Kenji Mizoguchi

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knives
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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#201 Post by knives » Fri May 20, 2011 2:52 pm

I do care. First though I feel I should address the propaganda comments which have caused a few eyebrows too. I wasn't assessing the 'quality' of the propaganda or else I wouldn't have bothered to mention Riefenstahl who is clearly a talented film maker. Like already mentioned Kurosawa would be a better mention if I was going for that. I was just listing someone who engaged in propaganda without subversion. Nothing of what I've seen from Mizoguchi suggests he was anything but upfront during this period. There's nothing in the way say the German scene in The Only son is subversive. Hopefully that covers that.

Anyways maybe no talent is a bit extreme. He does have the occasional eye for inventiveness, but none of the works I've seen (which I'll admit is in the minority of percents) have been good. I've already explained my dissatisfaction for Ugetsu and Sansho previously, but say The Loyal 47 Ronin which in many ways is the best film from him I've seen has elements that are so crippling bad that the good parts (essentially the whole of the second part) are wasted and not worth it. If Mizoguchi is the weasel than in the face of his contemporaries he deserves the pot.

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#202 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri May 20, 2011 3:11 pm

What else have you seen?

None of Mizoguchi's (surviving) war-time films are remotely as obnoxious and objectionable as Kurosawa's Most Beautiful. As leaden as much as much of Great Sword Bijimaru may be, the propaganda aspects are pretty faint, while 47 Loyal Ronin is pretty ambiguous and Musashi Miyamoto might even be a little bit subversive.

Not sure what elements of Ronin you find "cripplingly bad" -- but neither this nor Ugetsu nor Sansho come anywhere to the top of _my_ Mizoguchi list.

Mizoguchi is tied to a far older tradition of drama than any other well-known contemporary. His work can't easily be compared to Ozu or Naruse or Shimizu, etc. These other film makers were all post-shimpai -- and Mizoguchi never really left the shelter of this already-obsolete artistic sensibility (at least not for long). One has to taaks some account that his works can't be judged by criteria that don't apply to them. But within the ambit of this sensibility, he did some remarkable work.

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knives
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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#203 Post by knives » Fri May 20, 2011 3:28 pm

I agree that his propaganda is never really obnoxious especially when compared to Kurosawa, but his position in the propaganda to the best of my knowledge was far higher. Kurosawa's works at best are a Harlan proxy and I didn't want to convey that. As to what I've seen beyond those three you've got Sisters of the Gion which is easily my least favorite of his works and Story of Late Chrysanthemums which aside from Ronin which has a negligible female element comes across the least misogynistic. That's not something that typically bugs me, but the particular sort of misogyny he dishes out disturbs me greatly.

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#204 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri May 20, 2011 3:47 pm

I would not view Mizoguchi as an enlightened feminist (in modern terms) -- but I don't see how you can view his work as misogynistic (especially Sisters of Gion, which had the opposite intent).

I see Mizoguchi as cinematically sophisticated and "dramatically" often quite crude. But his poetry is in the visuals, not the plotting (or the complexity of the characters). I mean, does one judge Puccini's (wonderful) Tosca based on the magnificent music or the rather obvious underlying story? (I see Mizoguchi and Puccini as being quite akin to one another in many ways).

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#205 Post by knives » Fri May 20, 2011 4:10 pm

I haven't seen nor heard any of Puccini's operas so I can't comment off of that, but if Mizoguchi's feminism is making an idealized woman and killing off whoever doesn't fit that view than I want none of that. His visuals too, if we are going off of that, rarely communicate anything meaningful to me. The reason I consider The Loyal 47 Ronin to be the best of the films I've seen by him rests exclusively with the visuals which especially in the second part communicate a greater emotion like you said (the last shot nearly makes me relent on the pedestal that many put him on). Outside that though I don't think he communicates via visuals all to well. I could watch a Naruse or Shimizu film without subtitles and only glancing at the picture on screen (as difficult as it is to only glance) and get a full range of emotions and story. The same is not true in my experience with Mizoguchi who seems to try to be in the corner without even succeeding on that level (visually I think a comparison to Rossellini's later films is apt and only goes to show Mizoguchi's weaknesses on that point). Every time I find myself forcing my viewing entirely on the visuals as I find the story to be so putrid or poorly conceived. Like you said he is dramatically crude leaving only unsatisfying visuals.

