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Joen / The Affair

Joen / The Affair (1967)

Not a bad affair if you ask me

Director: Yoshida Yoshishige (or Kiju)
Writers: Tamura Tsutomu, Yoshida Yoshishige
Date: 1967

Genre: Drama
Description: Love affair, love, marriage, extra-marrital affair, rape, identity, freedom

Cast: Okada Mariko, Minami Yoshie, Sugano Tadahiko, Shimegi Shigako, Kimura Isao, Takahashi Etsushi

Crew of note:

Runtime: 1 hour 32 mins
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Oriko’s and her mother had a difficult relationship. She knew of her mother’s relationships with men, and insisted she stop, interfering in the affair. Now that her mother has passed away, Oriko attempts to find out more about her from her lovers. Oriko herself is in an unhappy marriage; one without love. She wishes to divorce him, but her husband refuses. Through this dilemma she begins to understand her mother more and more, and that they are more alike than she thinks.

Joen / The Affair (1967)

'Oh mom you're such a slut'

review
Admittedly, this didn’t start that well for me. I’m not sure why, but I found myself uninterested for the first few minutes. The movie starts rather slow, and already comes out with an affair: Oriko’s mother and a much younger man. Okada Mariko, in fact, is just there to complain. Another movie about sarcastic, petulant women? Okay, probably not.

The film’s events are launched by her mother’s affair, and much of it revolves around love and love affairs. Yet what the film is truly about is Oriko’s discovery of herself, both as her mother’s daughter and as a woman. Her relationships with men–with her husband and with her mother’s lovers–all represent different parts of Oriko’s life. The juxtaposition of events (and rather clear dialogue) and character relationships creates a web of meaning brought about by contrast: freedom and comfort; submission and animal desires; choice and depth. We discover with Oriko who she really is, and what she really wants–one or the other, both, all, or none at all.

This is all created with about as much silence as conversation, and Yoshida proves himself a worthy student of Ozu in how he strings together images to surround events with more meaning and context. The beach, the forest, those long walks alone or with a companion, the smalled room (through close up), the cabin, her large but seemingly empty house… the camera is also one of the principal story tellers.

Joen / The Affair (1967)

I guess she isn't a fan of furniture

If the film has one flaw, it is that it may be hard to follow. The sequence of events feels somewhat confusing, even though they occur chronologically (I think), but I am unsure why I experienced this difficulty. Everything seemed to be next to one another, which, in my mind, merged one event with those around it, even if they were with different characters or in different settings. Perhaps this is a reflection of Oriko’s character.

Or perhaps this a reflection of my fickle attention span. :p

Joen / The Affair (1967)

This would be an awesome chambara scene if only they had katanas

conclusion
Despite my terrible attention span (that’s only really good enough for chambara), for the most part, I was captivated by this film. The images are very strong, and many scenes will linger long after they are seen. It is because of the way Yoshida combines his pictures and scenes that the movie is able to be more than a sappy melodrama, and maybe one of his most memorable films.

things to take note of
The excellent cinematography
The hand-held camera going around
Pay attention because the chronology of events and the cutting is a little confusing maybe

best moment
In the log cabin: meaning + great cinematography = good movietimes

why you should watch this
That log cabin scene alone is worth it, really
Okada Mariko!

rating: 8.8

scorecard
Plot: B
Cast: B
Cinematography: A
Music: C+
Entertainment: C+

similar movies, maybe:
Many of Yoshida’s films have the same feel, so probably those. Akitsu onsen, Arashi o yobu juhachi-nin, Juhyo no yoromeki… etc.
New wave-era directors like Shindô Kaneto and Kinoshita Keisuke, but not Oshima, Shinoda, Masumura

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Shen nü / The Goddess

Shen nü / The Goddess (1934)

Woman god = Street walker? Obviously, the cover translators were either sexists or failed Chinese class

Director: Wu Yonggang
Writers: Wu Yonggang
Date: 1934

Genre: Drama, Silent
Description: a woman, a hard life, prostitution, Depression-Era China, tragedy

Cast: Ruan Lingyu, Tian Jian, Li Keng, Li Junpan, Tang Huaiqiu

Crew of note:

Runtime: 85 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Ruan Lingyu is a single mother and a woman of the night. Yep, a prostitute (take note, in this day prostitution was a taboo subject in China and pretty much everywhere else in the world). Life is difficult in Depression-era China, especially when you have a manipulative, abusive man acting as your self-appointed pimp. He’s also fat and greedy, and isn’t about to let them go. And all she wants is for her son to get an education.

review
Look through all the films made in or before 1934, and try to find films starring a prostitute. Not just a co-star or tragic role player, but the actual center of the movie. I don’t think you’ll find many. And how many of these films will treat their heroine with as much humanity, with as much grace and understanding as “The Goddess”? Scratch that–look at the title, they’re actually calling her a Goddess, despite having an occupation that is seen with abundant derision and shame.

Yet Ruan Lingyu’s character proves that she is, indeed, a Goddess. She works, despite her shame (and the camera follows suit, with panning down to her feet as she stands on a street corner), not for her own lavishness.. and not even just to make ends meet. All this is to send her son to school, so that he can have a good life that she could otherwise not provide. Her occupation isn’t commendable, but her motives and unflinching desire to give her son everything that she can is overwhelming.

This is the real strength of this film: her character. In a day (in an entire country even!) when women were still seen as pretty dressed up dolls, when single-motherhood was an absurd concept and all women needed a man to survive, The Goddess grants us a woman unlike any other from this era. Faced with tragedy, and even more obstacles that stand in her way (literally blocking her doorway), she does not crumble, does not run away. She works, she fights, she puts on a brave face. After seeing this film, I am sure you will agree: Ruan Lingyu is a Goddess.

conclusion
In Ruan Lingyu’s short but storied career, many films stand out. However Lingyu as the eponymous Goddess, an appropriate title that she proves she is worth, stands as one of her most memorable roles. She is reknowned for her strong, independent, and “modern” portrayals of women, and this is perhaps one of the best from this era.

things to take note of
Lingyu’s facial expressions
The calm humanism Wu Yonggang’s script and Lingyu’s acting give the main character
Notice how almost every paragraph starts with “Bla bla Ruan Lingyu blabla”?

best moment
Whenever Lingyu is able to make ends meet, and when she’s with her kid

why you should watch this
Ruan Lingyu is a legend of Chinese cinema, and rightfully so. Plus, this is one of her best performances.

rating: 8.8

scorecard
Plot: C+
Cast: A+++
Cinematography: B
Music: C+
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
Yuen Ling-yuk / Center Stage, the 1992 movie about her life starring Maggie Cheung
Other tragic films starring Ruan Lingyu, such as:
Xiao Wanyi / Small Toys (1933)
Xin nü xing / New Woman (1934)
Tao hua qi xue ji / The Peach Girl (1931)
and her last film, Guo feng / National Pride (1935)

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