(aka 'Akasen Chitai' or 'Street of Shame' / 'Yōkihi' or 'Empress Yang Kwei Fei')
Mizoguchi's final film is a grim but profoundly moving study of a group of prostitutes in Tokyo's red light district. While they go about their daily business, there are constant references to the anti-prostitution legislation which Parliament is debating. As is made clear, merely passing a law won't save the women. For whatever reasons they became prostitutes (money-related in every case), they can never escape the judgment passed on them by the repressive, patriarchal society which shunned them in the first place. The settings are a far removed from the medieval landscapes of Ugetsu or The Life of Oharu, but Mizoguchi's focus on the plight of his women characters is as intent and heart-rending as ever.
In AKASEN CHITAI, director Kenji Mizoguchi once again explores the lives of the courtesans of Tokyo's Yoshiwara pleasure district but forgoes his customary lyricism, taking a more harshly realistic view than in earlier films as SISTERS OF THE GION. Set in a brothel ironically dubbed Dreamland, the film allows five of its occupants to unfold their lives. Yumeko (Aiko Mimasu), a middle-aged widow supporting a son, remembers an era when the profession of courtesan was esteemed, requiring skills in music and flower arrangement. The cynical Mickey (Machiko Kyo) has entered the life as a form of rebellion against a wealthy businessman father whose philandering scarred her mother. Yorie (Hiroki Machida) is a simple country girl, working to support aged parents while dreaming of marriage. Yasumi (Ayako Wakao), a victim of her father's embezzlement, moonlights as a moneylender, to achieve respectability with a small business. Hanae (Michiko Kogure), with a baby and an unemployed husband, simply hopes for survival. Against an audio backdrop of news reports of the Diet of Japan voting to outlaw prostitution, the women struggle for a scrap of dignity amid the bleakness of their lives. A veritable dream team of Japanese actresses gives an ensemble performance of memorable virtuosity in the director's last and most lacerating excoriation of his nation's unforgivable treatment of its women.
Set many centuries ago, Yokihi
[Imperial Concubine Yang, aka _Yang Kwei Fei] recounts the Chinese legend
referred to in its title.
Theatrical Release: March 18th, 1956 + May 3rd, 1955
DVD Review: Eureka 'Masters of Cinema' - Region 2 - NTSC
|DVD Box Cover||
CLICK to order from:
|Distribution||Eureka 'Masters of Cinema' Spine #''s 58 + 59 - Region 2 - NTSC|
|Runtime||1:25:54 + 1:31:30|
Average Bitrate: 8.84 + 7.70 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s
NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.
|Audio||Japanese (Dolby Digital mono)|
discussions on both films by Tony Rayns (11:15, 9:03)
Yet another terrific package from our diligent friends at Masters of Cinema. We have another two Kenji Mizoguchi films (Akasen Chitai and Yokihi), each on their own dual-layered DVD - and each is transferred progressively with optional English subtitles.
They are coded for region 2 in the NTSC standard. Both classic Japanese films look exceptionally strong with lofty bitrates. Image quality appears extraordinary although very light scratches and speckles can be seen - most notably at the finale of Yokihi - which is actually a shade dirtier. These light marks appear on alternate frames and concur some sort of long-standing damage - but it is not overly intrusive and should not impinge upon your enjoyment of the film.
The contrast flickering, present to small degrees on some other Mizoguchi films transfers seems totally absent and one might accurately compare these to equivalent Criterion-level presentations. I didn't note any digital manipulation, as in black-level or brightness boosting, but if it was done - it is discreet enough to only improve the overall presentation a small notch in detail. These might very well be the best looking of the MoC Mizoguchi transfers that I have seen - Akasen in particular looks quite marvelous - a beautiful testament to the magnificence of the film. The colors of Yokihi are muted but distinct enough to represent it to a high standard. I am very appreciative that they both look so very good.
There is original Japanese mono audio for both films and sounds quite clear with only a few, mostly unnoticeable, inconsistencies a couple of times for each film. There are optional English subtitles in a slightly large font - clear, visible and without undue gaps of translation (see samples below).
Supplements include more short, but educational, video introduction discussions on both films by Tony Rayns (running respectively 11:15 and 9:03), and an original, Japanese teaser (for Yokihi). But a big bonus on Mizoguchi's last film, Akasen Chitai, is a Rayns' commentary - he is easily the best in the business and his fluid manner and inspiring discussions are a true delight to follow - I expect to run through this on more than one other future occasion. I consider it the 'icing on the cake' for this package.
Also most impressive is a 64-page booklet featuring writing by Keiko I. McDonald (author of Mizoguchi), Mark Le Fanu (author of Mizoguchi and Japan), Masako Nakagawa (author of The Yang Kuei-fei Legend in Japanese Literature), ninth-century poetry (A Song of Unending Sorrow) by Po Chü-i, and rare production stills.
More good news is that Masters of Cinema have plans for even more Mizoguchi releases in April of 2009 - truly the greatest time to be a film fan. This package has our highest recommendation and Akasen Chitai will enter into my selective group of favorite Mizoguchi films.
DVD Menus - Akasen Chitai
DVD Menus -Yōkihi