Osaka Elegy (“Naniwa erejî”)
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Written by Kenji Mizoguchi, Yoshikata Yoda and Tadashi Fujiwara
It’s not easy to “like” this thoroughly depressing film. Nonetheless, it is darkly magnificent.
Mr. Asai is a whiny, complaining old man who gives his servant girls nothing but grief and is picked on by his wealthy wife. Ayako (Isuzu Yamada) is a telephone operator who works for him. Mr. Asai constantly propositions Ayako but she is in love with a co-worker.
Ayako’s spineless father has embezzled 300 yen from his company. The company is threatening to prosecute unless he repays the money. Although Ayako berates him mercilessly, she also desperately wants to get the money to save him from jail. Her boyfriend cannot help her so she finally gives Mr. Asai what he wants. She repays the company and Mr. Asai gives her father a job. The affair is quickly discovered by Asai’s wife.
Later, Ayako gets money to help her brother with his tuition at university by promising her favors to another executive. When she refuses to follow through, the executive gets her arrested. Her boyfriend leaves her. Her family disowns her and calls her an “ingrate”, not even acknowledging her help. With Takashi Shimura (Ikuru, Seven Samurai) in a small role as a police inspector.
Mizoguchi was the champion of suffering women throughout his career and Osaka Elegy is an early example of this trend. The problem for me is that Ayako, though strong, is not particularly sympathetic. While secretly planning to help, she is always very caustic to her family members. She is mean to the executive. So I had a nagging feeling the whole time that she brought a lot of this on herself. On the other hand, I’m not Japanese and don’t know whether filial piety almost required Ayako to avoid shame on her family at all costs. If so, her body was all she had to bargain with. This might make anybody hard to get along with.
Whatever reservations I might have about the plot, the film itself cannot be faulted. Ayako and her boss watch a wonderful Kabuki puppet performance with thematic ties to her plight that I really, really loved.
Lead actress Isuzu Yamada may be most famous for her chilling performance as Lady Asaji Washizu, the Lady Macbeth role in Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957).
Clip – ending