Japanese can be such an incredibly difficult language to learn or even understand especially for anyone other than being of native tongue. 'Uwasa' in Japanese means rumour and 'Onna' means woman. In literal translation 'Uwasa no Onna' converts to 'Rumour's Woman'. Understandably when it comes to interpretation a literal translation can make for little sense. The actual meaning of 'Uwasa no Onna' is therfore best translated as 'The Woman in the Rumour'.
Kenji Mizoguchi was considered as one of the three masters of Japanese cinema along with Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa. This production is a 1954 Mizoguchi project and it is one of his shorter pieces of work. It would also be true to say that Mizoguchi didn't devote as much attention on this project as much as his many of his other more notable works which include a filmography of approximately 75 titles. He died in 1956 aged 58 years old.
Izutsu House is a geisha house located in Kyoto that is run by the mistress Hatsuko Mabuchi (Kinuyo Tanaka). The movie begins with Yukiko Mabuchi (Yoshiko Kuga) daughter of the mistress, returning home from Tokyo where she had just recently attempted suicide after a failed love affair. She is brought home and cared for by her mother, Hatsuko and a local Doctor, Kenji Matoba (Tomoemon Otani).
The young and charming Dr Matoba is quite a dashing chap and Hatsuko has very much had a longstanding fondness of him. It's the classic tale of an older woman falling for a younger man. This though is all complicated by the return of her daughter Yukiko who eventually becomes attracted to the young Dr Matoba. Yukiko is unaware of his strange relationship with her mother, though a friendly acquaintance better describes what goes on between Hatsuko and Dr Matoba. The story is quite simplistic in this sense and it never really develops much from this. It's an old woman and a young daughter plying for the same young man scenario. The drama principally revolves around these three characters and their lives in the geisha house. However, there are a few tangents developed by Mizoguchi off the storyline that add grace and charm to this movie.
Firstly, Yukiko's attempt at suicide was actually spurned by the fact that her fiancé had discovered that her mother ran a geisha house. His family had rejected her as being unsuitable for marriage. Yukiko had been completely unaware of what her mother did and was not actually a geisha girl herself. In actual fact she has a great dislike of these girls and their profession throughout the film. Mizoguchi cleverly tries to introduce the views of more modern Japanese women towards geisha girls and brothels.
Secondly, a young geisha of the house becomes terminally ill and passes away. Mizoguchi then manages to touch on how and why such girls even considered working as geishas.
Thirdly, he also conveys the perception that geisha houses in post modern times of Japan rapidly started to become viewed as that of simply being brothels. Whilst Izutsu house is presented as an innocent geisha house, the underlying conveyance is that it is actually a brothel with far seedier goings on. Certainly by the 1950's a Japanese audience would be equating geisha houses as being nothing but brothels. It's all very gently and gracefully sewn into the storyline.
The main storyline finally comes to quite a predictable head where mother, daughter and the doctor try to reason it out. An older traditional woman falling for a younger progressive man makes for a laughing stock; the younger modern woman with her stronger principled views on men and their behaviour. It's quite amusing to see how the two ladies handle the doctor, how their feeling towards him suddenly change and how their feelings towards men change as a result.
Uwasa no onna should not be considered as one of Kenji Mizoguchi's finer works though it's a harmless and entertaining drama nevertheless. There is enough reason from supporting commentary to believe that Mizoguchi didn't pay as much seriousness to this movie as he could and probably should have done. However, for those that appreciate world cinema, this is a slight insight into the changes of tradition that post modern Japan had to overcome internally and as a nation. It's a view as would have been seen through Japanese eyes of that time, which in turn should make it a bit of a gem for some.
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