Yôkihi (1955) Poster


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Sacrifice in Living Colour
GyatsoLa29 June 2008
Sometimes its a good idea not to read up on a movie before watching it, it can set up an expectation (or lack of it) that interferes with viewing pleasure. In the newly released Masters of Cinema version the critic Tony Raines is highly dismissive in the introduction - calling it dramatically inert and making a few rather pompous and pedantic points about the translation. Donald Richie in his 'Hundred Years of Japanese Film' is similarly dismissive. It is certainly not Mizoguchi's best, it lacks the flair of Ugetsu and the character development of his more contemporary dramas, but I think this movie is far better than the dismissive comments suggest. Maybe its just that Japanese cinema of the period is so fabulously rich that even very good movies can be discounted.

The story is taken from an ancient Chinese legend - of the beautiful concubine of a great emperor, sacrificed for the sins of her family. No doubt the Chinese setting looks rather ludicrous to Chinese viewers (it was originally a co-production with HK based company, but they seem to have had no artistic input), but thats hardly new - even Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger was hated by most mandarin speakers I know. And its probably no worse that the Last Samurai or Memoirs of a Geisha appears to the Japanese.

It was Mizuguchi's first colour film - while some commentators have praised the beauty of the camera-work, I must admit I was left a big cold by it - not a patch on (for example) Ozu's first colour experiments. It may be that the blame is the digital colour transfer or just my poor quality screen, but I think its more than that - I get the strong impression the movie was shot on a very tight budget - some of the sets look very fake compared to most Mizoguchi' films I've seen. I don't think the film makers were totally aware of how colour can show up fakery in a way they could get away with using black and white. In fact, the whole movie has a slightly throw away feel, as if Mizoguchi didn't fully have his heart in it. There are lots of opportunities for the sort of big sweeping scene he specialised in, but which aren't taken up here - I would guess that he simply didn't have the time and budget for it.

But I don't mean to criticise this too much - while the script is occasionally clunky, it is usually very moving and beautifully acted. The characters are vivid and while its a little bit much to believe that a great Emperor could be quite such a sappy soul, Mori and Kyo do a reasonable job in making their characters believable - or as believable as possible when translating such an ancient story. Kyo as always is wonderfully watchable. Mori is slightly less successful - he doesn't quite show the steel that much have existed under the cultured exterior of a man who ran an empire.

So while this film is certainly not a masterpiece by Mizoguchi, or one of the best movies of the period, its certainly superior to most contemporary costume dramas and well worth having to while away a rainy Sunday afternoon.
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mizoguchi again creates one of the most beautiful movies i have ever seen
FilmBoy99920 March 2000
Princess Yang Kwei Fei is an absolutely wonderfully and touching movie, which features Mizoguchi's astoundingly beautifully storytelling and direction. The Cinderella style story of a peasant step sister who is suddenly made the bride of the emporer and their ultimate love is totally spellbinding. This is not a film to watch lightly, it requires concentration and appreciation of the beauty of the film. If you've never seen anything by Mizoguchi watch Ugetsu as well. It's beautiful and only 90 minutes long for those who can't take subtitles (losers). 10 out of 10.
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Perhaps Mizoguchi's Most Underrated
animalmother0516 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Donald Richie, the famous scholar of Japanese film, has dismissed this as a dull reworking of Chinese* history, albeit with some nice-looking colors. Though many others have agreed, his analysis is correct in one detail merely: the colors are absolutely beautiful, even in the VHS my library has. As it is one of only two color films Mizoguchi ever made, and the more beautiful of the two, this alone would make Yokihi a worthwhile watch.