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#206 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri May 20, 2011 4:17 pm

Well, I find it sometimes takes work to get into the proper frame of mind to appreciate Mizoguchi, but it is usually worth the effort.

If you find the stories "putrid", I suspect there is little I can say that will get you to take a different approach (and view some other films -- like my favorite Crucified Lovers).

(Verdi and Puccini are probably quite relevant to analysis of Mizoguchi. In fact, Story of Late Chrysanthemums borrows a number of elements -- including the finale from Verdi -- namely La traviata).

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#207 Post by Shrew » Fri May 20, 2011 9:24 pm

I agree with Kerpan that Mizoguchi isn't the feminist suggested by many modern critics, but I think it's way over the top to say he's misogynist. Like Puccini, he's guilty of taking strong women and putting them through the ringer to squeeze out all the emotion he can, but they're not all martyrs of their own saintliness. Osaka Elegy is a big counterexample, which at first appears to be the same story of noble woman beset by the hardships produced by a male-dominated society and slowly crushed, until it makes a whopping punch of a turn with its ending. It really deserves a look as a major film of Mizoguchi, but especially if you're going to write him off like this.

Street of Shame is my personal favorite though, as I think both his visuals and characterizations are much more nuanced. And while it's just as harsh if not more on the social conditions which entrap the women, it does offer a wide array of ways in which the women cope and take advantage, rather than just play the victims.

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#208 Post by rockysds » Mon May 27, 2013 9:45 am

The paperback of Tadao Sato's "Kenki Mizoguchi and the Art of Japanese Cinema" is pretty cheap at Book Depository. £5.49, free shipping.
Last edited by rockysds on Mon May 27, 2013 7:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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andyli
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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#209 Post by andyli » Mon May 27, 2013 6:48 pm

Thanks for the heads-up. I ordered it but was a little concerned by this one-star review on amazon accusing that the book was not translated and edited well. Is there any truth to it?

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#210 Post by jguitar » Wed May 29, 2013 4:48 pm

I don't have the book in front of me and have not read it from cover to cover, but I remember coming across some odd translations of certain things and just awkward writing in general. Also, the layout is peculiar; they use inset type the way you would for a block quote, but it doesn't appear to be a quotation. That makes it a bit hard to navigate. But it's also Sato, and getting to read his thoughts on Mizoguchi is certainly worth it.

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#211 Post by vsski » Sun Jul 28, 2013 8:30 pm

Over the past week I completed a personal mini retrospective of Mizoguchi movies, something I haven't had time to do with any director in a long time and for me it turned into an eye opening experience. Over the past week I saw all nine movies I own on BD by him (the four AEs, the four MoCs and the CC of Oharu), which I had bought a while ago, but didn't have time to see until now. I do own the Eclipse set also, as well as the 47 Ronins, but since they are currently all in storage, I focused on the BDs.
While I had seen many movies previously, both on disc as well as in theaters, I never had a chance to watch them all at once and certainly not chronologically as I have now. On previous viewings I always came out with mixed feelings, on some I liked the cinematography, but I often found them too melodramatic or trying too hard to bring the message across and sometimes I felt the stories were too contrived or I simply couldn't relate to them.

This time around things were very different, as it allowed me to see an artist developing his craft over time, and noticing changes in approaching sometimes similar subject matters. While I still feel his early films that brought him first recognition like Osaka Elegy and Sister of the Gion are too heavy handed and throwing the message in your face (although I believe that at the time they raised a few eyebrows), The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums was an eye opener and my favorite of all the ones I saw. I can easily see how someone can compare it to an Italian opera in its act structure, its story line of utter joy and despair, and of course in the last act where both collide (La Boheme comes to mind for example). When watching Utamaro and understanding some of the political context in which it was shot as well as having read about his personal life, I can understand why it's seen as an autobiographical picture, and yet, I felt it portrayed the artist as the catalyst for many events often unplanned by him and intentions attributed to his actions he clearly didn't consciously intend (while I never had that impression of Mizoguchi himself, but I may not know enough about him personally).

