Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro
Ozu and Mikio Naruse, Kenji Mizoguchi
is perhaps the most revered Japanese
filmmaker of all time. This double-bill, Akasen Chitai and Yokihi the fourth
and final Mizoguchi release in the
Masters of Cinema Series
is a major
event for any fan of classic cinema... PAIRING MIZOGUCHI'S HIGHLY-RESPECTED FINAL FILM, Akasen Chitai,
with a lesser-known rarity, Yokihi made a year earlier
and one of only two films Mizoguchi ever made in colour is a benefit
to both films, which are now finally on DVD in the
UK for the very first time.
Akasen Chitai was nominated for a 1956 Golden Lion Award (for Best Film)
at the prestigious Venice Film Festival the same award that Yokihi
was nominated for the year before. Yokihi was also named by acclaimed
Portuguese Director Manoel de Oliveira as his favourite Japanese film of all
time. The film has also been described by noted American critic Andrew Sarris
as "one of the most hauntingly beautiful films ever to treat beauty as a subject".
Akasen Chitai inspired French critic Jean Douchet to proclaim: "For me,
along with Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux and Renoir's La Règle du Jeu
[The Rules of the Game], the greatest film in the history of cinema."
Sadly the last film by Kenji Mizoguchi (Sansho Dayu, Ugetsu Monogatari),
Akasen Chitai (Red Light District, aka Street of Shame)
presents a vivid portrait of prostitution in 1950s Japan and looks at the lives
of the girls, their hopes and dreams and also their disappointments and the
resignation to their fate.
Set against a background of 1950s Tokyo where the Japanese government is attempting
to introduce an Anti-Prostitution Bill, Akasen Chitai takes place in
a Tokyo brothel called Dreamland an obvious irony, given the faded hopes
of those who work there and is a compelling study of women torn between
financial necessity and questions of conscience. The proposed Bill has a consequence
because it has made men think twice about being seen entering a brothel and
Dreamland is suffering financially. Akasen Chitai is beautifully presented
and gives a sympathetic view of young women who sell themselves for money.
The Master and Madam of Dreamland, Murazo Taya (Eitaro Shindo) and Tatsuko Taya
(Sadako Sawamura) see themselves as social workers who have a responsibility
to look after the women. In some ways they do have a significant role to play
because without them the girls who work at Dreamland might be at risk on the
street or completely destitute. But a certain MP, Mrs Takehisa, doesn't see
it that way: "Prostitution is an unforgivable evil, forcing women to sell their
Tokyo's Yoshiwara District (The Red Light District) is over 300 years old and
Tatsuko's family has been there for four generations. "If prostitution is so
unpopular," she remarks, "how come it's lasted 300 years?" She says: "In the
olden days we were seen as courtesans trained in the arts of poetry, the tea
ceremony, flower arranging and calligraphy. We were treated just like noblewomen."
Each of the girls has a very different story: how they entered the profession;
and why they stay. But they all share the struggle to make sense of the red
light district with its cycle of exploitation.
Top girl is Yasumi (Ayako Wakao), who dreams of a husband and a better life
and she saves hard, lending money to the other girls with a ten per cent interest
charge. Yasumi says that she came there to make 200,000 yen bail money for her
father who got mixed up in a corruption scandal. Her life was ruined just for
money and she loathes poverty.
Young widow Yumeko (Aiko Mimasu) hopes one day to live with her son, Shuichi,
whom she has supported through his schooling and who has no idea how she earns
Hanae (Michiyo Kogure) is married, but her husband is sick and they have a young
son to care for. They can hardly afford medicine and food, let alone to pay
for hospital treatment. She desperately wants to leave her profession but is
trapped by poverty. She and her husband have even contemplated suicide. And
then there is Yorie (Hiroko Machida), who was sold as a teenager for 2,000 yen
and longs to return home.
Things are stirred up by the arrival of Mickey (Machiko Kyo), a modern young
Westernised teenager who has fallen out with her playboy businessman father
and has run away from home because of his treatment of her mother. The story
goes that she was used and abused by an American and is "as hard-boiled as hell".
She has no compunction about luring away the other girls' clients.
Other key characters are a policeman, Officer Miyazaki (Daisuke Kato), who sympathises
with the Tayas; the man who provides quilts, Mr Aoki; former petty criminal
Eiko (Kenji Sugawara); and Otane (Kumeko Urabe), a woman who helps out at Dreamland.
