Musashino Fujin (variously translated as The Lady of Musashino, The Lady from Musashino, Lady Musashino, Madame Musashino, et cetera) is a film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi in 1951. Mizoguchi is one of the greatest Japanese directors both of historical subjects and contemporary drama. He is particularly known for his portrayals of so-called "fallen" women, and this melodrama strikingly portrays one woman's struggle in the moral confusion of post-World War II Japan.
The film begins with the main characters awaiting the end of the war, some in sorrow, others eager to get the inevitable surrender over with. The central figure is Michiko (played by Mizoguchi's frequent collaborator Kinuyo Tanaka), whose family, the Miyaji, have owned lands at Musashino outside Tokyo for centuries and who it is claimed has samurai blood. She is married to Tadao Akiyama, who lectures on the French novelist Stendhal and seems quite pro-western and unbothered by defeat. Her cousin Ono owns an arms factory, and his wife Tomiko and Michiko seem to be friends.
They hide from bombing raids on nearby Tokyo, fearfully discuss the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and one day receive rations not of food but of potassium cyanide for use in the event of defeat. Finally the war ends, and Michiko's cousin Tsutomu returns from fighting in southeast Asia; he is young and strikingly handsome as played by Akihiko Katayama.
The story then moves to after the war. Both of Michiko's parents are dead and she now owns the family house and lands. The moral climate in Japan is changing; there is a public debate on whether the laws prohibiting adultery should be repealed. Influenced by Stendhal, Akiyama claims that adultery is one of the few forms of revolt open to the poor and there is nothing wrong with it. Meanwhile Ono's wife Tomiko throws herself at any man she sees, while the shyer Akiyama makes a few moves of his own. Tsutomu moves to Tokyo, where he enjoys a bohemian life, hanging out in a cafe called "La Vie Est Belle" and enjoying casual relationships. However, he finds this life unsatisfying and seeks a deeper romance.
Michiko is determined to uphold her family honour and traditions, indicated by regular prayers at the family shrine, but she and Tsutomu find themselves attracted to each other. She seeks to hold on to a notion of romantic love which will allow her to behave in a moral fashion yet still acknowledge her feelings for him. Tsutomu is entranced with the natural beauty of Musashino, a beauty which is however under threat from the inexorably growing metropolis, and he is bewitched by ideas of love. Meanwhile, the failure of her cousin's armaments factory (not profitable in peacetime) threatens the family estate.
The film offers a clever portrayal of a society facing a state of anomie and a loss of moral beliefs. The characters' adulterous desires are blatant and comical, often literally flinging themselves on one another. Yet at the same time the film sees tragic consequences for those who try to uphold any form of morality in such a society.
The film is shot in Mizoguchi's characteristic style, with mostly long and mid-range shots, many from an elevated position. The countryside scenes are very beautiful, and Masao Tamai's cinematography is excellent, composed with painterly composition yet never cluttered, and lacking the forced formalism you sometimes see in Ozu's films.
Mizoguchi is commonly praised for his grasp of female psychology (generally by male critics, admittedly), and Kinuyo Tanaka offers an excellent performance in a strongly-written role as the Lady of Musashino, torn between family duty and dreams of a trancendent romance. The other performances are also very capable, and together with a strong technical crew produce an involving and moving drama that has much in common with the best American melodramas of the 1940s and 1950s but also many striking differences, both cultural and artistic.
Cast (actor - role)
(names are listed in the Western forename-surname style)
Black and white
IMDb. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043825/combined (March 8, 2004).