After having viewed Mizoguchi's Sisters of Gion, I decided that I really wanted to delve deeper and watch a number of his other films. Knowing that Osaka Elegy in some ways is considered the "prequel" to Sisters of Gion, I decided that it would be the next Mizoguchi film that I would watch.
Unlike Sisters of Gion, Osaka Elegy does not revolve around the lives of Geisha and their patrons, but instead on the lives of those living in the bustling industrial center of Japan: Osaka. The opening sequence is quite amazing with the rapidly sped up film displaying the bright nightlife of Osaka, but upon daybreak the city looks quite dreary. While this can be said for many other large cities as well, this opening displays many of the disparities within the film especially those dealing with the poor and the rich and, of course this being a Mizoguchi film, those between men and women.
Once again Mizoguchi's star actress Yamada Isuzu plays the central role in this film. However, instead of being a young geisha, Yamada's character Murai Ayako is a telephone girl at a large pharmaceutical company. However, one theme runs through these two roles: the main female character is poor and virtually the only way she can help herself is through a male.
Young and attractive, Ayako gains the attention of her boss Asai, a stickler for propriety and who seems to enjoy bossing people around, however, she continues to wield off his "affections" because she is in love with Nishimura. However, Ayako's family is in quite a situation. Her father has embezzled some money from his company and if he does not pay it back he will go to jail. Being that Nishimura is unable, or maybe unwilling, to raise the money, Ayako accepts Asai's offer to become his mistress for money. However, this is only the beginning.
Like Sisters of Gion, Osaka Elegy shows the role money and power have in the control of relationships and the precarious tightrope that many poor women had to walk during this period of Japanese history. Ayako is doing her best to support her family, a father, younger sister, and she even pays the tuition for her older brother, but saving face plays a more important role in her family than her actions to help save it. A wonderful film from one of Japan's early masters, Osaka Elegy is a must for those interested in pre-1945 Japanese film.