menayfilms

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Reviews

Naniwa erejî
(1936)

A Diamond in the Rough
Osaka Elegy is easily one of the most visually beautiful films I have ever seen. Every frame is perfectly composed and crafted and simply brilliant to look at. But Mizoguchi's style doesn't showboat, instead he favors an understated tone. The clearest way he achieves this is through his characteristic long takes and lack of close-ups. His visuals don't beg to be seen and applauded. They just sit there as calm, elegant masterpieces for the viewer to make of them what they will.

The script, which is tight and feminist, clearly benefits from Mizoguchi's collaboration with Yoshitaka Yoda, someone whose name appears on every Mizoguchi masterpiece.

The film itself places Ayako (Isuzu Yamada) in the unfair reality of patriarchal and capitalistic Japan. Two options lay before her, to either conform to traditional patriarchal values, or to pursue wealth in the new capitalist society. If she fits within patriarchal expectations and supports her father she has no social capital and mobility; two commodities integral in a capitalist society. She, instead, becomes condemned to enabling the lifestyle of her lazy father and naïve brother, while she stagnates in blue-collar work. If she plays by the rules of capitalism she is shunned from society and deemed a vagrant. She gains wealth and social mobility, but is at the sole mercy of the revolting man that put her there, and is ostracized from her family and lover. What results is a world where women are expected to meet two contradictory expectations, to both appeal to men's propriety and their lust. The institutions which enforce this oppressive role, capitalism and patriarchy, symbiotically feed off each other to the detriment of women. Capitalism enables lustful and greedy men to rise to the top while traditional patriarchy makes their ascent socially acceptable. Women, on the other hand, are dehumanized into objects to satiate man's desire, and are enhanced by capitalist modifiers such as make-up and clothing. This role is not challenged due to values of traditional patriarchy. Throughout the movie Ayako struggles in both roles, and the movie ends with no real solution to the dilemma. Inferences can be made about the solution due to Mizoguchi's communist leanings in the 1930s, but the reality is the movie only depicts the problem and does not offer a solution. But that is hardly a negative in a fundamentally individual and character driven film that focuses more on the story of a woman than on larger societal factors.

However, this film is certainly not without its flaws. This was Mizoguchi's first film with sound and it shows. The score is spotted terribly, making a melodramatic and comedic entrance at the end with the first instance of full orchestra. This broke the otherwise down to earth tone and changes the inconclusive and nihilistic ending into comedy. Transitions awkwardly cut off either diegetic music or sound effects and plunge the viewer into silence. For a medium that is equal parts audio and visual, Osaka Elegy ignores half of its obligations.

But the terrible sound can almost be ignored because of what the film looks like. Overall, Osaka Elegy was a brilliant start in Mizoguchi's self-claimed "serious" ouvre that foreshadows masterpieces to come.

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