The Lady of Musashino Review
As Tokyo goes up in flames and people discuss news of the atomic bomb strikes on Japan, Michiko (Kinuyo Tanaka) and her husband Akiyama (Masayuki Mori) flee the city for her parents' home in the country in Musashino. Her parents are old however and the war, which has taken its toll on many older people, soon takes her parents also. The Miyaji family land in Musashino now belongs to Michiko, leaving her husband feeling excluded from the family clan. Akiyama is a bit of a scoundrel, believing himself to be a Stendahl hero (having achieved a modest fame as a translator) and free from any moral obligations, he tries to have an affair with their neighbour, the flirtatious Tomiko (Yukiko Todoroki). Word reaches Michiko of her cousin Tsutomu’s (Akihiko Katayama) behaviour in Tokyo, returning from the war to a life that no longer has rules or meaning for him. Michiko tries to bring him back into the fold, inviting him to stay in their house. But Tsutomu develops feelings for his cousin, leading to a hothouse of tensions and frustrations in the balmy summer heat of Musashino.
Opening during the dying days of the Second World War, Kenji Mizoguchi’s The Lady of Musashino takes a very frank look at the moral dilemma facing the individual in Japanese post-war society while providing a family drama worthy of comparison to Yasujiro Ozu's work. On one level it is a very critical look at the state of Japan in the post-war years. People bemoan the state of the country and the change in moral attitudes. The death of Michiko’s parents is representative of the loss of the old ways and this change in moral attitudes and behaviour is reflected in Akiyama’s espousal of Stendhalian attitudes. Michiko's cousin, Tsutomu, a survivor of the war, now lives his days in moral and sexual abandon – the old way of life that led to the death of so many colleagues no longer has any meaning for him.
The alternative to this way of living is reflected in Michiko, the Lady of Musashino. She believes that the actions of the individual can influence society. The new freedom does not mean doing what you please, but having the freedom to make the right choice. For Michiko, being true to one’s word and oneself is the only truth in the climate of moral and societal instability. Together with Tsutomu she examines old books about Musashino that her father had collected and try to rediscover the older, purer way of life – but it’s a purity that cannot be regained. A new purity must be built on the foundation of the new Japan. At times it appears that the film is itself moralising and working too hard at explaining its message, but it is actually through the very clever playing out of an intriguing family drama that the film really gets its point across and should ensure that the film should still have resonance for a modern day audience.
I’m not sure if the original negative of The Lady of Musashino is still in existence or whether the film has been restored from a print in very good condition, but the image on the DVD is reasonably good, while certainly not perfect. There are signs of reconstruction and some remaining lines and scratches, but the black & white tones are strong and reasonably clear from defects. It’s certainly brighter and has a clearer contrast level than the other Artificial Eye Mizoguchi release, The Life of Oharu, but overall the tone is generally very soft in comparison.
The audio track is fine, showing some signs of age, but remaining clear and audible with little background noise. At times voices sound rather squeaky and speeded-up, leading to some minor lip-sync problems from time to time – but there is nothing too serious here.
Subtitles are clear and removeable.
The only extra feature on the Artificial Eye DVD is a filmography for director Kenji Mizoguchi.
The Lady from Musashino is a very ambitious film, having some very serious points to make about Japanese post-war society, about the moral dilemma of freedom and the individual’s responsibility for their own actions. At the same time it presents an intriguing family drama with strong characters and excellent performances that would lead Mizoguchi and Kinuyo Tanaka to greater heights the following year with the even more impressive The Life of Oharu. The lack of any extra features or information on the DVD for a film of this importance is disappointing, but it is a solid enough release in terms of the film alone.