Saturday, June 22, 2024

Itsuwareru seiso / Clothes of Deception

Kozaburo Yoshimura: 偽れる盛装 / Itsuwareru seiso / Clothes of Deception (JP 1951). The two sisters: Kimicho (Machiko Kyo) and Taeko (Yasuko Fujita). Photo © Kadokawa.

偽れる盛装 / The Disguise [the Japan Foundation title on the print] / [Gli abiti della delusione] / Clothes of Deception / Under Silk Garments / Les Habits de la vanité.
    JP 1951. Director: Kozaburo Yoshimura. Sog., Scen.: Kaneto Shindo. F.: Asakazu Nakai. Scgf.: Hiroshi Mizutani. Mus.: Akira Ifukube. Int.: Machiko Kyo (Kimicho), Yasuko Fujita (Taeko), Keiju Kobayashi (Koji), Emiko Yanagi (Fukuya), Taeko Kitakouchi (Yukiko), Hisako Takihana (Kiku), Chieko Murata (Chiyo), Chigusa Maki (Tonbo), Ichiro Sugai (Yamashita), Eitaro Shindo (Isehama). Prod.: Daiei. 35 mm. Bn. 102 min
    From Japan Foundation, courtesy of Kadokawa.
    In Japanese with English subtitles on print. E-subtitles in Italian by Chiara Saretta.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna 2024: Kozaburo Yoshimura, Undercurrents of Modernity.
    Introduced by Miki Zeze (Kadokawa), Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström
    Viewed at Jolly Cinema, 22 June 2024.

Alexander Jacoby e Johan Nordström (Bologna catalogue 2024): " During the period 1951-1960, Yoshimura realised an impressive sequence of films focusing on working women in Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto, which used personal dilemmas to explore the quandaries of a nation in the throes of rapid and irreversible change. Taken together, they represent one of the most searching analyses of Japan’s postwar experience. "

" The first of them, Itsuwareru seiso, is a searing drama that explores the conflict between old and new through the experiences of two sisters, one a geisha in the Gion district, the other employed by the tourist board. Machiko Kyo (1925-2019), then at the peak of her fame after her career-defining performance the previous year in Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, is superb in the lead role of the hardheaded yet sympathetic geisha Kimicho. "

" Shindo’s bleak screenplay had been turned down by Shochiku when he and Yoshimura proposed it to the studio, and the two men decided to move away in pursuit of greater autonomy and creative freedom. They managed to secure the support of Daiei, where Yoshimura was to make most of his 1950s films. In the event, the film was a major critical success, taking third place in that year’s “Kinema Junpo” Best Ten, behind Ozu’s Bakushu (Early Summer) and Naruse’s Meshi (Repast). "

" “Praised for its exact and realistic creation of the very special Gion atmosphere,” Joseph Anderson and Donald Richie write, “it made Yoshimura something of a rival to Mizoguchi, and established his position as a specialist in films about women.” Indeed, the film is sometimes spoken of as a loose postwar updating of Mizoguchi’s 1936 Gion no kyodai (Sisters of the Gion). Yoshimura’s style, however, is all his own, combining scenes of delicate atmospherics with startling moments of flamboyant camera rhetoric and rapid editing. " Alexander Jacoby e Johan Nordström (Bologna catalogue 2024)

AA: Kozaburo Yoshimura's Itsuwarero seiso takes place after the Second World War. Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, has survived intact, while Tokyo, the new capital, has suffered catastrophic damage. Kyoto is ruled by tradition, Tokyo, by modernity. But increasingly, modern times enter Kyoto, as well.

The drama is based on the long-standing rivalry of two Madams, Kiku (Hisako Takihana) and Chiyo (Chieko Murata). Long ago, they competed for the support of the same patron, Watanabe. By him, Kiku has two daughters, Kimicho and Taeko, but the Watanabe family abandoned them after the death of their father. Kimicho (Machiko Kyo) works in a geisha house, Taeko (Yasuko Fujita) at the tourist office. 

Watanabe's son Hideo (Seizaburo Kawazu) is financially ruined and asks from Kiku a loan of 200.000 yens. To the shock of the daughters, Kiku mortages her home to acquire the money. She is a woman of tradition and loyalty, incomprehensible to the children.

Taeko is in love with Koji (Keiju Kobayashi), the son of the other Madam, Chiyo, who opposes the marriage. Taeko urges Koji to flee with her to Tokyo. They have nothing, but they are young and full of love and energy. But Koji respects her mother and fails to make a firm promise. Fed up with his indecision, Kimicho slaps Koji and urges him to take charge of his own life and go with Taeko to Tokyo.

Kimicho the hard-boiled geisha is the dynamo of the movie, marvellously incarnated by Machiko Kyo in her second star role, following Rashomon. Infuriated by the meekness of her mother, she is not going to be victimized by men. Like her mother in her days of youth, she ruthlessly hijacks the richest patron from a rival geisha. She is determined to acquire the 200.000 yens and sell herself with exclusive rights.

