1954, Movies

Chikamatsu monogatari (1954, Kenji Mizoguchi)

Aka The Crucified Lovers aka A Story by Chikamatsu

This is one of those Japanese tragedies where two lovers are prevented from living happily ever after by the strictures of society. Yes, this is a universal story, but the Japanese have a lot of these stories and there is a particular tenor to the Japanese ones that I’ve encountered, which is relatively unique among the genre.

This is not the first Mizoguchi film on this subject matter I’ve seen, but it’s the first one I’ve seen in some time. Some people consider it his masterpiece, though I’ve heard that said about many of his films, and I guess this is a contentious topic.

I have never in my life seen a live performance of any of the major Japanese theatrical traditions so much of what people admire in Mizoguchi is lost on me. I am watching the film as a film, not as a film inspired by theatrical traditions I am not aware of, so perhaps that’s why I sometimes am at a bit of a loss for the reverential attitude accorded his movies.

This film is a deliberately told story of a terrible misunderstanding, one that was too common in the time in which it is set. (The film is book-ended by parades of adulterers off to their deaths.) There are lots of things to admire about the way it is presented – there is relatively little in the way of music, many of the shots are quite long and it’s very pretty to look at (there is good lighting work, for example). (About the shot length: I read that it had something like 1/3 the standard number of shots for a movie of its length of its time.)

But like many of these romantic tragedies, I have a hard time really connecting with this story. So much of the behaviour of those pursuing the supposed adulterers seems utterly ridiculous to me. (There’s a cultural and temporal difference there.) Roger Ebert (or someone like that) has a saying about a movie plots which can be wrapped up by a person just telling someone else a crucial plot point. But here that actually happens and they just fail to believe it. There is certainly a lot here to examine in terms of class and tradition, but I didn’t find the story compelling enough to care, given how foolish everyone was behaving.

But that’s just my personal preference. I acknowledge that the film is very well made. I just don’t know if I can get behind the idea of it as a masterpiece.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.