Sumako Matsui was the first great modern Japanese actress and, for many Japanese, their first public "twentieth-century woman." Matsui's love affair with theater director Hogetsu Shimamura was a public scandal that ended in tragedy. Kinugasa's version of this scenario is a haunting elegy to personal and artistic freedom, told in a powerful visual style and drawing on a deeply felt performance by Isuzu Yamada as Sumako. The camera never leaves the world of the theater; we become immersed in an artist's determination to awaken a land "where no one smiles anymore," as Shimamura (Yoshi Hijikata) claims. Sumako comes to this environment wide-eyed but not ingenuous; A Doll's House was made for her. Kinugasa reflects the script's existential ramifications in a visually expressionistic style (more Western than Japanese). Outside and inside are continually counterposed in a complex use of windows and mirrors; figures appear and disappear at the director's will; fades and double fades remind us that Kinugasa, too, was a maverick artist.

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