A 19th-century kabuki theatre is the setting for this early Kenji Mizoguchi masterpiece about a woman’s selfless sacrifice for her mediocre actor husband.

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“Mizoguchi’s brilliant experimentation with form is at once a superb consolidation of the film’s fictional world and a self-justifying adventure in film artifice.”
Tony Rayns Film: The Critic’s Choice, 2001

Kenji Mizoguchi is best known in the west for the cycle of period tragedies he made in the 1950s – including Ugetsu Monogatari (1953) and Sansho Dayu (1954) – but 1939’s The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums reveals him already the master of unbroken camera movements and intricately organised staging.

Set in the 1880s, The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums centres on a privileged but second-rate kabuki actor, Kikunosuke (Shotaro Hanayagi), who is encouraged to leave behind the prestigious theatre of his father in order to begin again on the provincial stage. Playing out on elaborately recreated period sets, the action of this backstage drama is orchestrated for unusually lengthy takes, such as the celebrated travelling shot that follows Kikunosoke and his wife walking home together late one night.

Mizoguchi’s earlier films The Water Magician (1933) and The Downfall of Osen (1935) also feature a strong woman sacrificing herself for her lover’s career.

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