XL Popcorn – The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 914/1009Title: Zangiku Monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums)
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Year: 1939
Country: Japan

Two posts in a row where I have ended up seeing the final entry for a director with three films on the list. The difference between Zangiku Monogatari and The Palm Beach Story is worlds apart. At least with the two other entries by Kenji Mizoguchi, they are both films I watched since starting the blog back in March 2014. It helps to look back on Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff to see how today’s watch stacks up against the others. Sadly, it’s an easy trip to the bottom of the list.

For a story to be two and a half hours long, there needs to be something epic about the scope. Sometimes it’s because we are looking at an adaptation of an epic novel, the long and interesting life of an individual or even the painting of a work of art due to the scope of the creative process.

Zangiku Monogatari wants to paint the casting out of a kabuki actor by his adoptive family and his eventual return to their good graces as worthy of the long treatment. I think that it could be when done in a certain way. For me, however, this film took too long to hit beats that others would only need 100 minutes for.

So much of this was taken up in long takes made of panning or tracking shots, which is definitely a stylistic choice. However, this is a choice that rarely works for me. Sometimes a close-up is good. Variety when it comes to types of shots is especially good. Zangiku Monogatari has this air as if it was made for the stage and the film was shot for a dress rehearsal. In doing so it lost a lot of what would make a good melodrama for me.

What also would not have helped is the age of the film. I saw an high definition remaster on YouTube, but despite the best effort of the preservation so much of the detail in the sets is just not there. This is a film that is meant to have fantastic production design, however this can only really be see in the river parade at the end and in some of the actual theatre scenes. The rest is dark with not a lot of interesting detail that would have helped make these long takes worthwhile.

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