This film can claim a very important, though perhaps dubious, distinction among Japanese films released during that country's so-called "Golden Age" of cinema, which (according to me) lasted from 1949, the year of Yasujiro Ozu's Late Spring, to 1965, the year of Akira Kurosawa's Red Beard. Within that time span, 1953 is often considered to have been Japan's greatest film year, the equivalent of 1939 in Hollywood. Ozu's universally-acclaimed Tokyo Story, Kenji Mizoguchi's most famous classic, Ugetsu, and many other celebrated movies were released in 1953. (The only other possible candidate for Best Year would be the following one, 1954, which saw the release of Kurosawa's magnificent Seven Samurai, two masterpieces by Mizoguchi -- the great Sansho the Bailiff and A Story from Chikamatsu -- Keisuke Kinoshita's much beloved modern saga, Twenty-Four Eyes, and a host of other more or less wonderful movies.) Yet among the impressive roster of 1953 films that the film critics of Japan, in their annual Best Ten awards, given out by the venerable cinema magazine Kinema Junpo, had to choose from, they picked this film (originally titled Nigorie), directed by Tadashi Imai, as the best of the bunch. It also swept the best film prize in two other Japanese awards that year, the Blue Ribbon Award and the Mainichi Film Concours. This is fascinating, because there's not a critic in Japan today (or anywhere else) who, if they've even seen this work, would rate it higher than Tokyo Story or Ugetsu. Indeed, in the two most recent Kinema Junpo polls for best Japanese films of all time (1999 and 2009), An Inlet of Muddy Water is nowhere to be found, although over a hundred films were cited in the first poll and nearly two hundred in the second.
First, a word about Tadashi Imai. During the Golden Age, Imai was the most honored director in the Japanese industry except for Ozu. There were a number of interesting reasons for this. Imai was considered a committed Leftist, a fact that impressed critics of the day. His films consistently tackled social issues of the wartime and postwar eras, a trait which said "serious artist" to critics then. Furthermore, at a time when the half dozen major studios completely dominated the industry, he refused to submit to their censorship, producing his work independently (although a few other prominent directors, including Kaneto Shindo, also did so).
So should we sneer at these critics and their "shockingly" bad preference? No, because though they were clearly wrong to prefer Imai to Ozu or Mizoguchi, picking "Muddy Water" as best film was not a crass or idiotic choice, because it turns out to be a really excellent "Golden Age" film: intelligent, sensitive and evocative. Based on three grim stories, all set during the Meiji era, by the esteemed writer Ichiyo Higuchi, who died near the end of the 19th Century at the age of 24, the tales provide a devastating portrait of the low status of Japanese women then -- which was certainly not irrelevant to gender relations in mid-20th Century Japan.
In the first story, an unhappy wife, who has abandoned her philandering, verbally abusive husband, seeks shelter in her parents' home. The father, speaking for the dominant culture, reminds her of her duty to serve her awful husband and her young child (and also urges her to think of the financial situation of her family, who are accepting money from the rich husband). Now considering her desire for a bit of happiness in life selfish, the unfortunate girl resolves to return to the husband. She is transported back by a rickshaw driver whose drunken rudeness startles her -- until she realizes that he's an old childhood friend. The evocation of youthful happiness by these two unhappy adults is delicately and sensitively rendered, and the tale ends with a kind of sigh of resignation.
In the second story, a young, orphaned servant girl serves a rich, miserly mistress. (It's not clear why she never seeks other employment.) When she's forced to ask her employer for a two-yen loan to help the sick uncle who raised her, the woman promises her the money, then reneges. Given charge of a sum of money by the rich woman, the honest but desperate girl yields to temptation and steals the two yen. The resolution of this plot reminded me curiously of the stories of O. Henry. Yoshiko Kuga usually played very modern women, and so seems a bit uncomfortable in a rare period role as the servant girl. But she gives a fine, intelligent performance.
The last, longest and best of the stories is set in a brothel in Tokyo's Yoshiwara (red light) district. The beautiful O-Riki (Chikage Awashima) is the Number 1 girl in the house, and it's easy to see why. Beneath her hardened exterior, however, she harbors romantic dreams that won't go away, as she reveals to a mysterious customer, Asanosuke (So Yamamura). Meanwhile, she avoids a former customer named Gen (Seiji Miyaguchi), a laborer whose expensive addiction to O-Riki has ruined himself and his family. (She does this, she tells Asanosuke, for the man's good and her own.) Meanwhile at Gen's home, his long-suffering wife (the great Haruku Sugimura) begs her husband to forget O-Riki and think of herself and her son. Instead, for reasons that become clear only at the end, he kicks both wife and child out of the house.
It goes without saying that all this ends very sadly for all concerned. It also goes without saying that Awashima, Yamamura, Miyaguchi and, particularly, Sugimura give superb performances, and the restrained ending is quite moving. This is a classic Golden Age movie. The films of Tadashi Imai, who has fallen into obscurity, are hard to find, but I intend to try to seek out at least some of them.
Action / Drama
Action / Drama
Story 1 : "The Thirteenth Night". Seki turns up at her parents' house in the dead of night, where she breaks down and says she cannot continue to live with her husband, a rich man to whom the family is indebted. After a tearful and long discussion, they convince her to return. On the way home, the rickshaw driver turns out to be an old school friend, and they reminisce about the old days. .... Story 2 : "The Last Day Of The Year". Mine is a hard-working maid in the house of a miserly, slave-driving old woman who is burdened by a wastrel son, who pesters the old woman and her new husband for money to pay off gambling debts. Mine's uncle is her only surviving relative, and the man who raised her, who is very ill and needs money to repay a loanshark. Mine promises to borrow the money from her employer but, although the old woman initially agrees, she breaks that promise on the due date, New Year's Eve. Can honest Mine resist the temptation to steal ? ..... Story 3: "An Inlet of Muddy Water". The trials and tribulations of a group of young to middle-aged whores. All the women in this particular bawdy house look up to and admire the stunning O-Riki. But O-Riki is nevertheless troubled. Gen, a shabby coolie, hangs around and pesters her, despite having a long-suffering wife and a young son, who calls O-Riki "The Demon". One night, desperate for clients, several of the girls lunge at and literally drag some passers-by inside. One of these men is cultured and gentlemanly, and becomes O-Riki's regular client. She looks forward to his visits and hopes he will marry her. Meanwhile, Gen's wife alternates between solicitousness and harassment, and home life becomes tough. —[email protected]
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
May 25, 2021 at 06:05 PM