Historian of Japanese cinema Audie Bock claims that “The Garden of Women” (1Onna no Sono, 1954) was Kinoshita’s last protest film. According to Bock, Kinoshita had found that “social protest in film had no impact,” a realization followed by surrender to sentimentality, starting with his biggest commercial success “24 Eyes.” I think, however, that “24 Eyes” (review coming soon!)movie has considerable criticism of wartime propaganda and authoritarianism and that there is plenty of social criticism (sometimes satirical) in later Kinoshita movie.
“Garden” also criticized authoritarianism, of a female form, the rigidly moralistic Kyoto girls’ school matron played by Takamine Mieko, who indulges the rebellious daughter of a rich family (her father is de facto the boss of the matron’s boss), (Kuga Yoshiko, who would appear in many of the later Ozu movies), while persecuting a poor scholarship girl, Yoshie (Takamine Hideko), who is in love with and wanting to marry the handsome Shimoda Sankichi (Tamura Takahiro, who would star in Ôshima’s 1978 “Empire of Passion”).
Kinoshita clearly sides with the young rebels against the continuation of the authoritarianism that had led to imperial overreach, making for an unusually unsubtle and hectoring/didactic movie that also runs on far too long (142 minutes).
And, other than being set in a girl’s school run by authoritarian female teachers, I don’t see much in common between “Mädchen in niform” and “Garden of Women.”
©2016, Stephen O. Murray