Kehr Capsule of the Week: Utamaro and His Five Women (1946)

Utamaro and his Five Women (1946)

Kenji Mizoguchi‘s first postwar film (1946), made under the censorship pressure of the American occupation, might be interpreted as a story about the director’s own artistic confinement as well as that of the great 18th-century wood-block printmaker Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806). (A less offensive and more accurate translation of the title would be Five Women Around Utamaro, which is what the film is called in England.) The film isn’t without its difficulties—a plot with no easy identifications due to a virtual absence of close-ups, a large cast of characters, and a periodic displacement of narrative centers—but these are all intimately related to its uncommon achievements. Significantly, Utamaro’s artistry only becomes visible at any length in the film’s final shot, and many of the moments of greatest beauty and power take place in the margins of the story proper. A neglected and important film by one of the supreme masters. With Minosuke Bando and Kinuyo Tanaka. In Japanese with subtitles. 97 min.

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