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FEBRUARY 7-MARCH 30
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“For a man’s success, someone has to suffer!” So Ohama scolds the husband who has abandoned her in Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu. As this scenario implies, in the filmmaker’s world, that someone is usually a woman. Having as a child seen his sister sold into geishahood, Mizoguchi (1898-1956) remained acutely sensitive to the position of women in Japanese society. The 23-film retrospective presented jointly by the Freer and the National Gallery starts with 1936’s Osaka Elegy (Freer; Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. with Poppy; Feb. 9 at 2 p.m. with introduction by film historian Joanne Bernardi). Though generously called by some Mizoguchi’s first masterpiece, this story of a young woman who gives up her honor for the sake of a family that then shuns her does enshrine the filmmaker’s early mature style. Similar themes of women’s sacrifice and abasement were developed in The Life of Oharu (pictured, NGA; Feb. 15 at 3 p.m.) and the sharp and tender A Geisha (NGA; March 8 at 4 p.m.). The full-blown masterpieces stack up at the end of Mizoguchi’s career, when his exquisite deep-focus compositions and long, undialogued pauses combine in support of period storytelling grown both expansive and refined. The director wanted such films as Ugetsu (NGA; March 23 at 1 p.m.) and Sansho the Bailiff (NGA; March 29 at 1 p.m.) to unspool as seamlessly as a scroll painting, fluidly and poetically establishing pictorial and narrative authority. For Mizoguchi, life was truly a vale of sorrows, and his best work conveys both the awesome beauty and devastating psychology of that terrain. At the Freer Gallery’s Meyer Auditorium, 12th & Jefferson Dr. SW. FREE. (202) 357-3200; and the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th & Constitution Ave. NW. FREE. (202) 737-4215. (Glenn Dixon)