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cast: Kinuyo Tanaka, Nobuko Otowa, and Yugi Hori

director: Kenji Mizoguchi

94 minutes (PG) 1951
Eureka DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
A 'masters of cinema' double-bill with Ugetsu Monogatari; this is a slighter picture, featuring a domestic tragedy, a quiet melodrama. As Tony Ryans explains in the single DVD extra, the film came about as part of the focus on "women's films" in the postwar relaxing of censorship. American scrutiny of Japanese culture was hostile to anything smacking of the feudal past, so helping the emergence of a market for films aimed at the female market.

Carpentry craftsman Shinnosuke (Yugi Hori) is attending at his aunt's house, awaiting the arrival of Oshizu (Nobuko Otowa), a prospective bride. Oshizu arrives with the Lady Oyu (Kinuyo Tanaka, Ugetsu Monogatari), her older sister, and Shinnosuke immediately falls for the wrong woman. Oyu is a widow with a small son, and consequently tied to her deceased husband's family. Shinnosuke is reluctant to commit to Oshizu despite encouragement from his aunt and the Lady Oyu herself. Eventually under pressure and in order to maintain the link with Oyu, Shinnosuke marries Oshizu. On their wedding night the bride reveals that she wishes the couple to maintain only the formal outward appearance of marriage. Oshizu has recognised the connection between Shinnosuke and Oyu and, as a devoted sister, she wishes only for the happiness of her sibling. Oshizu suggests that she act as 'a bridge' between the pair.

The situation prevails for a year until rumours about the m´┐Żnage threaten a scandal, then the death of Oyu's son liberates her from her late husband's family and Oshizu reveals the arrangement that she and Shinnosuke have had. Oyu accepts another marriage proposal and moves away in the hope that Shinnosuke and Oshizu can make a proper marriage. After three years, Oshizu is pregnant and a genuine attachment seems to have grown between the couple but tragedy strikes when Oshizu dies in childbirth. Shinnosuke delivers the child to his sister-in-law then leaves, his own future uncertain.

Tony Ryans suggests that Kinuyo Tanaka, a passionately emotive actress, was miscast as Oyu who, in her literary manifestation, is prim and reserved. The problem with the characterisations goes deeper than that. Inevitably there exist cultural barriers to empathising with the characters, and the distractions of seeing ladies in traditional dress alongside men in business suits, or men in traditional dress relaxing in the evening with bottles of beer, while ladies light up fat cigarettes, just emphasise the cultural distance. But there is a problem with the central relationships. Oyu at times seems self-centred and vain, her son seems estranged from her and yet her grief at his death is unforced and genuine. Oyu is offended at Oshizu and Shinnosuke's sham marriage, but even while encouraging intimacy between the couple appears complicit in the unspoken arrangement.

Whatever Ryans' thoughts on miscasting, Kinuyo Tanaka is very watchable, and Nobuko Otowa makes her complex grief at the sacrifice of her own happiness and fulfilment palpable to the end.

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