The Mizoguchi Collection View large image
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Film Details

Directed by: Kenji Mizoguchi

Produced: 1946

Countries & Regions: Japan

DVD Details

Certificate: PG

Length: 406 mins

Format: DVD

Released: 12 March 2012

Cat No: ART524DVD

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The Mizoguchi Collection

Cast: Kinuyo Tanaka , Isuzu Yamada , Seichi Takegawa , Shôtarô Hanayagi , Kakuko Mori , Kôkichi Takada , Yôko Umemura , Benkei Shiganoya , Minosuke Bandô , Kôtarô Bandô

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Four films from the celebrated Japanese director. ’Osaka Elegy’ (1936) relates the story of a young woman, Ayako Murai (Isuzu Yamada),... Read More

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Four films from the celebrated Japanese director. ’Osaka Elegy’ (1936) relates the story of a young woman, Ayako Murai (Isuzu Yamada), who engages in a series of affairs to raise money for her family. Initially, she embarks on a relationship with her boss to obtain the money to stop her father going to prison for embezzlement. However, when she begins a second relationship with a work colleague to try and earn money for her brother and boyfriend, Ayako is in danger of going too far and getting herself in trouble. ’The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum’ (1939) follows Kikunsoke Onoue (Shôtarô Hanayagi), a young actor who is shocked to discover that people have only been patronising him by saying that he is talented. The only person who seems willing to tell him the truth about his acting to his face is Otoku (Kakuko Mori), a servant his family fire and ban him from seeing due to fear of the scandal a relationship between the pair would cause. Kikunsoke and Otoku leave together and Kikunsoke vows to win back his family’s affection by becoming a renowned actor. ’Sisters of the Gion’ (1936) focuses on two geisha sisters who have differing attitudes to men. Umekichi (Yôko Umemura) believes so strongly in loyalty that she wants to help her lover, Furusawa (Benkei Shiganoya), when he is abandoned by his wife. In contrast, her sister, Omocha (Isuzu Yamada), thinks that the pair should be seeking out wealthy patrons rather than supporting others and attempts to manoeuvre Umekichi away from Furusawa. Finally, ’Utamaro and His Five Women’ (1946) offers a semi-autobiographical portrait of the Japanese artist, Kitagawa Utamaro. Utamaro (Minosuke Bandô), renowned for his portraits of women, finds many of his subjects in Tokyo’s brothels. However, will his philandering ways lead him into trouble?

One of the greatest of all Japanese directors, Mizoguchi is best-known in the west for his late-period masterpieces like Ugetsu Monogatari. But this new collection shows that his most innovative and original work was done much earlier.

Sisters of the Gion follows two siblings who are forced to work as geishas and whose lives depend on wealthy if capricious men. Here, Mizoguchi's mature style manifests itself for the first time. The film opens with a remarkable travelling shot through a house being sold for auction, the first of a series of strategies for opening up space in domestic interiors. The camera is placed at a distance from the protagonists and complex emotional scenes are played out at length so that the actors can reach a new level of nuance in their performance.

Osaka Elegy is even more impressive in this regard; Mark Cousins used it in his documentary series, The Story of Film, as an example of Mizoguchi's artistry. But it's also bold in theme. The heroine is a young woman who decides to pay off her family debts by virtually prostituting herself to a local businessman. But she is no teary-eyed victim of fate; at the end, she strides forward, confidently delinquent, a proto-feminist in the making.

One of Mizoguchi's strangest and rarest films, Five Women around Utamaro concerns one of Japan's greatest painters, a frequenter of brothels and depicter of courtesans. The film is a coded self-portrait and offers an interesting insight into the relationship between the director and his actresses. But it also indulges in the most erotic – and outrageous – scenes in Mizoguchi's cinema, including a Busby Berkeleyesque sequence of scantily-clad beauties fishing in the bay.

Story of the Late Chrysanthemums has only previously been available in this country in a terribly battered print. Here, its incredible beauty is readily apparent and it emerges as one of the true masterpieces of world cinema. The story of a struggling Kabuki actor supported by his long-suffering wife, it's both a great love story and an unflinching examination of the snobbery inherent in a rigidly traditional society. Its formally audacious but restrained and elegant style has been hugely influential on directors like Hou H'siao-H'sien, and its presence alone makes this collection an essential purchase.

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