The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum Screen 14 articles

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum

1939

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum Poster
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    The Chicago Reader: Dave Kehr
    September 23, 1977 | When Movies Mattered (pp. 197-200)

    Kikunosuke's first serious conversation with Otoku... [is] a supremely moving sequence, not because of the expressiveness of the actors (we can hardly make out their faces), but because of the expressive position of Mizoguchi's camera. For the first time, we see Kikunosuke in a low-angle shot: he has gained a certain stature. For the first time, Kikunosuke is allowed to lead the camera: in a sense, he has broken out of the frame, out of the world, and is pursuing his own destiny.

  • Not the best known of Kenji Mizoguchi's period masterpieces, but conceivably the greatest... Never before nor after (with the possible exception of The 47 Ronin) would Mizoguchi's refusal to use close-ups have more telling effect, and the theme of female sacrifice that informs most of his major works is given a singular resonance and complexity here.

  • Kenji Mizoguchi creates an exquisitely realized film on love, perseverance, and the pursuit of artistic excellence in The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum... [The film] is a serenely beautiful, haunting, and profoundly moving portrait of the interminable power of love, the cruel inescapability of social class, and the ultimate price of fame.

  • Story of the Late Chrysanthemums, for all its staggering formal beauty, is a little monotonous emotionally. Another story of a woman who sacrifices herself so that the man she loves – a kabuki actor – can achieve professional fulfillment, it is as affecting as any film Mizoguchi made, but the emotional complexities which give The Straits of Love and Hate, Five Women Around Utamaro (1946) or A Woman of Rumour (1954), amongst others, their enduring fascination, are less visible.

  • This is a profound indictment on the state of cinema itself. But the way that Mizoguchi was able to interweave [the] messages and, while doing so, revamp his cinematic language and style makes this an essential film, not just in his career, but in the history of cinema.

  • Superbly complex interiors in auditoriums and trains linked by stately movement, a view of the lovers at the flophouse held for minutes on end at an elevated angle (Wyler has it in Carrie in the midst of Olivier’s debasement), a dialogue staged as a tight tableau until a small swivel of the camera reveals the rest of the world.

  • The deep space cinematography, elliptical narrative, and tight choreography challenge the audience to forge its own path through the film. It’s worth wondering how our canon might be modified had Mizoguchi’s film traveled abroad before Citizen Kane, as its innovations are no less revelatory and are equally inseparable from its thematic weight.

  • "Chrysanthemum" is a desperately sad story told with utter and potentially unsettling conviction. The film’s ideology embraces Otoku’s sacrifice as necessary; there’s zero irony here, no implied disapproval of the social order that excludes Otoku. But Mr. Mizoguchi’s artistry and empathy are such that he makes Otoku’s ostensibly ennobling pain palpable. Hence, the movie’s tragic dimension is formidable.

  • The films of Mizoguchi, one of the supreme artists of Japanese cinema, can be like refreshing waters, poetically combining as they do emotion and aesthetic rigor... “The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum,” a tale of love, sacrifice and family conflict set in the late 19th century, marked an important point in Mizoguchi’s career, and is one of the purest examples of his mature style.

  • The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum becomes an authentic dual tragedy. The movie has the shape of a Camille-like tearjerker, but it’s dramatically rigorous and tough-minded. Emotionally, it packs a one-two punch.

  • The challenge of directing genuine shinpa actors to deliver an (essentially true) story of a kabuki dynasty stoked Mizoguchi’s imagination and resolve. Ingenious and varied scenes were conceived and executed; his intuition about what to show and how to show it was infallible as the modules of scenes composed of separate elements fell into coherence, accumulating more and more emotional power.

  • What distinguishes The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, however, is the assertiveness of its stylistic deployments. In this prototypical Mizoguchian tale of lifelong female sacrifice in the male-dominated arena of kabuki theatre, camera placements are often so eccentric that we're compelled to acknowledge the directorial decision-making irrespective of how it's supporting the story.

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    Sight & Sound: Nick Pinkerton
    November 04, 2016 | December 2016 Issue (p. 101)

    The film lingers in the memory as a suite of long-shot long takes – Kiku and Otoku cutting and enjoying watermelon slices together in more innocent times, Kiku grovelling at the side of Otoku's deathbed when, far too late, they've been given permission to marry – unfolding at the speed of life. You can find echoes in the New Taiwanese Cinema and elsewhere, but to call it a 'precursor' to anything would be reductive; The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum simply is.

  • A masterpiece in the literal sense of the word—the proof that Mizoguchi could stand alongside the best directors in history as an artistic equal. The film is something of a cinematic manifesto, a depiction of the long apprenticeship, hard knocks, bitter rivalries, and personal agonies from which an artistic breakthrough is made.

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