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Japan, 1954 (MIFF 1980, Programme 40)

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi

Kenji Mizoguchi was one of the greatest of all fIlm-makers and his career as a director spanned from 1923 to 1956. Tales of Chikamatsu (1954) belongs to the luminous late years of his career and was made two years after The Life of Oharu, the year after Ugetsu and in the same year as Sansho The Bailiff. They were years of prodigious virtuosity and peak achievement.

The film, which is also known as "The Crucified Lovers", is based on a play by the seventeenth century dramatist, Monzaemon Chikamatsu, which was first written for the bunraku puppet theatre but soon taken into the Kabuki repertoire. It concerns a woman of the merchant class who is unjustly accused of adultery and escapes with her supposed partner in crime, a servant in her husband's scroll-making workshop. A hunt for them commences.

Mizoguchi's ability to establish scene and subject is nowhere more apparent than in the almost staccato introduction to the scroll-maker's household, which establishes both social and domestic orders and the tensions compressed within them. Such construction has a fluent precision rarely found in Western cinema, except perhaps in Murnau and Ophuls and occasionally in Ford and Renoir. But what impresses in Mizoguchi is the fusion of historical and narrative stylisation and the corresponding richness of connotation . . Several of Mizoguchi's closest collaborators have declared a preference for Chikamatsu Mono gatari over his other late works, including even Sansho Dayu and Ugetsu Monogatari. This respect may spring from the film's fidelity to its theatrical source material... Whether Mizoguchi felt constrained by the prestige of Chikamatsu's work or whether he willingly accepted the dictates of its 'theatrical' construction (the repetitions and symmetries, the use of dramatic irony and so on) must remain a matter for speculation, at least for the non-expert Western viewer. Either way, as the only late Mizoguchi film to be based on a play, Chikamatsu Monogatari is fascinating as a last testament to its director's lifelong concern with the relationship between theatre and cinema".

Extracts from a review by Ian Christie in Monthly Film Bulletin.

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