Saturday, May 12, 2012

Woman of the Lake (Onna no mizûmi - Japan 1966)

Yoshishige Yoshida’s Woman of the Lake starring Yoshida’s ravishing wife and muse Mariko Okada is concerned with an ‘errant’ married women who has an affair. When nude photos of her taken by her lover are stolen she is forced to confront her bondage to men. The film is a radical critique of the subjugation of women as possessions and sexual objects. As is typical for Yoshida, his narrative though linear is fractured and sometimes obscure. There is a resolution of sorts but the ending is not final – the closing scene fades to black as a train enters a railway tunnel.

Yoshido has made a great film. He only gives glimpses of the photos and is more concerned with what they mean and as the catalyst to the scenario. Once they are stolen they become motifs representative not of their subject, but of a woman’s rights, and the battle she must engage in to recover her body from those that would oppress her. But it is more complex than this, as Yoshido does not use words but images to relay inner states, and as in life, not all is as it appears, nor is everything explained. The final 30 minutes are redolent of all sorts of things that are quite shattering. Near the end the husband is waiting for the unfaithful wife to have it out with her – and he falls asleep! The shots of Okada moving through the carriages to the end of a moving train are immensely powerful and elevate the act of walking to poetry.

The picture is amazingly modern: an expressionist tour-de-force with the b&w photography employed in wide-screen staging and dynamic use of deep focus to exquisite effect. It looks so contemporary – Okada sports oversized sunglasses currently back in vogue; and European – with Okada wearing flowing dresses and her luxuriant dark hair offest by elegant scarves.  To my mind Yoshido challenges Antonioni as the central motif of 60s cinema. Amazingly very little has been written about the film.