Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Haunted Heart


A young man, Sokichi (Dajiru Natsukawa), promises his blind, dying mother to do all he can to become a successful medical doctor. He loses his way after her death and is kidnapped by a criminal gang specializing in stolen religious relics. The gang's leader, Kumazawa, has a mistress, Osen (the 17-year-old Isuzu Yamada), who takes a fondness for Sokichi and does all she can to protect him, including helping him escape the gang. She escapes as well, and her protection of him continues in the outside world. Through hard work (and occasional petty thievery, of which he is unaware), she sees him through medical school, but not before she is arrested at a moment of desperate theft.

Eventually he arranges (we presume) for her care in a sanatorium, where in a final rage of hopeless madness, she kills him, mistaking him for the men who betrayed her and hurt Sokichi when he was young, and who caused their eventual separation.

Kenji Mizoguchi's silent Orizuru Osen (1935) forces us to ask: What are we seeing? Whose point-of-view is this? Everything is made strange and difficult. Everything is fractured, obsessively moving back-and-forth, over-and-over, from intense kindness and protective sweetness, to violent criminality and despair. The movie is Osen's heart, and her madness.

And the director's. We know of Mizoguchi's older sister, watching over him much as Osen does Sokichi, protecting and supporting his early artistic wanderings via the water trade. And of Mizoguchi's wife, who would be institutionalized in 1940, due to his cheating, neglect, and brutal treatment. She would die in that sanatorium in 1967, outliving him by eleven years. A sin he would pay for by creating the greatest body of female suffering in movie history. A body he is already at work on here -- and in 1933's Taki no shiraito, among others -- years before his wife's commitment . . .

In their separateness, Osen has gone mad. The spic-and-span doctor -- who owes his worldly respect and comfort to her efforts -- comes upon her, while waiting for a train in the rain, wholly by accident. Basically, he has forgotten her. While she, in her loneliness for him, has departed. After stealing for him and being arrested for it, he did nothing to try and find her. 'Though Osen kills him by furious accident, Sokichi deserves to die.

One of the greatest films from the Japanese classical period, by its greatest director. (And starring perhaps its greatest actress. 17-years-old??)