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.

nature painting the mise-en-scene like von Sternberg in Sansho the Baliff

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)

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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.

this image from Ugetsu would lead me to believe that I missed something the last time I watched and the TSPDT consensus is correct

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.

incredible blocking of the frame here

top 10

  1. Sansho the Bailiff 
  2. The 47 Ronin
  3. Ugetsu
  4. The Life of Oharu
  5. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum 
  6. Osaka Elegy
  7. Sisters of the Gion
  8. 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
1953- Ugetsu 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