Women of the Night (1948, Kenji Mizoguchi)

Here Mizoguchi treads the trails left by the neo-realists and if the result is not a masterpiece (it lacks the sureness and completeness of so many of his best films) it’s still a remarkable and scrappy work of art, a sort of howl of rage and despair so brutal and overpowering that its expresser later saw fit to disown it. Through-out Mizoguchi’s camera, despite the rightful distance it assumes in the hands of this most moral film-maker, tracks through and charts immediate images of deeply modern desolation, almost definitive for all the film sometimes seems to be shot from the hip, and finds in these vast (and authentic) expanses of rubble and debris a lingering feeling of loss and aching that is almost too powerful to force into words or the strictures of narrative melodrama; Women of the Night is a film that always feels like it is bursting at the seams, or ready to burn up at a loss for anything else to do. Temporal shifts and ellipses bring us closer to the disorientation felt by these lost women stranded in cold post-war Japan, unsure where to go to find again (or for the first time) their self-determination and pride and pursued by endless men with fifteen rows of sharp teeth in their mouths and finely-tuned hypocrisies and self-regards.  In the final scene of torture a stained glass Virgin Mary, part of a bombed-out church, looks out over the action but there seems no hope of after-life salvation for these characters, and no escape from the dusty streets of shame; instead extras make their homes in the mud like insects. See it and weep.

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