This rare 1930 Kenji Mizoguchi film employed an early sound process: some scenes have intertitles rather than dialogue, and some sound effects seem to have been added later--the print being shown is of a 1950 Japanese restoration. The plot concerns a talented singer, Fujimura, who abandons the roots of his art for popular success--and in the process abandons his wife for glitzier but less authentic friends. This narrative--with its censure of those who shun tradition for easy fame or power--will be familiar to viewers who know Mizoguchi's later work. But unlike the masterpieces to come, this film is a pastiche of several styles. Bumpy camera movements are juxtaposed with static images of characters speaking; in some brief expressionist montages, imagery illustrates the words of Fujimura's songs. The camera movements, which often zero in on one individual, seem an expression of the false, ego-centered success that Fujimura seeks, a kind of Western individualism that Mizoguchi typically critiqued. More commonly the characters are seen in static medium shots staring offscreen. While the film is arguably uneven, those offscreen stares have some of the psychological intensity that Mizoguchi was to achieve with the famous long takes of his later films. Such moments are often placed at turning points, when one most feels the weight of the narrative's moral choices. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, February 2, 6:00, 312-443-3737. --Fred Camper
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.