Japan is a woman, says Mizoguchi, Akira Kurosawa just out of the war gives feminine perspective a valiant try. Hymns of freedom in 1933 can't much hinder the rise of fascism, a foreglimpse of Rashomon has the lush picnic on Mount Yoshida interrupted by a bloodied figure in the bushes. Student rallies and confrontations in Kyoto, meanwhile a heroine (Setsuko Hara) as bored with politics as Scarlett in her Georgia plantation, cheerily juggling two suitors as authorities clamp down on protests. One is a mamma's boy (Akitake Kono) who embraces conformity, the other is a fervent radical (Susumu Fujita) who recommends her "a slap in the face to grow up." (Her own conflicting drives are sketched with a soupçon of Maya Deren, a string of frozen poses melted by dissolves in the instant it takes to open a door.) Dad the liberal professor (Denjiro Okochi) is effectively muzzled, "you must consider the times," she moves to Tokyo to learn about pain and responsibility. Virtually a Wellman-Stanwyck joint from Kurosawa, complete with experimental quirks: Knee-level lateral pans to register jail time, rapid POV inserts for a tumble down a staircase, Takashi Shimura as a grim police commissioner miming a noose around the neck in between cigarette puffs. Docile floral arrangements are hardly the vessel for the protagonist's self-actualization (she plucks her latest project until it's nothing but three blossoms bobbing in a basin), that comes instead from working the fields with her beau's peasant parents—arduously caked with sweat and mud, she at last learns her heroic low-angled shots. Weathered hands are the central image, no longer a dainty pianist's but a builder's, exactly the sort needed ca. 1946. "Your sheer life force makes me feel ashamed!" Oshima helps himself to the university upheavals of the first half, Imamura the rural paroxysms of the second. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce