[Film Review] The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939)

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums poster

English Title: The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums
Original Title: Zangiku monogatari
Year: 1939
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genre: Drama
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Matsutarô Kawaguchi
Yoshikata Yoda
Shôfû Muramatsu
Shirô Fukai
Senji Itô
Yozô Fuji
Minoru Miki
Shôtarô Hanayagi
Kakuko Mori
Kôkichi Takada
Gonjurô Kawarazaki
Tokusaburo Arashi
Kikuko Hanaoka
Yôko Umemura
Kisho Hanayagi
Ryôtarô Kawanami
Nobuko Fushimi
Yoneko Mogami
Rating: 6.3/10

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums 1939

I am a tyro in view of Japanese cinema (one reason why I often feel ashamed to call myself a cinema buff), and among Mizoguchi’s filmography, my only previous viewing is his later epic saga SANSHO THE BAILIFF (1954), a haunting revenge tale with a cogent message about sacrifice and redemption, whereas in THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUMS, which is shot much earlier, pre-WWII, the same ideas have been incubated through a love story barred by the class gulf, Otoku (Mori) is a symbol of devotion and forbearance and Kikunosuke (Hanayagi) is a man of moral integrity, occasionally under the affliction of hardship, he is worn out and evinces rather disappointing male chauvinism, but she accepts and assimilates all these negative effluvia until the ultimate sacrifice, as long as Kikunosuke can regain his social status and fame through his bona-fide acting after years of studying and training. What a role model couple, depicted as the kernel of the mentality of Japan at that time, behind every successful man there is a capable wife, who doesn’t has her own ranking or vocation, but should be fully devoted and (if lucky) intelligent to assist her husband (maybe now is still the same), a standpoint may sound outdated and even putrid nowadays.

At the first scene, the novel milieu of Kabuki brings immediate exotic flavor to foreign viewers, but it is hard to be truly appreciated in an outsider’s eyes, I can not tell the qualitative leap of Kikunosuke’s acting skill, plus the orbit of the plot is stereotyped and take the twist and turn for granted, Hanayagi and Mori’s acting is too hammy for my taste as well.

But impressively the film contrives outstanding mise en scène, the camera never dare to be too near its characters, as we watch from a distance, everything is presented in an implicit rhythm with gracefulness and subtlety, which wholesomely leads its viewers through the voyage of a tearjerker behind the times with its mellifluous soundtrack sets the mood.

I might feel a bit disheartened about this film, but it never too late to excavate the treasure of Japanese cinema, so I will keep up and continue to divulge my true feelings after watching them.

PS: one interesting note, I find it rather peculiar to put salt on watermelon, at least not in my culture, the mixed salty and sugary flavor doesn’t seem to be scrumptious to me, anyone who has the experience can give an explanation?

One thought on “[Film Review] The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939)

  1. Pingback: [Last Film I Watched] A Geisha (1953) – Cinema Omnivore

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