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Episode 009: A Story From Chikamatsu

Recorded on Saturday, May 30, 2020

Set in 17th-century feudal Japan, director Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1954 feature A Story From Chikamatsu — also known as The Crucified Lovers or Chikamatsu Monogatari — is a tale of star-crossed love that’s rich with unexpected twists and revelations. Involving a grand scroll master, his wife, and his best employee, the story unfolds in deep focus and long takes, with expert cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa. Inspired by Mizoguchi’s ability to illuminate the present through the lens of the past, the Film Club’s conversation springboards into cloud technology as well as the pleasures and pitfalls of modern cinephilia. As the scroll master’s wife, Osan (Kyôko Kagawa), reminds us, “Nothing is more unpredictable than a person’s fate.”

Notes, Quotes & References:

From Film: An International History of the Medium, by Robert Sklar:

  • “Mizoguchi had been a filmmaker for nearly thirty years before he received his prize [at Venice] for The Life of Oharu, his seventy-sixth film. With support from a new production company aiming at the export market, he was able to make a series of important films before his death in 1956 at the age of fifty-eight. Several of these centered on his most persistent themes: the lives of suffering women, often prostitutes, and the Japanese entertainers and companions called geisha.”

From A History of Narrative Film, by David A. Cook:

  • “Like Renoir, Mizoguchi constantly sought ways to portray internal states through external means, and he felt that in the long take he had discovered what he called ‘the most precise and specific expression for intense psychological moments.’ Diagonal composition leading the eye outward toward the world beyond the frame, fluid and thematically significant moving camera shots, luminous photography (often by Kazuo Miyagawa), and minimal cutting are other characteristics of Mizoguchi’s mature style, which link him with the mise-en-scene tradition of the West.”
  • “When Mizoguchi looked at the past, it was always as a mirror for the present. His lifelong critique of feudalism, his sympathetic concern for the social and psychological condition of women, and his simple humanism in the face of a callous world are the thematic bridges uniting his period and his contemporary films. Furthermore, his absolute mastery of decor, the long take, and the moving camera make Mizoguchi one of the great mise-en-scene directors of the international cinema.”

From The Big Screen, by David Thompson:

  • “In framing and camera movements, in a concurrent simplicity of action and complexity of feeling, Mizoguchi is not just in the class of Jean Renoir. He is a master of narrative cinema, of moral consequence, and especially of stories about women.”
  • “Bresson had discovered a principal that had always existed in the thing we call underplaying (a method found in players from Gary Cooper to the Japanese actors in Ozu and Mizoguchi). It says that if the situation is strong enough, and the face eloquent, there is no need for acting: simple presence will guide the viewer into the feeling and the idea.”

From Godard on Godard, by Jean-Luc Godard:

  • “Mizoguchi’s art is the most complex because it is the simplest. Camera effects and tracking shots are rare, but when they do suddenly burst into a scene, the effect is one of dazzling beauty.”

From The Films in My Life, by François Truffaut:

  • “Mizoguchi, like Ingmar Bergman, is fascinated by luxury and the moral rot that develops in its wake.”

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