Sunday, March 23, 2008
Zangiku monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939) aka The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939)
Mizoguchi, "the women's director" tells the tale of Otoku, a maid who falls in love with a kabuki actor from a prestigious family causing him to be disowned. Otoku becomes the actor's muse and sticks by him through 5 years of difficulties and poverty before he finally becomes a famous actor resulting from Otoku's sacrifices. The story wasn't particularly engaging for me, being a melodrama it was actually fairly predictable, however these themes being explored in prewar Japan were important and unconventional and the final images were chilling. In this film along with many others, Mizoguchi explores the roles of women in society and their plights, as well as the traditional Japanese family values, and celebration of the arts. Moreso than the themes and narrative itself, I was much more infatuated with Mizoguchi's unique and influential aesthetic. His choice of camera positions is often unique, sometimes placed behind railing or other obstructions, other times at very low angles, or vice versa. This film particularly utilizes a lot of wide master shots that run for long durations without cutting. He also employs some fantastic fluid camera work, chiaroscuro lighting, and meticulous pacing. The distant camera allows the viewer to more actively participate, scanning the frames for the important actions, yet also allowing the freedom to explore.