Drama, Films, Japan, Recommended posts, Reviews

Uwasa No Onna

Kinuyo Tanaka’s last acting role for Mizoguchi highlights the unbearable side of aging in a changing society…

Kinuyo Tanaka (Oyū-sama, Ugetsu) went on to appear on the big screen for Kenji Mizoguchi one last time in 1975, almost twenty years after his death, in Kaneto Shindo’s Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director, a 150 minute long documentary available only in the Criterion Collection DVD in the USA. Before Shindo had her speak about Mizoguchi, she gave him her lightest performance in Uwasa no onna, directed back to back with Chikamatsu Monogatari in 1954.

Tanaka is Hatsuko, a widow in her fifties, mistress of Izutsuya, a tea house in Shimabara, the geisha district of Kyoto, where she is a respected business woman, courted by Yasuichi (Eitaro Shindo, Sansho Dayu, Yokihi), a man of her same age, in the shadow of the man she’s really in love with, Dr. Kenji Matoba (Tomoemon Otami, Youth of Heiji Senigata, Kaizoku-sen), a young and sneaky guy who pretends to love her in return. When Hatsuko and Matoba seem to have arranged perfectly their future lives as lovers with the Doctor being fortunate enough to have her buying a whole clinic for him, Hatsuko’s daughter Yukiko (Yoshiko Kuga, Drunken Angel, The Idiot) comes back home from Tokyo all of a sudden.

She made an attempt to commit suicide because of a love affair gone wrong, and being back at the Izutsuya tea house is not exactly what a modern college girl like Yukiko would want; ashamed of her mother life, she despises every single geisha working for Hatsuko. But things were going to change, and meeting Dr. Matoba unveiled his nature, and while Yukiko affection for all the geisha working at Izutsuya, their love grew and grew, putting Hatsuko in the position to expose herself as an old woman trying to feel younger with a love she cannot have.

Keiko McDonald wrote: “the dramatic tautness which sparkled in Sanshō Dayū has given way to a kind of relaxed quality something like slackness”. Tadao Sato introduces Uwasa no onna describing it as a comedy. Both of them agrees on the light nature behind The Woman in the Rumor, despite the sad depiction of aging.

Tanaka’s appearances do not change drastically, but her ways could be compared to the idea of humor described by writer and Nobel winner Luigi Pirandello, whose idea had been widely discussed in his books, but is usually summarized with the short tale of an old woman covered with make-up in a failed attempt to look younger, thus we laugh of her because she stands for the contrary of what she is.

However hard it may seem, Mizoguchi creates one of the cruelest images he had ever made with a long scene in which Hatsuko, Yukiko and Dr. Matoba are altogether with a bunch of her clients in a theatre where a Noh play was being shown, an act about a funny old woman in love with a young guy. In front of everyone she starts to panic when she realizes her nature, while Yukiko and Matoba are sitting outside holding hands and giggling, creating a chorus with the theatre crowd laughing at the actor wearing the mask of an old lady.

Compared to Mizoguchi’s tragedies Uwasa no onna is obviously a simple trip out of town done with no effort, but a single and simple scene give meanings to the true goal of this movie, where not only men are the closest thing we can see as villains, but time plays an important role too. It destroys people expectations, it sweeps away dreams and hopes of a woman who did not decide to be alone. Kinuyo Tanaka had landed on the hardest acting job of her career in Mizoguchi’s films, who did a very fine job with Hatsuko.

She felt power in her hands: the power to control her daughter’s happiness, the power to decide Dr. Matoba’s future, the power to be independent, the power to exploit Eitaro Shindo’s Yasuichi, a man who sat begind waiting for his time to come, showing an incredible knowledge of their world, where he was on the side of the winning team. Hatsuko was just a woman, and it didn’t matter what her age was, she could have been as young as Yukiko, but men would have still won their battle in a male driven society that grasped women lives and left them when their meat was not fresh enough for them.

The Late Mizoguchi limited edition Blu-ray boxset is available now from Masters Of Cinema. The set includes Oyu-sama, Ugetsu monogatari, Gion bayashi and Sansho dayu, as well as Uwasa no onna, Chikamatsu monogatari, Yokihi and Akasen chitai – which will only be available as part of this set.

This post is part of Fausto’s ongoing series on Mizoguchi.

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Fausto VernazzaniFausto Vernazzani Fausto Vernazzani
Once upon a time in a country not so far away (named Italy) there was a Fausto who was always watching movies but without really loving them – until he saw some movies directed by some unknown guys like Kim Ki-duk, Park Chan-wook and Takeshi Kitano.... More »
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