Osaka Elegy is a classic work of Japanese cinema. Released in 1936, it was directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, who also came up with the story and collaborated with prolific screenwriter Yoshikata Yoda on the script.
Sonosuke Asai (Benkei Shiganoya) is the head of a successful Japanese pharmaceutical company that he gained through his wife Sumiko (Yoko Umemura). They have a loveless marriage so Sonosuke propositions an employee named Ayako (Isuzu Yamada), asking her to be his mistress. She rebuffs his advances and heads home after her crush Susumu (Kensaku Hara) refuses to help her with a debt. She goes home to discover men at her home who are threatening to prosecute her father Junzo (Seiichii Takekawa) if he does not pay the money he owes to his former job which he lost investing in bad stocks. After an argument, Ayako flees and runs into the arms of Sonosuke who agrees to pay her debt, but the cost could be higher than she thinks.
Mizoguchi had been working on movies, including silent films, long before this one even got a treatment. However, he often referred to this movie as the one that “matured” his cinematic style. Being available in the United States thanks to Janus Films and the Criterion Collection, I was finally able to watch it.
This is such a moving film about a young woman who is caught in the middle of several incidents. She sacrifices her job, her dignity, and her own wants to please the people in her life. At each turn, she is given humiliation in return. Umemura plays the part extraordinarily well and pulls you into her plight. You definitely feel connected to her as the events happen before your eyes.
If I could critique one thing about the movie, it is that it just sort of ends. While I usually have no issue with open endings, they usually have a sense of completion. This film’s sudden ending feels incomplete and it makes you wish there was a bit more.
That being said, the plot is well crafted and the story is poignant. There have been many speculations on what the story represents. I won’t bother critiquing those, but I have my own opinion. It seems to be a play on the old axiom “no good deed goes unpunished.” Ayako does everything for others at the expense of her own happiness, but it all turns out negatively.
Bottom line, Osaka Elegy is a stunning and beautiful story that is worth seeing. Any cinephile would enjoy watching this feature film for its amazing performances, enthralling plot, and pointed story.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Thematic elements
FAVORITE QUOTE: I’ll live as I please.
Unfortunately, I was not able to track down a trailer, but Wikipedia had a poster for it.
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