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.