa Ereji; Woman of Osaka)

Frivolous neon at dusk fills the first shot, dawn brings a harsh light -- Osaka. The caustic social critic rather than the transcendental mythmaker, Kenji Mizoguchi arranges space exquisitely (a mansion's atrium is painted with deep-focus diagonals) and fills it acerbically (Benkei Shiganoya, the middle-aged magnate, snaps at his maids while praying for health and wealth). The businessman grumbles at breakfast while his wife (Yoko Umemura) sleeps in, having gotten her share of "rich food" the night before; Mizoguchi pilfers a bit from Red-Headed Woman (the family pooch dozing next to the wronged wife beneath the sheets) then proceeds to dispute Hollywood's view of gold-diggers. A POV tracking shot introduces Isuzu Yamada at the switchboard room, at work she deals with Shiganoya's hands and at home with an embezzling father (Seiichi Takegawa) hiding from his company. The heroine leaves home and allows herself to be kept at a swanky apartment, the couple are at a Bunraku performance when Umemura barges in on them -- the film cuts to one of the stage puppets trembling over "the malady dwelling deep in my heart," though money has replaced romance as the basis of the characters' relationships, Yamada's family proclaims disgust while accepting the cash she sends them. By the time her benefactor ditches her, she has perfected the Harlow-toughie pose, with raffish hat cocked nearly perpendicularly; she weeps while revealing the depths of her degradation to her fiancée (Kensaku Hara), then pulls herself up into hussy mode when confronted by a new sugar daddy. The two end up at the police station, where Hara squirmingly washes his hands off the "bad woman" and a lateral pan locates Yamada's lingering look of betrayal -- Mizoguchi watches over it all like the stern, tender officer who hates "the crime, not the individual." There's tragedy in her struggle, yet defiant pride: Taken out of prison only to be bathed in familial scorn, she breaks free from the dwarfing compositions and strides fiercely towards the lenses, away from a screen that can no longer hold her. With Shinpachiro Asaka, Chiyoko Okura, Kunio Tamura, and Takashi Shimura. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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