“This fictionalised account of the life of kabuki actor Onoe Kikunosuke – toppled from stardom by an illicit affair, finally reaching maturity through his lover’s self-sacrifice – arguably marks the peak of Mizoguchi’s art. Apart from the three scenes on the kabuki stage, the film is constructed in ‘sequence-shots,’ long, mobile takes that refuse ‘natural’ continuities and instead create a delicately artificial mesh of cross-rhythms and modulations. The plot premises are angrily feminist.” —Tony Rayns, National Film Theatre (London) . The first and only surviving film of a trilogy Mizoguchi made about Meiji-period theater, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums was unseen in the West until quite recently. The difficulty of finding contemporary subjects acceptable to the increasingly watchful military government is held by some critics to be the inspiration for this turning away from the “social tendency” subjects of Mizoguchi’s mid-‘30s films. Nonetheless, it was to Meiji Era subjects (1868-1912) that he was repeatedly drawn thoughout his career. In a famous quote, he spoke of its appeal: “Let us say that a man like me is always tempted by the climate of beauty in this era.” This long, complex work marked Mizoguchi’s first use of his one shot/one scene approach to mise en scène: the film has about one-quarter the number of shots in a “normally” edited film. —BAM/PFA
Kenji Mizoguchi entered the film world as a promoter of Western novelty in Japanese cinema and exited it as an acclaimed international director who exemplified Japan at its most traditional. After The Life of Oharu and Ugetsu won prizes in successive Venice Film Festivals in the early ‘50s, Mizoguchi became an icon for the nascent French New Wave. His mastery of mise-en-scène was lauded by Jacques Rivette, while Jean-Luc Godard praised his metaphysics and his stylistic elegance. Mizoguchi is still recognized as one of the 20th century’s greatest filmmakers. Born in Tokyo, in 1898, Mizoguchi was the middle child of a roofer/carpenter. His family’s financial situation went from modest to desperate when his erratic, dreamer father tried to make a killing by selling raincoats to the military during the Russo-Japanese war. Not having enough money for food, Mizoguchi’s older sister was put up for adoption at age 14. She was later sold to a geisha house. Mizoguchi himself… read more
At last coming to Blu-ray and DVD via Artificial Eye in the U.K, a release which will lead to a dramatic reappraisal of this magnificent film's standing in the canon of not only Mizoguchi, but the whole of world cinema. One of the great masterpieces of Japanese films from the 1930s.