In the process, Kimicho dumps her previous protector Yamashita (Ichiro Sugai) who has lost all his money for Kimicho. Now he has been fired, caught embezzling money from his employer. In desperation, he ask Kimicho for help, but Kimicho turns her back on him. Yamashita is armed with a knife...

Written by Kaneto Shindo, Itsuwarero seiso is a tragedy about the power of money. Kimicho survives by turning into an iron lady. However, something is broken inside, as can be registered by her addiction to alcohol, often drinking hard liquor bottoms up.

Kimicho loves her sister Taeko and wants to save her from the vicious circle of Kyoto. Taeko's weak-willed boyfriend Koji Kimicho expects to grow up when he is liberated from his mother.

Kaneto Shindo wrote the screenplay in homage to Kenji Mizoguchi's masterpiece Gion no shimai. Both are about two sisters in the geisha districts of Kyoto - Gion in Mizoguchi's film, Miyagawa-cho, south of Gion, in Yoshimura's. The films could not be more different. Mizoguchi relies on long takes and long shots, and his images burn with a unique lyrical glow. Mizoguchi is a poet, Yoshimura is a prosaist.

Mizoguchi's Naniwa ereji and Gion no shimai belong to cinema's masterpieces of solitude. There is an affinity with Antonioni's Lucia Bosè movies Cronaca di un amore and La signora senza camelie. They are timeless lyrical meditations. 

As an artist, Yoshimura is not even in the same world. His film has more affinities with Balzac, Zola and Maupassant. Fascinatingly, in his last studies of prostitution, Uwasa no onna and Akasen chitai, Mizoguchi turned to Yoshimura's direction. Master inspired by student? 

The composer is Akira Ifukube, at an early stage of a long career. Besides Yoshimura, he became the composer of Ichikawa, Imai, Shindo and Naruse - but also Ishiro Honda in his kaiju creatures features, starting from Godzilla (1954). Itsuwarero seiso is full of music, and it is also a display of the talent of Machiko Kyo as a professional dancer. The tragic climax takes places during an impressive Annual Geisha Ball.

Shot by Akira Kurosawa's master cinematographer Asakazu Nazai (Stray Dog, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, High and Low, Dersu Uzala, Ran), Itsuwarero seiso impresses with its rich and realistic portrait of Kyoto, including in city symphony montages. There is a meta-theme about photography in the darkroom sequence. Love scenes, sacred and profane, are conveyed with restraint, in the shelter of nature (Taeko and Koji), and behind the screens of the geisha house (Kimicho and her clients). Reflections on partition screens, hard rain and wind chimes are evocative motifs. A scene with a blind masseur evokes impressions of the mountain, the bridge and the river.

The print is like a blow-up from 16 mm, starting in a duped quality, low contrast, no blacks nor whites, just shades of gray. There is a hum on the soundtrack. Once there is an interruption. After the beginning, the visual quality improves somewhat, and it is a neat and clean dupe.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: Data from French and Japanese Wikipedia:
BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: Data from French and Japanese Wikipedia:

WIKIPÉDIA L'encyclopédie libre: Synopsis

Japon, Kyoto. Kiku tient une modeste okiya, une maison de geisha, dans le quartier de Miyagawa-chō. Elle vit avec ses deux filles Kimicho et Taeko qu'elle a eu alors qu'elle était la concubine de M. Watanabe. À sa mort, elles ont été rejetées par cette famille. Pourtant, lorsque Hideo, le fils de M. Watanabe, ruiné, vient la supplier de lui prêter de l'argent, elle accepte et va jusqu'à hypothéquer sa maison pour réunir les 200 000 yens réclamés.

Kimicho, elle, n'accepte pas le choix de sa mère empreint du respect des traditions. C'est une geisha qui se joue des hommes, leur soutirant de l'argent quand elle le peut et les abandonnant lorsque ces derniers perdent leur situation et ne peuvent plus l'entretenir.

Taeko n'est pas geisha. Elle travaille dans un office du tourisme et est fiancée avec son collègue Koji. La mère de Koji, Chiyo, qui elle aussi tient une maison de geisha, s'oppose catégoriquement à ce mariage. Kiku et Chiyo se connaissent, par le passé, elles ont été geisha et rivales pour obtenir les faveurs de M. Watanabe. Chiyo vient signifier son refus à Kiku, prétextant une différence de classe entre leurs deux familles, provoquant les moqueries et les railleries de Kimicho.

Kimicho est déterminée à trouver la somme de 200 000 yens afin d'éviter leur expulsion de leur maison. Elle quitte sans remords son protecteur actuel, Yamashita, incapable de lui obtenir une telle somme, pour se jeter dans les bras d'Isehama, bien plus âgé qu'elle et protecteur de Chiyo. Si Kimicho parvient à obtenir ce qu'elle désire, elle en payera le prix lorsque Yamashita, qui a perdu son travail pour avoir volé dans les caisses de son employeur pour elle, se venge de son ingratitude en la blessant d'un coup de couteau.

Taeko et Koji de leur côté finissent par partir vivre ensemble à Tokyo. (Wikipédia L'encyclopédie libre)


[The screenplay was written as an homage to Gion no shimai. It was remade in 1964 under the title Nikutai no morisou.]

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