But this film has a strange relationship with the beauty that is present, both in the color and in the relationship between the Emperor and Yang Kwei-Fei. The film admires beauty, but it is about the prostitution of beauty and the hatred that beauty can inspire. Some have accused it of being merely another Cinderella story, just like all the others, and it would certainly be a mistake to overlook the similarities. But it looks at the Cinderella archetype in a more disillusioned way: instead of being Yang Kwei-Fei's escape from her unfortunate family, her relationship with the Emperor is exploited by the same family members so that she is just as much their slave as she had always been, and so that, when the Chinese peasants get upset at the corruption caused by her family, naturally they lash out at her. But because of the sheer beauty of the film, both visual and in the way that the relationship between the Emperor and Yang Kwei-Fei is treated, the film is not cynical, ironic, and it never thinks itself better than the myths from which it arises. Instead, it becomes a sublime fabulous (in much the same way that many of Mizoguchi's greatest films, such as Zangiku Monogatari, Saikaku Ichidai Onna, Ugetsu Monogatari, and Sansho Dayu, resemble fables) romantic tragedy about beauty and its exploitation.

*This is not a typographical error. Though the film itself is Japanese, the legend of Yang Kwei-Fei is Chinese, and as such the film is set in China.
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truly great color photography
MisterWhiplash12 July 2006
I remember seeing this film more than two years ago, and while the entire story is not very memorable (I could probably not tell everything that happens in it now, which is perhaps more my fault than the filmmaker), I have a fond memory of seeing it in visual beauty. Kenji Mizogichi, a filmmaker I admire from Ugetsu, has here a very lushly made film, with perfectly constructed sets that spark a tinge of both fable and centuries-gone reality, and costumes that compliment the color photography. And that part, of capturing the images, is maybe the best thing that can be recommendable about the film. For a film about a Princess who was once lower on the ranks in the Emperor's home and becomes the Emperor's love interest, it provides such opportunities for a real vision to set in to guide it all.

Mizoguchi provides it with his cinematographer Kôhei Sugiyama in order sometimes for the film to be told almost all on visual terms (the filmmaker was most prolific in the silent-film era). So in the end, even as the story becomes a little cluttered with some scenes, it's never too complex due to the basics that the filmmaker is going for- and probably why it was picked up by Buena Vista distribution in the 1950s- a beautiful scope of Japan's regal side mixed with some of the lower classes. It's like a Shakespearean tale if it was superimposed into Japan and given a touch of that lost-era of color photography that was only matched by Powell/Pressburger's films.
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Good film, beautifully shot and made, but with a typical story...
ottffsse_sequence10 February 2006
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'.
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Costumes Rule!
net_orders10 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
THE PRINCESS YANG KWE FEI / (YÔKIHI). Viewed on Streaming. Costume design = ten (10) stars; cinematography = nine (9) stars; restoration/preservation = four (4) stars; set design = four (4) stars; score = two (2) stars. Director Kenji Mizoguchi's small-scale, sound-stage-bound production of a Pygmalion-like legend set in the court of the Emperor of China (circa eighth century) involving a just-off-the-farm girl turned kitchen maid who is promoted by overly ambitious clan politicians to become the Emperor's favorite concubine. This is the standard zero-to-hero plot line used in many Japanese films. (In stark contrast to the elongated English title picked by Western distributors, there is neither a princess nor an extant empress to be seen in the movie!) Political over reach eventually results in a "popular" revolt that murders the "princess" and almost over throws the Emperor. The uprising consists of about 40 extras (and this is supposed to be population-heavy China)! A mostly seasoned cast (including well-known character actress Haruko Sugimura) is allowed to deliver ho-hum/lack-luster performances across the board (although heavy-handed editing may have been a contributing factor). Leading actress Machiko Kyô is seriously miscast as the "princess." She is too old for the role. The real stars of this film are the costumes that look simply stunning in color and the small sets that initially appear rich and splendid (in color) but later seem rather drab (perhaps due to budgetary constraints?). Cinematography (narrow-screen format, color) and lighting are very good. Restoration failed to remove age-related noise artifacts especially during the initial third of the film. Score is uneven and a mixed bag using apparently indigenous instruments. It ranges from fairly pleasant multi-string lute solos to ensembles that sound like cat-strangulation orgies! Shooting in color does not compensate for an otherwise colorless photo play! WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
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