Sunday, May 09, 2010

Men are from Ireland and Women are from Japan

I watched Ugetsu Monogatari yesterday and The Quiet Man to-day, a rather fascinating juxtaposition as it made me realise the two films are philosophically almost directly opposed to one another.

Kenji Mizoguchi, director of Ugetsu, has been called a feminist director--despite the fact that he actively prevented one of his favourite actresses from becoming a director herself (though Kinuyo Tanaka did eventually become Japan's first female director), all of his films that I've seen do seem to present an argument that women are forced into unfair positions by society. He contrasts in various ways great wisdom in women with a tendency in men to become lost in superficial lusts and material concerns, and Ugetsu is no exception, focusing on two peasant families wherein the women loyally support the foolish ambitions of their husbands though they try to talk them out of them.

Ugetsu's about the dangers of single-mindedly pursuing wealth and pleasure, indicating that such a path can destroy the happiness of a family. Miyagi observes that her husband becomes uncharacteristically irritable as he works to complete a number of clay pots and bowls before an approaching army sacks the village.

The Quiet Man, meanwhile, blatantly honours a sort of culturally embedded capitalism, where a woman's dowry has to her immense emotional significance. John Ford, director of The Quiet Man, isn't with his film making any particular statement about the relationship between the sexes, though the film does display social endorsement of men beating their wives. But it's interesting to see that Maureen O'Hara's character is the one exhibiting the single-minded preoccupation with material goods that Mizoguchi would seem to consider characteristic of men.

The Quiet Man seems more sympathetic to that materialism. Ugetsu even seems to look down on the pride Genjuro has in crafting his pots and bowls, his craftsmanship drawing admiration from the dangerous ghost woman who seduces him.

One way in which the two films are alike is in their beautiful imagery. In Ugetsu, Machiko Kyo's scenes are particularly creepy and elegant.

Unfortunately, The Quiet Man on DVD still only comes in bad and worse. I have the better of the two--released in 2002, it's an extraordinarily muddy transfer, which is just heartbreaking. John Ford's film of the Irish countryside is a masterpiece of compositions which is only available to us now as though filtered through a cheesecloth.

Last night's tweets;

Vital treaties retreat to upholstery.
The fierce beasts stop halfway up a staircase.
Motives are key to solve human mystery.
No plane's a toy for a real flying ace.

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