The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums is a 1939 Japanese film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, about a male actor specialising in playing female roles in late 19th century Japan. It was a movie I discovered by accident one day but has become one of my favourites. It manages to capture humanity and the ideas of family, class, the value of life in a simple storyline with amazing cinematography.
The shots Mizoguchi uses to draw us into the story are on a very human level. There are a lot of wide-angle shots that place the actors in very real sets as if we are watching real life from a distance. There is a lot of care taken to create realistic mise-en-scene to convince us we are watching a real story. The detail in the shots is amazing, and as so much of it is shot from a distance the set is almost more important than the acting at times, but this is how we often see the real world, we watch stories unfold from a distance.
There are very few close-ups or changes of angles within a scene and this helps us stay captivated by what we are seeing unfold. Almost like watching actors on a stage rather than a film.
Alongside the amazing cinema work, the storyline and script are believable and give us an insight into the class system in Imperial Japan. The characters develop and we feel their emotions and struggles with them.
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