Oya-Sama, which I hadn't seen previously was a very pleasant surprise and I loved the frankness of the subject matter for the time and never felt like in his earlier works that the melodrama was getting too heavy handed. Even Oharu, which some have characterized as an onslaught of cruelty and injustice towards an individual that makes it hard to believe and/or to bear, for me took on an almost religious / philosophical quality of someone who through suffering achieves nirvana / salvation in the end.

While Ugetsu and Sansho constantly receive heaps of praise and I love Miagawa's cinematography, I never managed to connect with them as I did with some of the more contemporary melodramas. Gion Bayashi, another one I hadn't seen before, spoke to me much more and again I was surprised by the frankness of the subject matter, and loved the actors' performances. It does of course evoke comparisons with Sister of the Gion; although this time I don't find the melodrama over the top and the slightly more restraint approach makes the story more believable and allowed me to connect better with the characters.

While I never had a negative impression of Mizoguchi as an artist, I wasn't really able to connect with his movies the way I did now seeing several of them and in chronological order. And being a big fan of opera as well, I think Michael Kerpan said it best when he compared him with Puccini, as I truly felt many of the movies resemble in structure and story Italian operas.

The experience certainly makes me want to see more, although I realize that other than the old MoCs (which I'm hoping will get upgraded sooner than later) there unfortunately doesn't seem to be more out there at the moment.

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#212 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sun Jul 28, 2013 10:47 pm

Verdi's La Traviata provides the strongest (thematic) operatic parallels to Story of Late Chrysanthemums (because it brings in the issue of parental conflict and disapproval of the lover's relationship -- plus the too late parental change of heart). Tonally, Puccini and Mizoguchi have a lot in common. Have you seen Utamaro yet? (another under-appreciated gem, I think).

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#213 Post by vsski » Sun Jul 28, 2013 11:45 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:Verdi's La Traviata provides the strongest (thematic) operatic parallels to Story of Late Chrysanthemums (because it brings in the issue of parental conflict and disapproval of the lover's relationship -- plus the too late parental change of heart). Tonally, Puccini and Mizoguchi have a lot in common. Have you seen Utamaro yet? (another under-appreciated gem, I think).
Excellent point about the parental conflict and change of heart in the end in La Traviata, which is indeed closer to the story arc of Chrysanthemums as a whole. I was thinking of La Boheme because of Mimi of course and the fact that I feel Mizoguchi in terms of atmosphere and flow is closer to Puccini. Actually watching several of his films I almost felt as if I was watching a Puccini opera due to the rythym of the action and editing.

I did see Utamaro this past week as well (it had been many years since I first saw it) and agree that it was together with Chrysanthemums and Gion Bayashi my favorite. The parallels to Mizoguchi's own life are unmistakingly visible, and at the same time it is the portrait of a great artist in general - clearly a stand-out and recommended for anyone who likes films about artists regardless of artistic subject matter or culture.

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#214 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Jul 29, 2013 8:33 pm

Although I love both Verdi and Puccini, I think Verdi's (as a whole) work is ultimately richer and more varied. I think Mizoguchi, like Puccini, has a more restricted range -- though they are both absolutely wonderful within that range.

I love Gion bayashi, Utamaro and Tale of Late Chrysanthemums -- but definitely love Crucified Lovers most of all (and I think it is more "Verdian" in complexity and tone -- even if not in plot).

I think Utamaro bothers some people because of the nature of the lead character/performance. The "weak", sensitive sort of hero we find here just isn't a powerful Hollywood archetype -- yet is one of two main types of Japanese heroes (going all the way back to Tale of the Genji, at least).

