Kenji Mizoguchi

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum

This heartrending masterpiece by Kenji Mizoguchi about the give-and-take between life and art marked the first full realization of the hypnotic long takes and eloquent camera movements that would come to define the director’s films. Kikunosuke (Shotaro Hanayagi), the adopted son of a legendary kabuki actor who is striving to achieve stardom by mastering female roles, turns to his infant brother’s wet nurse for support and affection—and she soon gives up everything for her beloved’s creative glory. Offering a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of kabuki theater in the late nineteenth century, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum provides a critique of the oppression of women and the sacrifices required of them, and represents the pinnacle of Mizoguchi’s early career.

Film Info

  • Kenji Mizoguchi
  • Japan
  • 1939
  • 143 minutes
  • Black & White
  • 1.37:1
  • Japanese
  • Spine #832

Special Features

  • New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with critic Phillip Lopate about the evolution of director Kenji Mizoguchi’s style
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar Dudley Andrew
    New cover by Michael Boland

Purchase Options

Special Features

  • New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with critic Phillip Lopate about the evolution of director Kenji Mizoguchi’s style
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar Dudley Andrew
    New cover by Michael Boland
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum
Cast
Shotaro Hanayagi
Kikunosuke Onoe VI
Kokichi Takada
Fukusuke Nakamura
Gonjuro Kawarazaki
Kikugoro Onoe V
Kakuko Mori
Otoku
Yoko Umemura
Osata
Credits
Director
Kenji Mizoguchi
Producer
Shintaro Shirai
Screenplay
Matsutaro Kawaguchi
Screenplay
Yoshikata Yoda
Based on the story by
Shofu Muramatsu
Cinematography
Yozo Fuji
Cinematography
Shigeto Miki
Editor
Koshi Kawahigashi
Production design by
Hiroshi Mizutani

From The Current

Women Through Mizoguchi’s Lens
Women Through Mizoguchi’s Lens

Critic Phillip Lopate explores the duality of the director’s approach to his female protagonists and asks whether his films are proto- or antifeminist.

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The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum: A Cineaste’s Performance
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum: A Cineaste’s Performance

Kenji Mizoguchi achieved the sublime with this structurally complex portrait of artistic ambition and female subjugation.

By Dudley Andrew

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Lessons From Mizoguchi
Lessons From Mizoguchi

From its formal and technical complexity to its potent social commentary, Mizoguchi’s early-career masterpiece The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum offers a rich learning experience for directors seeking to hone their craft.

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Kenji Mizoguchi

Director

Kenji Mizoguchi
Kenji Mizoguchi

Often named as one of Japan’s three most important filmmakers (alongside Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu), Kenji Mizoguchi created a cinema rich in technical mastery and social commentary, specifically regarding the place of women in Japanese society. After an upbringing marked by poverty and abuse, Mizoguchi found solace in art, trying his hand at both oil painting and theater set design before, at the age of twenty-two in 1920, enrolling as an assistant director at Nikkatsu studios. By the midthirties, he had developed his craft by directing dozens of movies in a variety of genres, but he would later say that he didn’t consider his career to have truly begun until 1936, with the release of the companion films Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion, about women both professionally and romantically trapped. Japanese film historian Donald Richie called Gion “one of the best Japanese films ever made.” Over the next decade, Mizoguchi made such wildly different tours de force as The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939), The 47 Ronin (1941–42), and Women of the Night (1948), but not until 1952 did he break through internationally, with The Life of Oharu, a poignant tale of a woman’s downward spiral in an unforgiving society. That film paved the road to half a decade of major artistic and financial successes for Mizoguchi, including the masterful ghost story Ugetsu (1953) and the gut-wrenching drama Sansho the Bailiff (1954), both flaunting extraordinarily sophisticated compositions and camera movement. The last film Mizoguchi made before his death at age fifty-eight was Street of Shame (1956), a shattering exposé set in a bordello that directly led to the outlawing of prostitution in Japan. Few filmmakers can claim to have had such impact.