Portrait of Madame Yuki (1950)

18 02 2008

Kenji Mizoguchi began his final and most successful decade with this sporadically reserved picture that has, oddly enough, remained neglected. It’s a film, though undeniably melodramatic, still occasionally showcases a certain type of perceptiveness. There’s small doses of truth sprinkled all over this picture, through all of the plot pieces and manipulative music, it does have something insightful about it. It’s far from Mizoguchi’s best, but it’s another more than admirable effort from him.

Hamako has just started working for her personal hero, Madame Yuki. Her romanticized view of the Madame is broken immediately, though, as she is introduced with a ever-growing list of the Madame’s personal problems. Her husband is neglectful and violent. Although she begs for divorce, he always refuses. In retaliation, she converts their home into inn. He responds by visiting the inn and brining his mistress, who plans to take ownership of the place. Despite all this, she still loves him as if forced by some evil inside of her, as she describes it. The film takes another (melodramatic) turn when it’s revealed that she is pregnant, after a suicide attempt none the less!

Silly in some parts, poignant in others, Madame Yuki might just be Mizoguchi’s most frustrating film if only for the fact that potential greatness is marred by stilted dialogue and soap opera-esque plot developments. As mentioned before, the film sometimes stumbles upon something much more truthful. It may not have been Mizoguchi’s intention but there’s something that seems to be happening underneath all the suicide attempts and tearful breakdowns. There’s nothing specific to point out, but it’s very likely that this “truth” is supported by Mizoguchi’s excellent cast, which includes Ken Uehara, Yoshiko Kuga, and Michiyo Kogure.

The film is climaxed by a sequence that’s purpose is purely visual, a testament to Mizoguchi’s unparalleled eye for visual composition. As Madame Yuki mechanically makes her way to the lake, the mist of the morning collides with the grass’ tall blades. A visual sequence, though theatrical in it’s description, is layered with poetic touches. It’s sequences like these that make Madame Yuki worth seeing. The film’s final, tragic turn is unseen but it predicts a similar event visualized later on in Mizoguchi’s Sansho the Bailiff. The sequence in question is just as gloomy, but handled by Mizoguchi with such tenderness, that a visual subtext (is this considered a pun?) is created and it’s very beautiful.