The Water Magician ★★½

Essentially the template for later Mizoguchi films, though the craft seems less reserved and more classical than what would define the director's craft by 1936. Noel Burch made a pointed case for this one, calling attention to more long shots than I think I may have noticed (save for the one he describes of the gifting of money to the motherless woman). I'm also not sure it's as sexually frank as Burch thinks - certainly the shot where the shoji hides the explicit action is certainly bold (though much less than anything seen in Pre-Code Hollywood) - but otherwise we see much of the same action in Ozu's Dragnet Girl. Maybe more explicit in comparison to the more puritanical women that have often defined the director, perhaps. Otherwise, it follows the trends expected of Mizoguchi narratives, but the style is pure melodrama: shot-reverse shot, more emphatic acting choices, and a lot more plot driven sequences.

The print shown was one of the few with subtitles in existence, though they are mostly for the awful benshi soundtrack that accompanied the film. Everyone present, including Mizoguchi expert Gilberto Perez, seemed to disdain the benshi's voice. I'm also curious what to make of the final moments of the ending, which Mizoguchi himself essentially "corrected" with Story of the Late Chrysanthemums, or went toward something more classical and thus more tragic. The film seems to suggest a very simple if sad solution only to undermine it in the last minute. A case for further study.

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