Mizoguchi. Mizoguchi’s strength is that every film of his I’ve seen is in its year’s top 10 and I still have some work to do on his filmography. He’s the only director left this far down with 5 films in my top 500. He’s a style-plus director with clear reoccurring traits throughout his oeuvre (covered in stylistic traits below) both in content and style. His weakness for the purposes of this list is that I don’t have a masterpiece (0 films that land within the top 25 of their respective decade) but that could change because I haven’t seen any of his films more than once aside from Ugetsu.
Best film: Sansho the Bailiff. Slyly simple but an emotionally wrenching and poetically told story. After one pass through his oeuvre and I think this is his best by an extremely slim margin over The 47 Ronin.
total archiveable films: 8
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 5 (Sansho the Baliff, The 47 Ronin, Ugetsu, The Life of Oharu, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum)
top 100 films of the decade: 7 (Sansho the Baliff, The 47 Ronin, Ugetsu, The Life of Oharu, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion)
most overrated: Ugetsu– #47 on TSPDT top 1000 so the fact that I have this as a Must-See film and not a masterpiece makes it pretty significantly overrated even though I like the film a great deal.
most underrated: Osaka Elegy – just one of the prewar films not in the TSPDT top 1000 and to me these are all underrated (mostly because I think they are less readily available). Mizoguchi not only died early at age 58 but had years from his career lost in WW2- much like Ozu and many other great auteurs.
gem I want to spotlight: 47 Ronin. It’s a 4 hour dialogue-heavy film where the film’s major action is told via a story in dialogue form rather than shown…. Sound exciting? Well it’s absolutely fantastic and surely one of the best films of 1941. Mizoguchi’s camerawork is superb. He floats through walls with complicated tracking shows and brings us into and out of scenes with some pretty complicated crane shots (some mirror Gone with the Wind and Intolerance). The dialogue is intelligent and the ending is very satisfying. Clearly the film is paced in such a way that it will be pretty unbearable to those who don’t enjoy cinematic style.
Life of Oharu is another gem. And many think misogyny on film started with von trier? Haha. This is a brutal story but one that is worthy of its lofty critical reputation.
stylistic innovations/traits: Mizoguchi is known for lyrical stories of women in historical settings. Visually his work is composed of long shots with long takes which is one reason he was championed by Bazin, and, in turn, many of the new wavers that followed. His mise-en-scene often included gorgeous natural framing devices, barriers and blockers—variations of von Sternberg’s work.
- Sansho the Bailiff
- The 47 Ronin
- The Life of Oharu
- The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum
- Osaka Elegy
- Sisters of the Gion
- Crucified Lovers
By year and grades
|1936- Osaka Elegy||HR|
|1936- Sisters of the Gion||HR|
|1939- The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum||MS|
|1941- The 47 Ronin||MS|
|1952- Life of Oharu||MS|
|1954- Crucified Lovers|
|1954- Sansho the Baliff||MS|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
[…] 56. Kenji Mizoguchi […]
I’m very excited for this. I had given a look at Sisters of the Gion and Osaka Elegy some time ago (I found them together, same year, same director) and I was interested but not exactly awed by them. I thought Osaka was slightly better due to the sheer power and volume contained in some moments (the final scene and the reflection on the polluted, trashed water are very poignant – and sophisticated for 1936). Anyway, I made sure to look for The Life of Oharu and I was very impressed this time. It was a heck of a film. I don’t know where to begin with the traits I picked up on. I will start by saying that I remember reading somewhere Pawlikowski’s Cold War being described as a Mizoguchi-esque drama, and I’m shocked at how accurate it is. First of all, the camera movement would make Renoir very proud, it carries along the long takes finely, smooth, discreet and utterly poetic. The way the narrative unfolds is rather quick, but not at all rushed. Quick in the sense that time passes by quickly and we only get to see the events that somehow affect the turns our story takes (chillingly similar to Cold War). There is great play on shadow and light that serves the black and white photography well (at this point, I’m convinced Pawlikowski has been directly influenced by Mizoguchi, all things considered). You could also point out the distinct moments of clarity here and there, some kind of contemplation, so to speak, or realisation of one’s condition or fate. All suffering, pain and tragedy is quietly subdued from a filmmaking standpoint – not much music, distanced shots, we’re left alone with these characters and their crumbling, unfair reality. Tanaka was indeed sublime as Oharu and her scene at the temple is incredibly strong acting and quite devastating, as well. It’s a let down I’m not yet able to get my hands on Sansho or Ugetsu, but my expectations are very high.
@George- as always- appreciate your contribution here. I had not made the Mizoguchi/Pawlikowski connection! Nice
@Drake – as I’ve said before – it’s always a pleasure to give a look here and commend on films. Also, did I, by any chance, mention that all the angles in Oharu are pure Orson Welles? I really think I need to begin a Mizoguchi study now, though I’ve also left Murnau midway. There’s just so much cinema to experience.
@Georg- haha “there is just so much cinema to experience” indeed. My laundry list of films and filmmakers to see and study just gets longer and longer
The introduction can be accessed by clicking either on the white more button on desktop, or by tapping on the italic text at the top of the screen on mobile. This is a much more convenient way to post this than clogging up an entire page with a massive wall of text in my opinion:
To whoever’s interested, the cinema of Kenji Mizoguchi as I hold it:
Watched “Chikamatsu monogatari” (The Crucified Lovers) by Mizoguchi, very impressed by it. I like how in the first half of the film the workers in the scroll master’s complex move in and out of the background, doing their jobs, fulfilling their tasks, sometimes listening in to conversations; moving like clockwork. They follow the rules and laws of the household and following the rules is deemed a moral good in itself – which of course just serves the grand scroll master. He has rules he has to follow too – those which in the end benefit the debt-loaded shogunate lords. I’ve seen very few films with such focus on the blocking of characters’ movements in the background of the image. It adds to the social pressure characters are forced to endure.
The second half of the film has lots of shimmering nighttime cinematography with luminescent water, wheat plants obscuring the characters, and branches framing the foreground of the image. The film came out the same year as “Sansho the Bailiff”.
@Snow Frog- Thank you for sharing this. Good for you- not an easy film to find
My ranking of Mizoguchi`s films that I`ve seen:
1. Sansho the Bailiff MP
2. Ugetsu MP
3. The Life of Oharu MS/MP
4. The 47 Ronin MS
5. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum MS
6. Osaka Elegy MS
7. The Crucified Lovers MS
8. Sisters of the Gion HR
5 Best Performances:
1. Tanaka- The Life of Oharu
2. Yamada- Osaka Elegy
3. Mori- Ugetsu
4. Ozawa- Ugetsu
5. Shindo- Sansho the Bailiff