Film Bitch History
Oscar History

The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R. Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. All material herein is written and copyrighted by Nathaniel or a member of our team as noted.


Powered by Squarespace
Don't Miss This!


Comment Fun

MINDHUNTER (s2 episodes 1-2) 

"I am also a big fan of this show, because of Fincher and the detective work, even if the show skirts very close sometimes to murderer fetish..." - Jono

"I love this show. I binged 7 of the 9 episodes and could have finished but I wanted to savor it a little longer. It's such an engrossing show and beautifully filmed" -Raul

Keep TFE Strong

We're looking for 500... no 461 Patron SaintsIf you read us daily, please be one.  Your suscription dimes make an enormous difference. Consider...

I ♥ The Film Experience



Directors of For Sama

Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
Ritesh Batra (Photograph)
Schmidt & Abrantes (Diamantino)
Wanuri Kahiu (Rafiki)
Jia Zhang-ke (Ash is Purest White)

What'cha Looking For?
« Miss Sloane If You're Nasty | Main | TIFF: Isabelle Huppert is "Elle" »

New to DVD: The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum

By Daniel Walber.

What makes a film theatrical? It’s a word that gets bandied about a lot. Often it just means that the script is like that of a play, with a limited number of locations and lots of dialogue. Or it can be used to describe a style of acting, playing to the rafters rather than the more intimate audience of the camera lens. Rarely, however, do we use the word “theatrical” to describe elements of direction, cinematography and editing.

Yet this underserved implication of the term is the key to understanding The Story of The Last Chrysanthemum, an early triumph of iconic Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi that has just been released by the Criterion Collection. This epic family drama was a proving ground of sorts for the filmmaker’s signature use of long takes, which would elevate such later masterpieces as Ugetsu and The Life of Oharu. But first he took a much narrower approach, crafting the style of The Story of The Last Chrysanthemum from the conventions of kabuki theater.

The protagonist, Kikunosuke Oboue (Shotaro Honayagi) is the heir to a long-standing kabuki dynasty. His relationship with his adopted father begins to fray, however, after the elder Oboue’s wife gives birth to a new baby boy. Kikunosuke makes matters worse by falling in love with the infant’s wet-nurse, Otoku (Kakuko Mori). Forced to choose between his career and his love, he runs off with Otoku and begins an odyssey through the theatrical landscape of late 19th century japan.

Kabuki, like cinema, specializes in artistic trickery. Yet live theater doesn’t have the benefit of editing, the foundation of cinematic sleight of hand. Instead, kabuki actors use a wide variety of theatrical tricks to astound the audience. The Story of the Chrysanthemums begins with some of these feats, a series of quick changes punctuated by uproarious applause. It is all done right in the open, magic performed at the center of the wide kabuki stage.
Mizoguchi follows suit, turning to long takes to replicate the unity of theatrical space. He uses tracking shots to show the full scope of the performance spaces, which in kabuki are especially wide. He treats non-theatrical sets the same way, tracking Otoku as she takes her infant charge out for a walk, or following a grand parade down the street.

He also avoids close-ups. This prioritizes the relationships between actors over the minute details of their personal responses, another element that mimics the experience of the stage. There is often a great deal to look at, allowing the sort of viewer freedom that cinema often tries to restrict.

Take, for example, one crucial shot. The scene is of the first meeting between Otoku and Kikunosuke, presented in an uninterrupted 5-minute take. The two characters walk the length of the street together, as we observe from a distance. They stroll past wind chimes, which continue to punctuate the scene like kabuki’s omnipresent percussion. This long moment is both theatrical and understated, a remarkable combination given the way we usually use the word “theatrical.”

It is this innovation that makes The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum one of the most stylistically significant films of the 1930s, one that always rewards a fresh glance.


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (2)

I totally want to see this as I have The 47 Ronin set to record in my DVR as I've seen Ugetsu, The Life of Oharu, and Sansho the Bailiff as those are great films.

September 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

Sansho and Ugetsu are among my favourite films and i love a few of the 30s films Mizoguchi made with the great Isuzu Yamada......but Chrysanthemums? I actually revisited it just a month ago. And I'm afraid i.just. don't. Get it.

I think it's visually beautiful and by no means a bad film or anything like that.

But i found the female protagonist's sacrifice extremely gerrymandered, the setting a bit skimpy on detail, and the slow pacing not so much hypnotic as check-my-watch-every-5-minutes.

I will however try again with the film in a few years' time. The decades of universal gushing make me feel like I'm missing out on something sublime.

September 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGoran

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>