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Great Japanese film from the 50's
Naruse is typically considered one of the 3 master founders of Japanese film, the other two being Ozu and Mizoguchi. This is an interesting and honest film on the lives of retired Geishas. Whatever happens, when such a woman ages, and loses her charm and mystique? Well, for those who are interested, watch this film. One: Okin, is successful as a money-lender, but the other two have to borrow from her and are resentful. Okin doesn't have any children, but the other do. Okin finds out that her old love is coming to visit her, and is excited. Naruse is a master in subtle studies of his female protagonists' characters. Bangiku ultimately draws the viewer into the study of the questions of ones happiness, and one's life-worth. Very good film indeed.
Good film, beautifully shot and made, but with a typical story...
Like with 'Zangiku monogatari', Mizoguchi has made a very beautiful film. The long tracking shots, deep focus editing, and vibrant colors are gorgeous. Yet the story in 'Yang Kwei fei", just like in Mizo's 'Zangiku monogatari' and 'The Crucified Lovers', is very typical and unexceptional. Be prepared to see ideal archetypes of perfectly virtous self-sacrificing women, stupid greedy and cruel men, and did I mention?...the cruelties of feudalism. I think such a simple story set during feudalism is a weakness in this film. It leaves a viewer commonly thinking: feudalism sucks (boy that's new), it's good it's over,...what's next? This is a perfectly valid critique. Mizoguchi's vastly better films are his realistic masterworks from 1036: 'Osaka Elegy' and 'Sisters of the Gion', as well as his late more retrained masterpieces 'Ugetsu', 'Sansho Dayu', and 'Life of Oharu'.
Chikamatsu monogatari (1954)
Good though not on par with Mizoguchi's masterpieces
This is certainly a good film, beautifully photographed and evocatively acted. Yet one should certainly criticize it, and Mizoguchi, for it is not without flaws and weaknesses. Mizoguchi really cared for women, and wanted to make statements on man's lack of sympathy and total cruelty, yet he sometimes gets ahead of himself in trying to make this statement by adopting the wrong means. This is certainly a case in 'the Crucified Lovers', 'Princess Yang Kwei Fei' and 'Zankiku monogatari'. He sets the scenario in feudal Japan, which leaves the viewer at the end with the partially right exclamation: "boy, does feudalism suck, I'm glad that it is over...". And true, some of the scenarios such weaker films of Mizoguchi present would be literary impossible today. Also, his women characters sometimes become archetypes of unrealistic self-sacrifice, which also simplifies the scenario less appealing. Saying that, "Crucified Lovers" is a good film, with such few relative weaknesses, though the sometimes chilly, cynical prose by Ueda, the screenwriter helps this film allot. I still highly prefer and recommend Mizoguchi's 'realistic, 'contemprary' films of 1936: 'Osaka Elegy' and 'Sisters of the Gion', as well as his late masterpieces, in which he showed more restraint and subtlety: 'Ugetsu', 'Sansho Dayu', and 'The Life of Oharu'.
Steller film by Tanaka with hints of Mizoguchi
This is a pretty good film not to be overlooked by fans of Japanese film. Kinoyu Tanaka directed it. She played in the very important and better known films by Mizoguchi Kenji, such as 'The Life of Oharu' and 'Sansho Dayu'.
The basic story in 'Love under the Crucifix' is about Ogin, daughter of a tea master, are both Christins in feudal Japan. Ogin falls in love with a feudal prince, also a Christian who is already married, and that creates problems. Further, when the Shogun bans Christianity, the situation worsens. Anyway, this film has strong tenants of humanism and feminism alla Mizoguchi, heavily influenced by'Life of Oharu", yet Tanaka does lack not a little of her Master's touch, as the film is very much too overdramaticized at times. That being said, the music score is really really good, and is bone chilling at times, as is the performance by the lead actress. I give it 7.5/10.
Sanshô dayû (1954)
Sansho the Bailiff: perfect execution of dramatic story-telling
This is the second film I saw by Kenji Mizoguchi (the first one being Ugetsu). Sansho the Bailiff is a gripping and moving story of the importance of ideals and virtue in a world of misery and harshness. It captured the silver lion at Venice in 1954, along with Seven Samurai. This film is a masterpiece, and Mizoguchi is one of the greatest directors of all time. His films portray the dramatic "story" perfectly. A Mizoguchi film lets you not simply watch a narrative, but feel it and experience it as well, more so than in most other movies you'll probably watch. His most moving moments, including the ending in Sansho, as well as Ugetsu, produce moments of genuine pathos in the viewer: their is no hint of over-dramatization or sentimentality. Simply stunning.
I would this film a 9.5/10, only because Ugetsu (which I gave 10/10) is more perfect in its devastation (yes, everything is relative). Watch it, treasure every moment of it, and hope a DVD will come out in the near future.