Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women

 

Naniwa erejÓ (1936) ... aka Osaka Elegy         Gion no shimai (1936) ... aka Sisters of the Gion

Yoru no onnatachi (1948) ... aka Women of the Night         Akasen chitai (1956) ... aka Street of Shame

 

Over the course of a three-decade, more than eighty film career, master cineaste Kenji Mizoguchi (Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff) would return again and again to one abiding theme: the plight of women in Japanese society. In these four lacerating works of social consciousness—two prewar (Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion), two postwar (Women of the Night, Street of Shame)—Mizoguchi introduces an array of compelling female protagonists, crushed or resilient, who are forced by their conditions and culture into compromising positions. With Mizoguchi’s visual daring and eloquence, these films are as cinematically thrilling as they are politically rousing.

 


Titles

 


 

Osaka Elegy
Kenji Mizoguchi, 1936
A critical and popular triumph, Osaka Elegy established Mizoguchi as one of Japan’s major filmmakers. The director's often-used leading actress Isuzu Yamada stars as Ayoko, a switchboard operator trapped in a compromising, ruinous relationship with her boss to help support her wastrel father. With its fluid cinematography and deft storytelling, Osaka Elegy ushered in a new era of sound melodrama for Mizoguchi.

Sisters of the Gion
Kenji Mizoguchi, 1936
Sisters of the Gion follows the parallel paths of the independent, unsentimental Omocha (Isuzu Yamada) and her sister, the more tradition-minded Umekichi (Yoko Umemura), both geishas in the working-class district of Gion. Mizoguchi's film is a brilliantly shot, uncompromising look at the forces that keep many women at the bottom rung of the social ladder.

Street of Shame
Kenji Mizoguchi, 1956
For his final film, Mizoguchi brought a lifetime of experience to bear on the heartbreaking tale of a brothel full of women whose dreams are constantly being shattered by the socioeconomic realities surrounding them. Set in Tokyo’s Red Light District (the literal translation of the Japanese title), Street of Shame was so cutting, and its popularity so great, that when an antiprostitution law was passed in Japan just a few months after the film's release, some said it was a catalyst.

Women of the Night
Kenji Mizoguchi, 1948
After World War II, Mizoguchi was inspired by Italian neorealism to make one of the most emotionally and visually raw films of his career. Filmed on location in Osaka, Women of the Night concerns two sisters—Fusako, a war widow, and Natsuko, having an affair with a narcotics smuggler—who along with their younger friend Kumiko descend into prostitution and moral chaos amid the postwar devastation surrounding them. 

Poster (Street of Shame)

Theatrical Releases: 1936 - 1956

  DVD Reviews

DVD Review: Eclipse Series Thirteen from the Criterion Collection (4-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC

 

 

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution Eclipse / Criterion Collection - Region 1 - NTSC
Time: Respectively - 1:12:03, 1:09:57, 1:13:54, and 1:25:42
Bitrate: Osaka Elegy
Bitrate: Sisters of the Gion
Bitrate: Women of the Night
Bitrate: Street of Shame
Audio Japanese (original mono)
Subtitles English, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Eclipse / Criterion Collection

Aspect Ratio:
All Original Aspect Ratios - 1.33 

Edition Details:

  •  one page (for each film) of liner notes in the transparent case


DVD Release Date: October 21st, 2008

4 Slim Transparent Keep Cases inside a Slipcase cardboard box
Chapters: 14, 12, 16, 16

 

Comments:

NOTE: The 4 main features of this boxset are housed in individual slim transparent keep cases (see images above) they are not sold separately by Criterion at this time. One NTSC edition - from Masters of Cinema - is available in a package with Empress Yang Kwei Fei - fully reviewed HERE. We have compared three captures from that issue below. As fra as we know the other three - in NTSC - can only be obtained in Criterion's Eclipse Series Thirteen package at present.

All four DVDs are single-layered and are NOT pictureboxed transferred (see our full description of 'pictureboxing' in our Kind Hearts and Coronets review). Each are coded for Region 1 in the NTSC standard. The transfers are progressive and in the 1.33 aspect ratio.

The audio is in original Japanese mono and there are optional English subtitles.

Bitrates are very strong ranging from from in the high 7 MPS.

Aside from one page liner notes for each film (visible on the inner case sleeve through the transparent case cover) there are no supplements as per standard for Eclipse label releases.

Video quality varies from the weak to the acceptable. I strongly suspect that dual-layering of Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion would have improved their appearance as noise is monochromatic black backgrounds can be quite heavy at times. There is also flickering contrast - heavy at times. Before it settles down, Women of the Night, has a very rough beginning with marks in the form of vertical scratches and print damage (see the subtitle sample) but it eventually corrects itself to be almost as strong visually as Street of Shame. Differences in the last feature compared to the UK edition (that is also NTSC btw) lead one to lean towards the dual-layered MoC with less noise. Criterion may have minutely boosted the black levels. I should note that subtitle translations are, at time, different (see samples below) and I felt the Criterion might have the edge although I doubt this would be a big enough factor to most viewers. Essentially the comparisons don't prove anything conclusive excepting that both editions are in good enough shape to make them very watchable.

We've tried to make the screen captures below a good representation of the image quality.      

The sound is original mono is similarly fraught with occasional weakness but dialogue is clear enough and audible - I noted a couple of instances of softened pops, but overall it is adequate and I suspect, like the video, it was the best that could be rendered - on single-layered discs. But I am a bit surprised by the lack of dual-layering (ex. Eclipse One - Early Bergman had 5 dual-layered discs in that package!).

I would say the Mission Statement description on the back of the boxset is remains accurate: "Eclipse is a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple, affordable editions. Each series is a brief cinematheque retrospective for the adventurous home viewer." Having reviewed every 'Eclipse' release so far I can tell you that my expectations were not especially high for these Mizoguchi films-to-DVD but I was very content with the package as a whole. The lack of supplements also help one realize and appreciate the, often painstakingly obtained, extras frequently included on Criterion DVDs.

Fans have longed for these films - with many seeking the available French editions. These classic are about $10 each in this package and make this Eclipse edition irresistible... although many would long for more complete releases with commentaries and other supplements - perhaps one day. As for now - this is very much appreciated by this reviewer.  

Gary W. Tooze




DVD Menus



Slim Transparent Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

Naniwa erejÓ (1936) ... aka Osaka Elegy

Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
 

 


Slim Transparent Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

Gion no shimai (1936) ... aka Sisters of the Gion


Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi

 

 

 


Slim Transparent Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

Yoru no onnatachi (1948) ... aka Women of the Night


Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi

 

 


Slim Transparent Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

Akasen chitai (1956) ... aka Street of Shame


Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi

 

 

(Eureka 'Masters of Cinema' - Region 2 - NTSC TOP vs. Eclipse - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM)

 

 

(Eureka 'Masters of Cinema' - Region 2 - NTSC TOP vs. Eclipse - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM)

 

 

(Eureka 'Masters of Cinema' - Region 2 - NTSC TOP vs. Eclipse - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM)

 

 


 


 

DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Distribution Eclipse / Criterion Collection - Region 1 - NTSC




 

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