THE WOMAN OF RUMOR (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954)

Although it falls far short of his greatest works, Kenji Mizoguchi’s Uwasa no onna is still an exceptionally fine piece of work. Those who deem it too melodramatic, but nonetheless find room in their hearts for either Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945) or Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks, 1983), or for both, are being hypocritical. Working from a script by Yoshikata Yoda and Masashige Narusawa, Mizoguchi creates a far more sensitive and convincing portrait of mother-daughter conflict than either of those Hollywood entities. Certainly it is not so entertaining as Mildred Pierce, but this is the case only because that film is so much more melodramatic than Mizoguchi ever could be.
     Kinuyo Tanaka, Mizoguchi’s favorite actress, is excellent as Hatsuko Umabuchi, who runs a brothel in contemporary Kyoto, this being her family’s business for generations. The object of gossip is her daughter, Yukiko (Yoshiko Kuga, also excellent), who has attempted suicide following a canceled love affair and who resents the sort of money that has underwritten her college education. Home, she renews her distaste for the geisha house environment. After initial resistance, she falls in love with Kenzo Matoba, the doctor who attends to the girls and whom her widowed mother secretly also loves. The triangle comes to light; eventually mother and daughter reconcile by their both giving up Matoba, who has been manipulating Hatsuko’s interest in him for personal professional gain, and by Yukiko’s taking over her mother’s responsibilities at the brothel after Hatsuko grows ill.
     Matoba had told Yukiko that her feelings over time would soften to her mother’s enterprise because of its human dimension. For me, the best scene is the one showing Yukiko sufficiently relaxing and sharing with the geishas so as to bond with them in sisterhood.

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