Utamaro and His Five Women ★★★½

Mizoguchi's Artists and Models. If his reputation is built on long takes, tragedy, and his zen approach to both of these, one particular shot in Utamaro throws all those perceptions out the door. As the artist and his peeving friends visit a local lord, they spy on a tradition where numerous women throw off their robes and bathe in a lake for their master. In a shot that would fit more alongside Busby Berkeley, Mizoguchi's camera tracks the women in medium shot as they willingly throw off their robes with smiles with precise timing. It's an odd and thrilling moment to see such sexuality and playfulness, though the film eventually reverts to the director's pet themes of gender, torment, and redemption thought art. Utamaro is often more playful, starting with a line of morbid jokes ("We'll duel with art"), eventually becoming a series of men obsessed with women, and women obsessed with men. Much shorter than some of the epics, but packed with multiple story lines and characters that weave in and out of the frame and thus the narrative - one plot development is often followed by the slow reveal of another character within the space, who upon learning this information causes another plot event. It's tough to follow on an initial viewing, and at times he elides certain narrative and psychological beats in order to force certain poetic moments. Mizoguchi's long take form is, however, on full throttle here, and watching the characters move through the frame, one might think a top down shot would be like watching him draw various calligraphic symbols.