Theme: the negative and positive portrayals of women in Japanese films.
Thesis: Although women were often given traits of weakness and overdependence in film, there are certain instances where they too were able to display their positive attributes.
Films to be analyzed: In the Mood for Love and Café Lumiere
Evidence: The main characters in both of the films are young women who managed through their own means to break away from what the society wanted them to do and how they were expected to carry themselves around. The female character in Café Lumiere refused to have a traditional family and raise her child on her own. The female character in ‘In the Mood for Love’ managed to abandon her husband after him cheating on her with their neighbor.
I will discuss the various different circumstances that the women faced and the ways in which they chose to deal with them, and the characters they were able to portray about themselves.
Women Portrayal in Movies
In the mood for love is a movie that focuses on two people, Chow, who is a journalist, and Su, who is an executive assistant (Yue, 2). The two of them are always lonely seeing as their spouses are always away due to the nature of their jobs. The two people always find themselves lonely because the city they live in is large and they have not managed to make any friends or acquaintances. As the movie progresses, the life patterns of the two lonely people become more similar, and they begin to be acquainted with each other. They then begin suspecting that their spouses are cheating on them with each other. This suspicion and frustration brings them even closer together, but they agree to never do the same thing that their spouses are doing to them, because it would mean that they too are lowering themselves to that level. Soon then become unable to hide their feelings for each other and when Chow gets a job in another town, he asks Su to go with him. She does not make it to the hotel room on time. From here on, their paths keep on crossing until the movie ends without them ever having explored their feelings.
In this movie, women are portrayed to be very dependent on men. Su, despite being an executive assistant, is often lonely because her husband is always away (Yue, 3). She is portrayed as being unable to make friends and meet people on her own, and cannot seem to find something to do when her husband is away. Nevertheless, she finally starts to go out of the house alone; most of the time for some shopping for household things. This is how she meets Chow. They soon become very good friends. It is not coincidental that when she begins to meet new people, the very first one that she manages to make friends with quickly is yet again a man.
Women are also portrayed to be loyal. This has been shown through Su, who lives alone most of the time due to the fact that her husband is always away for work. Instead of indulging in unnecessary or amorous activities as other people would, she is always locked up in her house, doing most things on her own. When she meets and becomes friends with Chow, she agrees with him that it would not be noble for them to start a relationship the way that their spouses are doing. Instead they continue to be friends until eventually they are unable to contain the feelings they have for one another. Even after she and Chow are unable to go to Singapore together, Su continues to be faithful to her husband despite the fact that by this time it is apparent that he is having a secret relationship with the wife of Chow, and that she herself has managed to contain her feelings for another man.
Women are also portrayed as ambitious, due to the various careers that they are pursuing. The movie was released in the sixties when women the world over, were just starting to discover and take advantage of their new found freedom to do things other than just being wives and mothers and taking care of their homes. For instance, Su is an executive secretary. The wife of Chow, though the audience is not told exactly what she does, the audience gets the picture that her job is one that is quite demanding and successfully. This can be taken from the fact that she is able to fool her husband for a long time that she is away on business trips when in the real sense she is spending time with her boyfriend, Mr. Chan. The fact that it took her husband a long time to realize that she was lying to him is evidence enough.
The women in the film are also portrayed as being amorous. This is first brought out through the wife of Mr. Chow. She leaves her husband behind almost on a daily basis and lies to him that she is working extra hours while in the real sense she is cheating on him. This case is so serious that the writers of the film did not consider putting a face to the character of this woman, just to emphasize further how detached she is from her husband and home.
The strength of women is also shown quite a bit in this film. This is especially through the character of Su. At the beginning, we begin to learn about how lonely she is due to the fact that she is quite lonely at home since her husband is always away. Despite the fact that she is miserable, she continues to live strongly on, continuing with her business and hiding her emotions. Later, she and Chow find out that their spouses are cheating on them. Although this breaks her heart, she continues to be strong and for a while shuns the temptation of cheating with Mr. Chow, stating that if they do so, they will just be like their spouses. Later, she arrives at the hotel and misses Chow, she is strong enough to go back and live with her cheating husband. However, when she is not able to handle it, she goes to look for Chow in Singapore. When she does not find him, she comes back and rents an apartment where she lives alone with her son.
The movie Café Lumiere is majorly about a young girl, Yoko, who is a reporter. She is in the city to write about a certain famous musician. However, apart from her work, there are several aspects of her life that the movie focuses on. For instance, Yoko finds out that she is pregnant for some man that she is not willing to marry (Hsiao-hsien, 33). Although she has another male companion, in her heart she knows that the chances that she is going to raise her child on her own are very high.
The theme of independence of women is also seen in the movie café Lumiere. This is seen through the character of Yoko. When she first appears in the movie, she has just returned from another town and is pregnant. She however does not desire to marry the father of her child. This is the opposite of the things that are expected in the society that one can only carry the child of a man she intends to marry. Yoko does not allow life and tradition to hold her back. Yuki lives alone. This is another portrayal of her independence. Although the house she lives in is a ramshackle, she is determined to make it, despite having he chance to go back and live with her parents. In the society where she lives, people are expected to have the kind of families that are seen as traditional and acceptable; the kind of nuclear family that consists of a mother, father and child (Hsiao-hsien, 33). Yoko however, does not have the intention to settle with someone just because that is what the society expects of her. She is not keen on having this kind of family and would like to live and raise her child on her own. This shows her independence and desire to live her life the way she finds it suitable, although even her parents do not approve of her life choices.
Women in the movie show signs of being oppressed. They seem to be held down by a society that expects more from them than they are able to deliver. This is seen through the step mother of Yoko. There is a particular scene that brings this into focus where she is working in the kitchen. The kitchen is tightly framed and there are several doorways, which further brings into focus how much these women are unable to live another life than that of being in the kitchen. There is also a scene where Yoko and her step mother go to their neighbors to borrow glasses, further empathizing on their inability to live and function on their own (Hsiao-hsien, 33).
In both movies, one thing that is dominant is that women are in constant battles with various issues in their lives. They always find that they either have to fight certain forces, or find methods through which they are able to live with them without breaking down, since most of the time the society highly depends on them.
Yue, Audrey. “In the mood for love: intersections of Hong Kong modernity.” (2003).
Hsiao-hsien, H., A. Homage, and Yasujiro OZU. “Cafe Lumiere.” Cahiers du cinema (2004): 30-33.