Last Chrysanthemum, The
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Cast: Shotaro Hanayagi, Kokichi Takada, Gonuro Kawarazaki
Kenji Mizoguchi is considered, along with Yasujiro Ozu, to be the master of purely Japanese cinema. He directed many films in his 30 years career. Among those, The Last Chrysanthemum is one of his most renowned masterpiece.
This film is about how Kikunosuke, the son of an important actor, falls in love with a servant called Otoku and how he struggles to become a great actor with the sacrifice of Otoku.
In this film, Kenji Mizoguchi's incomparable talent in combining the use of long take and tracking shot with the narrative of the film greatly enhances the pleasure of film watching for the audience both visually and intellectually. For instance, let us take the second shot in the beginning of the film to examine. It is a long take and the camera pans from left to right in order to show different actors and technicians preparing for the performance. The composition of this shot is remarkably rich. The frame is not flat at all. The carefully planned mise en scene not only maximizes the narrative possibility of the shot, it also creates a beautiful setting with certain depth of field. In the foreground, several actors are preparing for the performance. They are sharp in focus, the viewers see clearly what they are doing. Then the camera gradually pans to the left side where the viewers see a lot of actors and technicians running down the stairs in the background. Notice that they are also sharp in focus. The viewers are able to see clearly what they are doing as well. Therefore it is safe to say that deep-focus photography is employed in this shot so that the images in the foreground is sharp in focus as well as the images in the background. Depth of field is suggested because from the actions of the characters in the foreground and the background, the viewers realize that there are several planes in the setting. With the appropriate use of deep-focus photography and long take, the foreground and the background of the frame are both taken care of and contain equally important visual information. The possibility of a more profound and vivid storytelling style is opened up, which results in a more visually and intellectually enriched viewing experience for the viewers. For instance, in this shot, the hectic situation of the troupe at that moment is enhanced.
Kenji Mizoguchi's cinematic technique was totally new and innovative at that time in Japan. His films become the role model for later filmmakers to follow. Even Akira Kurosawa shows respect for him and regards him as the true creator of Japanese cinema. It is no doubt why people consider Kenji Mizoguchi as the master of early Japanese cinema.
16mm (US version) - I watched this film in a private 16mm screening event. The film itself is in black and white, and the 16mm print is probably an old print. It is definitely not in its excellent qualities. If you see this film in any film festival screening list, don't hestitate, go watch it!
Reviewed by: Kantorates