Friday, April 14, 2017
Sansho the Bailiff (1954), surely, but also The Life of Oharu (1952) and even an earlier film like Osaka Elegy (1936). A case in point: The scene in which Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) returns home after his dalliance with the ghostly Lady Wasaka (Machiko Kyo) is a crucial and mythic one, evoking among other things Odysseus's return to Ithaca. And Mizoguchi stages it memorably: Genjuro enters the near-ruin of his house and finds it empty and littered, the fire pit cold. The camera follows him through the house in a long unbroken take, watches as he goes out the back door and sees him through the windows as he circles the house and re-enters. Only this time when he enters, the room is clean and the fire is burning brightly; his wife, Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka), embraces him. Overwhelmed and exhausted, he lies down and falls into a deep sleep beside his son, only to wake in the morning to find the cold empty room he first entered and to learn that Miyagi is dead. It's a magnificent sequence, a tour de force of acting, directing, camerawork and editing (by Mitsuzo Miyata). It makes a larger, deeper point: that Genjuro will never escape from ghosts. A less gifted director than Mizoguchi would have used conventional techniques like dissolves or double exposures to make the point. But there's also something distracting about instead employing a long, circular tracking shot with an invisible cut: We marvel at the technique at the expense of sharing Genjuro's experience. There is an art that conceals art, and I don't think Mizoguchi attains it here.