Produced by Masaichi Nagata, Akasen Chitai is based on a story by Yoshiko
Shibaki with a screenplay by Masashige Narusawa. Cinematography is by Kazuo
Miyagawa. The streets are bleak and the songs, under the circumstances, are
poignant: "I am a maiden of sixteen years born in Manchuria, Next March as
the spring snow begins to thaw and the flowers burst into bloom, welcoming the
spring, I will leave for the next village to wed my fiancé… They'll welcome
me with crashing gongs and beating drums when I arrive in my carriage, festooned
"Akasen Chitai is beautifully presented and gives a sympathetic view
of young women who sell themselves for money" MotorBar
many centuries earlier, in Eighth
Concubine Yang, aka Yang Kwei Fei)
tells the Chinese legend referred to in
its title... THE FILM OPENS TOWARDS THE END OF THE LIFE OF THE FORMER EMPEROR Hsüan-tsung
(Masayuki Mori) who, having been usurped by his son, is held in captivity. But
Yokihi then goes back to some years before, at a time when the Emperor
Hsüan-tsung reigns alone, following the untimely death of his beloved wife,
the late Empress Wu-hui.
Devoting his life to the composition of music, he continues to mourn his wife
and cannot look at another woman but admires beauty in the statue of the Bodhisattva
that was given to him by the Silla Kingdom of Korea. The Emperor wishes to be
left alone, but there are those close to the Court who seek advancement and
an improvement of their status if they can produce a young woman from within
their family who could win the heart of the Emperor.
When General An Lu-shan (So Yamamura) arrives back in Chang'an he hears Yang
Yu-huan (Machiko Kyo), a young kitchen maid, singing. He sees that she is very
beautiful and realises that she could be the key to the Yang family's advancement.
Despite her own misgivings she is cleaned up, dressed in finery and presented
to the highly-respected Mother Abbess at the convent on Mount Li, who has the
ear of the Emperor. And when she captures the heart of Hsüan-tsung she quickly
acknowledges that even as imperial concubine and with her new name of
Kuei-fei she will be as much a tool for her family as she was when working
in the kitchens.
Yokihi is a tale of political intrigue and rival dynasties in the court
of the Emperor, where ambitions are ruthless and jealousies dangerous
even Kuei-fei's cousin Kuo-chung (Sakae Ozawa) has the job of Premier Li Lin-fu
(Tatsuya Ishiguro) firmly in his sights. Many have ulterior motives, concubines
can be killed for merely involving themselves in affairs of state and it seems
nobody is safe.
Kuei-fei makes the Emperor very happy, but eventually all ills are blamed on
the Yang family and an army marches on the capital an action that ultimately
has tragic consequences.
Sumptuously filmed in vibrant colour, Yokihi is the most ancient of Mizoguchi's
costume dramas, yet its central themes of passion, sorrow and the conflict
between love and power remain timeless. A fabulous period romance that
tugs at the heartstrings, Yokihi is as compelling today as it was when it was
first filmed in 1955.
Produced by Masaichi Nagata and Run Run Shaw, Yokihi also features Eitaro
Shindo as Kao Li-his; Haruko Sugimura as Princess Yen-chun; Isao Yamagata as
Yang Hsien; Yoki Minamida as Hung-tao and Bontaro Miyake as Chin Hsuan-li.
The Screenplay is by Matsutaro Kawaguchi, Yoshikata Yoda and Masashige Narusawa;
Cinematography by Kohei Sugiyama; Art Direction by Hiroshi Mizutani; Historical
Research by Lu Shi-hou; Sound by Kunio Hashimoto; and Music by Fumio Hyasaka.
The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to
present Akasen Chitai and Yokihi, two films by Mizoguchi that
are appearing for the first time on DVD in the UK. Release date is 26 May (2008).
RRP £24.99 | Running Time 86/92 Minutes | Catalogue No EKA50036 | Barcode 5060000500363
| Certificate 12 | Format B&W/Colour | Director Kenji Mizoguchi.
Special Features: 2-disc special edition containing new transfers of both films
| New and improved English subtitles | Full length Akasen Chitai audio
commentary and a video discussion about Yokihi by acclaimed Japanese
film expert/critic, festival programmer and filmmaker Tony Rayns | Original
theatrical trailers | 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
"A fabulous period romance that tugs at the heartstrings, Yokihi is as
compelling today as it was when it was first filmed in 1955" MotorBar