Mizoguchi's women

graham lincoln graham
Sun Apr 9 14:10:24 EDT 2000


(Another question which came up --- why
> > should a geek like Mizoguchi have come out so strongly on oppression
> > of women, apart from the biographical motives?)
> >
> >     Lewis Cook
> >     Queens College, CUNY
> >

certainly it has to be said that there is a deep ambivalence in Mizoguchi's
portrayals of women, namely in how much is he sympathising with them and
calling for a change in attitudes, and how much is he simply fascinated by
portrayals of downtrodden women. This dichotomy seems to be at the forefront
of all of his films that I have seen (admittedly a limited number), but
seems to be embodied best by the ending of The Life of Oharu. One has to
wonder - is Oharu's spiritual transcendence intended to lead to a change in
attitudes or is it more disturbingly simple acceptance of the status quo: an
acceptance that says women are morally/spiritually superior to men,
therefore Oharu's mistreatment becomes in the end unimportant because of the
way she rises above it.

This also of course raises the problem of whether one should take into
account aspects of an artists life when contemplating their work, since I
know at least for myself the problem I have when thinking about Mizoguchi
was undoubtedly brought out when I came to read some biographical detail and
discovered information on his treatment of the women in his life. Therefore
can and should his portrayals be seen as in some ways a justification? Does
Oharu's redemption and forgiveness therefore redeem Mizoguchi himself?

Of course I'm simplifying greatly. Mizoguchi is such a great artist that its
impossible to discuss all of the subtleties and complex meanings and
relationships  of even the one scene I'm sticking to here in the space of
one brief e-mail. The ending of 'Oharu' is deeply and profoundly ambiguous.
The mere fact that I'm still thinking about it, something like ten years
after first seeing the film demonstrates that, and of course Oharu's
struggle doesn't necessarily have to be seen in gender terms at all. What I
would like to ask, however, is this:  how much does Mizoguchi's portrayals
of women's lives still have relevance in 21st century Japan?


More information about the KineJapan mailing list