Kenji Mizoguchi. What a director.
Well, yeah, I have found time to indulge in a Mizoguchi movie that has been lying on my shelf for months. I have always wanted to watch it along with many other DVDs that are still lying on my shelf but time is really a scarce resource and black and white movies are not everyone’s cup of tea and I have almost always find time by my self to watch them alone. When others are around, I have no choice but watch stuffs like South Park – The Cult of Cartman, for example.
Chikamatsu Monogatari really means Chikamatsu’s Stories. Chikamatsu Monzaemon is a dramatist that lived between the late 17th century to the early 18th century and his dramas are very popular and subject matter to many stuffs, such as puppet plays, movies, stage plays and such. This story that Mizoguchi picked is about a servant that fell in love….ooooppsss……
This story is about a servant who fell in love with his master’s wife but is too loyal and honest to profess his love. Professing his love is a dangerous thing, of course, because in his time, adulterers are crucified. At the fairly beginning of the movie, true to Mizoguchi who is very much drawn towards woman issues especially the opression of woman, remarked that why would the wife be crucified if she is found to have committed adultery while the husbands are never punished if they went around sleeping with other woman, or forcing other woman to sleep with them as was with the master of the house in this movie.
Well, in a lot of societies and in a lot of social systems, the way it works is that the male is dominant and has all the say just because they are the ones that has power to write the rules and as such everything is bound to be favourable to them, the rules are written to ensure their happiness and safety, based on their own perception and beliefs, with little regards for the feelings of their fairer counterparts. In fact, we see this even up to today, and we thought we are already living in the modern era. Oppression of women is still widespread and committed in bright daylight even in societies that proclaim themselves as advanced, civilised and God-fearing.
Ok, back to the story, the master of the house, Ishun, would like to take one of his servants, Otama as his concubine but Otama is in love with one of Ishun’s servant, Mohei. However, Mohei is secretly in love with Ishun’s wife, Osan. In a fateful turn of event, Osan needed some financial help for her family but Ishun refused to lend the money to her. She had no choice but to turn to Mohei for the money, not knowing that Mohei is secretly in love with her.
Mohei, in his efforts to help his secretly beloved, resorted to “borrow” some money from the Ishun’s treasury but was found out and had to confess that crime with Ishun. Ishun then took this opportunity to punish Mohei because Otama lied to him that she is already engaged to Mohei and thus cannot be his concubine. When repeatedly asked why Mohei is stealing the money, Otama had no choice but lied again that Mohei stole because she needed the money and Mohei is merely helping her.
With this, Mohei was locked up to be sent to the authorities. When Osan went and asked Otama why she is lying (of course Osan knows Otama is lying because she knows that Mohei was stealing for her, not Otama), Otama told Osan the true story of how Ishun wanted to make her his own and often comes to her room at night.
Knowing this, the two plotted to trap Ishun. The plot is that knowing Ishun will come to Otama’s room that night, Osan will switch room with Otama so that when Ishun comes to Otama’s room, he will find his own wife there waiting for him, trapping him and then use this to bargain for the release of Mohei.
This part actually reminds me of one story in the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, a very interesting story to be found in the 6th story of the Third Day in the Decameron. If you are interested, you can Google that and I think the full story is available online.
Ok, back to the story again. Of course, the plot failed and from then on, the two lovers had to flee which led to the confession of the love between Mohei and Osan. The ending of the movie is not happy by conventional standards but as remarked by another servant that saw them during the crucification procession:
“Madame has never looked happier, nor Mohei more calm and serene!”
My opinion of the movie is that although the movie was well put together, something didn’t really clicked as compared to watching the other Mizoguchi greats such as Life of Oharu (SUPERB!), Sansho the Bailiff and Ugetsu Monogatari. In these three great films, somehow, I felt we got deeper into the “soul” but Chikamatsu Monogatari merely scratches the surface and only occasionally goes deeper. No doubt still a good film, the aftertaste is still a little lacking compared to the three films which I strongly recommend to anyone who has not watched any of Mizoguchi’s films before.
[By the way, I have not watched The 47 Loyal Ronin which I would really love to watch. The other Mizoguchi films that I have watched include Sisters of the Gion, The Lady from Musashino, Gion Festival Music and The Woman of Rumour. Not much but Mizoguchi’s films are not easy to find]