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September 28, 2005

Woman of the Mist, 1936

woman_mist.gifIn the essay Woman of the Mist and Gosho and the 1930s from the book Reframing Japanese Cinema: Authorship, Genre, History, Arthur Nolletti examines the complex narrative and visual strategies employed by Gosho that culminate in what would become one of his most accomplished works. Perhaps the most indicative of this style is his use of irony and subverted expectation. As the film begins, Bunkichi (Takeshi Sakamoto), an affable ne'er-do-well who married late (after sowing quite a few wild oats in his own youth) is approached by members of the community to head a collection drive for a commemorative lantern, a level of responsibility for which his wife Okiyo teasingly calls into question his suitability. Bunkichi further proves his irresponsibility when his widowed sister Otoku asks him to speak her son Seiichi in order to advise him to concentrate on his studies (instead of frittering his time reading novels) and instead, takes the young man out for a night of drinking. However, when Seiichi becomes involved in an even more serious - and potentially life-altering - predicament, Bunkichi takes him under his wing and assumes responsibility to mitigate the consequences of the young man's indiscretion. Gosho's richly textured home drama is a refined and seemingly effortless examination of duty, sacrifice, and maturity. The film's curious title, a reference to the out-of-favor geisha turned Ginza bar hostess Terue, provides an evocative and haunting metaphor for human transience.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 28, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Heinosuke Gosho, Shochiku at 110


I wanted to like this more than I did. The performances of all the key players (except that of the actor playing the rather annoying nephew) were simply wonderful. But while I could buy the story here in concept, it's execution hobbled it. Perhaps I simply don't care for Gosho's underlying style. It feels like he simply has no sense of filmic rhythm. His films (this included) seem to (too often) alternate between dawdling and lurching. Shots (and scenes) often feel either too long or too short. It is as if Gosho is so preoccupied about getting across plot points, that he loses sight of the need for visual continuity and proper pacing.

Nolletti's wonderful book strongly pre-disposed me to like the work of Gosho. Alas, after seeing half dozen or so of his films (maybe a few more), I am not fully convinced. Certainly a worthy film maker -- but nowhere at the level of my Big Five (Ozu, Naruse, Shimizu, Yamanak and Mizoguchi).

Posted by: Michael Kerpan on Oct 05, 2005 9:36 AM | Permalink

I guess I liked this one more than you did, but I saw Gosho playing with Sakamoto's Kihachi persona, so in that sense, I agree that he seems to be oscillating between two styles - Ozu and melodrama. I liked that he manages to pull off the two tones without getting overly sappy or too tragic.

Posted by: acquarello on Oct 05, 2005 12:16 PM | Permalink

Everytime I start getting drawn into a Gosho film, he foes and does something aggravating that breaks down my suspension of disbelief -- or so it would seem. I suppose I should have started keeping a list!

It is distressing -- because I want to like these films -- after all I really admire most of the cast members quite a bit. And often they do a good job. What I do notice, though, is that Gosho often doesn't seem to trust his cast members' ability to communicate without excess jabbering -- and gestural fussiness. The same people, when seen in Ozu, Naruse, Mizoguchi and Shimizu, are far more "economical" in words and gestures. (Example from another film -- Tanaka chewing on her knuckles in "Dancing Girl of Izu" -- as if her face was inadequate to signal distress without this).

Posted by: Michael Kerpan on Oct 05, 2005 12:26 PM | Permalink

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