A deeply affecting tale of romantic sacrifice from Japan's master of emotional tragedy, Kenji Mizoguchi.
In 1888 Tokyo, Shoko Kikunosuke, adopted son of the distinguished actor Kikugoro V, is accustomed to false praise from family acolytes despite his poor acting ability. When his infant brother's nursemaid Toku tells him the truth about his skills, he becomes enamored of her and motivated to work
harder at his craft. But Shoko's mother is appalled by the attention paid her son by a mere nursemaid, and dismisses Toku. Intending to give up everything to be with her, Shoko discovers Toku has disappeared rather than disrupt his family and career.
A year later in Osaka, Shoko is a favored pupil of acting great Tamizo, having left his father's troupe to prove himself alone. Discouraged by his lack of progress, Shoko is considering quitting when Toku reappears to praise his growing skills. They move in together, but when Tamizo dies, the
other members of the troupe cast Shoko out.
In Nagoya, Shoko has hardened towards life and Toku after four years of working as an itinerant actor in a ragged ensemble. When several of Kikugoro V's ensemble pass through town in a traveling Kabuki troupe, Toku goes to them and arranges an audition for Shoko. He performs brilliantly, and is
set to return triumphantly to Tokyo, when Toku disappears again in order not to impede his success.
A star in Tokyo, Shoko and his troupe travel to Osaka for a performance. Here he finds a desperately ill Toku living in their former apartment. She insists that he attend the congratulatory river procession honoring his success; she will listen from the room and afterwards they will be together
forever. But while he basks in the town's accolades, Toku dies in the darkened room.
Filmed largely in long, beautifully composed shots (Mizoguchi was initially schooled as a painter) with no close-ups, the effect is akin to a stage play, putting the weight on ensemble performance rather than focusing on Capraesque sentimental shorthand. Long stretches are curiously unsubtitled,
including entire conversations; it's to Mizoguchi's and the actors' credits that the tale continues to engross nonetheless. Still, it would be interesting to understand the dialogue in Shoko's breakthrough performance for the Kabuki troupe--portraying a woman parrying with a domineering male. The
ever-compliant, never-complaining Toku meanwhile suffers endlessly for Shoko's art, forsaking her own pleasures, her own identity, even her life to ensure his success. His every triumph is predicated on her sacrifice, his greatest glories coming at her expense.
Mizoguchi, who went on to make over 80 films in a scant 34-year career beginning in 1922, had only recently escaped the confines of work for hire and begun to crystalize his individual style at the time this was made, as well as his recurrent theme: the travails of long-suffering women throughout
the ages in inequitable Japanese society. THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUM, written by Mizoguchi's frequent collaborator Yoshikata Yoda (1909-1991), is surely among their greatest achievements.
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- Review: A deeply affecting tale of romantic sacrifice from Japan's master of emotional tragedy, Kenji Mizoguchi. In 1888 Tokyo, Shoko Kikunosuke, adopted son of the distinguished actor Kikugoro V, is accustomed to false praise from family acolytes despite his poo… (more)