Oyuki the Virgin
Posted by martinteller on May 25, 2012
Oyuki (Isuzu Yamada) and Okin (Komako Hara) are geishas in a small village being overrun by a civil war. They flee the carnage, sharing a stagecoach with an aristocratic family, a shopkeeper and his wife. The bourgeois don’t hesitate to express their prejudice, but the prostitutes show themselves to be of greater moral fiber. The mother of the family tries to steal their food. Okin catches her and, being proud, takes it back and refuses the attempted payment for it, but Oyuki later offers it to the others generously. Later incidents again show the differing attitudes of the two, but in each case they prove that the “lower” classes can be made of finer stuff (both in terms of survival and basic human decency) than the elite… and always end up with the short end of the stick regardless. Of course, being Mizoguchi, it’s hardly surprising to see a sympathetic portrayal of hookers, and he handles it with his usual sensitivity and a fair bit of nuance. The film doesn’t flow that smoothly — in one part there’s such a leap that I wondered if footage was missing — but it’s an interesting tale with some nice touches. The religious angle adds something different. The film’s Japanese title is Maria no Oyuki, and she’s also directly compared to Jesus. Not a whole lot is ultimately made of this, and it’s kind of a ham-fisted slant, but it is different.
The two central characters are strong, though the rest of the cast is a bit weak. Yamada had a long career, working frequently with Mizoguchi and Naruse, and three very memorable performances with Kurosawa: the landlady in The Lower Depths, Orin in Yojimbo, and most impressively, Lady Washizu in Throne of Blood. This is the earliest film I’ve seen by Mizoguchi (and as a minor landmark, my 20th overall) but relatively late in his career, with 60 films already under his belt. The experience shows on the screen, with artful compositions and wonderful camera movement. More of those terrific dolly shots. He’s masterful at establishing geography and character dynamics with the camera. I’d like to see this again in a restored print (not holding my breath for that), I’d probably appreciate it more. As a sidenote, some say the Guy de Maupassant story this film was based on was also a source of inspiration for John Ford’s Stagecoach. I dunno if that’s true, but there are definitely some similarities. Rating: Good