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#215 Post by vsski » Mon Jul 29, 2013 9:45 pm

I unfortunately haven't seen Chikamatsu Monogatari yet, but given your endorsement will have to seek it out soon. Unfortunately, it's currently only available as part of the box set from MoC, so I really hope they publish the other two on BD as well, so I don't have to buy the whole set and duplicating the ones I already own.

There is no doubt that Verdi is the more varied and flamboyent of the two composers. I like your analogy, because when I first got into opera I did like Puccini, but not to the same extent as Verdi. Puccini has grown on me over repeat experiences. And the same has happened with Mizoguchi, I liked him, but didn't immediately latch onto him like I did with Kurosawa, who I found more easily accessible and became hooked with my first viewing as a teenager. This isn't to say that I would compare Kurosawa with Verdi (even though both liked Shakespeare). The one director I associate most with Verdi is Visconti, but that is discussion for another thread.

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#216 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Jul 29, 2013 10:49 pm

The director _I_ most associate with Shakespeare is Kozintsev. ;~}

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#217 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon May 05, 2014 8:07 pm

The complete surviving films (so far as I can tell) of Mizoguchi are showing up at the Museum of the Moving Image in NYC, and then at the Harvard Film Archive.

This has lead to some rather not especially acute comparisons of Mizoguchi, Ozu and Kurosawa in both The New York Times (by someone whose name I don't recognize) and The New Yorker blog by Richard Brody.

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#218 Post by YnEoS » Mon May 05, 2014 9:39 pm

Any recommendations for someone who's generally left cold by Mizoguchi films? (seen Ugetsu, Sansho, Oharu, Osaka Elegy, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, and several titles I forget from the MoC box)

I think I remember you speaking highly of The Crucified Lovers, so I'll try and make it to that one at a minimum.

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#219 Post by Zot! » Mon May 05, 2014 9:58 pm

Yeah, if you see Crucified Lovers you're pretty much set. I just watched Sansho again, after watching everything else in the MOC box, and for me it was leagues ahead of anything else included there. So if you don't like that, I doubt one of his other movies would ring your bell. We were discussing this in the Box Set thread actually, and there are some informative posts.

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#220 Post by swo17 » Mon May 05, 2014 10:30 pm

Definitely try to catch Portrait of Madame Yuki. I find it visually sumptuous in a way that most of his films aren't necessarily trying for. And I believe the only available DVD is a Japanese one without English subs.

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#221 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon May 05, 2014 10:39 pm

I agree that Madame Yuki is visually stunning -- possibly Mizoguchi's most visually stunning film (and that's saying a lot).

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#222 Post by knives » Mon May 05, 2014 11:39 pm

YnEoS wrote:Any recommendations for someone who's generally left cold by Mizoguchi films? (seen Ugetsu, Sansho, Oharu, Osaka Elegy, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, and several titles I forget from the MoC box)

I think I remember you speaking highly of The Crucified Lovers, so I'll try and make it to that one at a minimum.
I'm generally in the same boat as you maybe even more so. The best I've seen is Utamaro and His Five Women or however it is titled though outside of style I don't think I could say anything about the movie (the style is amazing though). Street of Shame is good enough too.

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#223 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue May 06, 2014 12:03 am

More literally -- Five Women Around Utamaro. I agree that this is an impressive film (which has typically been under-appreciated).

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#224 Post by ando » Thu May 08, 2014 7:17 pm

Five Women Around Utamaro is my favorite Mizoguchi, though I think Ugetsu is a more well rounded film and an absolute classic. Its just that the subject of the artist making the most of his gifts amidst not always advantageous conditions is one of my favorites (Andrei Rublev is another superb example). At any rate the museum's showing of Five Women happens tomorrow night and I'm so pissed at not planning ahead. I'm stuck at work in Manhattan while it's playing during my lunch hour in Queens! Call in sick??? Tempting...

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Re: Kenji Mizoguchi

#225 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu May 08, 2014 8:13 pm

Crucified Lovers is much more "well-rounded" than Ugetsu. ;~}

(In any event, there are parts of Ugetsu I love, and other parts I definitely don't love -- but I love all of CL).

Good luck getting to at least _some_ of the Mizoguchi films being shown.

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