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(Zangiku monogatari (1939) ... aka The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum)

 

Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi

Japan 1939

 

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.

***

In this beautifully photographed and deeply moving romantic tragedy, the wife of a struggling actor decides to sacrifice her own future for the sake of her spouse.

 

Not the best known of Kenji Mizoguchi's period masterpieces, but conceivably the greatest (1939). The plot, which oddly resembles that of There's No Business Like Show Business, concerns the rebellious son of a theatrical family devoted to Kabuki who leaves home for many years, perfects his art, aided by a working-class woman who loves him, and eventually returns. Apart from the highly charged and adroitly edited Kabuki sequences, the film is mainly constructed in extremely long takes, and an intricate rhyme structure between the two time periods is developed by matching camera angles in the same locations. Never before nor after (with the possible exception of The 47 Ronin) would Mizoguchi's refusal to use close-ups have more telling effect, and the theme of female sacrifice that informs most of his major works is given a singular resonance and complexity here.

Excerpt from Jonathan Rosenbaum at The Chicago Reader located HERE

 


Posters (Also retrospectives)

Theatrical Releases: October 13th, 1939

 

  Reviews                                                                                            More Reviews                                                                                      Reviews

Comparison:

Artificial Eye - Region B - Blu-ray vs. Shochiku Home Video - Region 'A' - Blu-ray vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

1) Artificial Eye - Region 'B' - Blu-ray LEFT

2) Shochiku Home Video - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - RIGHT

 

Box Cover

 

 

 

 

YesAsia for US customers:

YesAsia for Global Customers:

  

 

Distribution Artificial Eye - Region 'B' - Blu-ray Shochiku Home Video - Region 'A' - Blu-ray Criterion Collection - Spine #832 - Region 'A' Blu-ray
 

Disc Size: 38,516,489,661 bytes

Feature Size: 38,173,421,568 bytes

Average Bitrate: 32.00 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4- AVC

Disc Size: 47,123,781,464 bytes

Feature Size: 47,019,331,584 bytes

Average Bitrate: 38.99 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4- AVC

1.33:1 Disc Size: 46,625,993,715 bytes

Feature Size: 42,137,260,032 bytes

Average Bitrate:34.96 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video: 1080P

Time: 2:23:03.491 2:23:28.600 2:23:50.663
Bitrate: The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum Artificial Eye Blu-ray

Bitrate: The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum Shochiku Home Video Blu-ray

Bitrate: Criterion Blu-ray:

Audio LPCM Audio Japanese 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit
Dolby Digital Audio Japanese 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps / DN -4dB
LPCM Audio Japanese 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit LPCM Audio Japanese 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Subtitles English, None English, Japanese, None English, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Artificial Eye

Aspect Ratio:
 Original Aspect Ratios- 1.33 

Disc Size: 38,516,489,661 bytes

Feature Size: 38,173,421,568 bytes

Average Bitrate: 32.00 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4- AVC

Edition Details:

  •  none


Blu-ray Release Date: March 12th, 2012
Chapters: 16

Release Information:
Video: Shochiku Home Video
 

Disc Size: 47,123,781,464 bytes

Feature Size: 47,019,331,584 bytes

Average Bitrate: 38.99 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4- AVC

Extras:
• None


Blu-ray release date: January 6th, 2016

Transparent Blu-ray case

Chapters: 15

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:

1.33:1 Disc Size: 46,625,993,715 bytes

Feature Size: 42,137,260,032 bytes

Average Bitrate:34.96 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video: 1080P

Edition Details:

• 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 (21:19)
• PLUS: An essay by film scholar Dudley Andrew

Blu-ray Release Date: September 13th, 2016
Transparent Keep case

Chapters: 16

 

 

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray August 16': I don't have too much to add beyond the fact that Criterion's is a 4K transfer. It has the same restoration screen as the Shochiku Blu-ray:

 

It may be marginally improved in-motion. This would be where the 4K superiority would show up.

The audio is also liner PCM (as other two) - it is 24-bit - as opposed to 16. It still exports the inherent weaknesses and limitations of the original production but it carries a shade more depth and I would guess it is superior. The Criterion is region 'A' and has optional English subtitles. 

Criterion include, as the only digital extra, a new (June 2016) interview with critic Phillip Lopate about the evolution of director Kenji Mizoguchi’s style and why The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum was a turning point in his career as a filmmaker. It runs 21-minutes. There is also a liner notes booklet with an essay by film scholar Dudley Andrew.

Absolute masterpiece film that only improves with age. The Criterion wins with the 4K and the Lopate interview and booklet. This should be a part of every digital library.

***

ADDITION: Shochiku Home Video - Region 'A' Blu-ray - February 2016: Firstly, The Artificial Eye Mizoguchi Blu-ray Collection is fully reviewed HERE - and the comments are duplicated below. As for this newer Shochiku Home Video Region 'A' - compatible Blu-ray,  it appears to be a different source and is also a more, extremely, robust transfer. It shows some wonderful grain, more information in the frame than the AE transfer, and is darker with richer black levels. The visuals might be marginally tighter and the AE looks a bit boosted beside the Shochiku.  It starts out with a restoration text page:

 

Fans should be encouraged that the Janus Films company is mentioned which we can probably assume it will be coming to Criterion 1080P at some point.

The other notable difference from the AE will be the subtitle translation. I can't speak to the correctness - but it seems to flow well according to how I remember seeing the film in Western-derived translations. Subtitles are available in both English or Japanese. There are no digital extras but there is a poster card of the BD's cover in the package (in English.)

My opinion is that this is the better of the two representations of the original film in terms of a/v. The Mizoguchi Blu-ray Collection has immense value with the 4 films, but this has substantial value for region 'A'-locked audiences (North Americans). It is recommended!    

***

ON THE Artificial Eye package: This is a 4 Blu-ray package. A big part of the monumental appeal for this new Boxset from Artificial Eye in the UK is to have The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum in any type of representational quality. Of the 4 films it is the only one on a dual-layered transfer - more, I suspect, because of the film's length. All 4 renderings are at a strong 30+ Mbps. Often what the SD Criterion/Eclipse exported as noise the new, brighter, Blu-ray transfers show as wonderfully rich, thick, grain. The appealing textures are the most significant part of the HD presentation, in my opinion. I can't say enough about it and even made some of the below captures PNG files to try to convey this film-like beauty. Of course, there is still damage but overall this is a highly beneficial upgrade.

These appear to be from the same source as the Criterion DVDs but in 1080P grandeur 'fullness' is realized to an extent that cinema fans will appreciate the most. Could these are looked better if they were all dual-layered? - I doubt it. The bitrate is max'ed out and the thickness is there in abundance. These blew me away in the pitch-blackness of my home theater.

The audio is, predictably, weaker than one might hope. It is all transferred in lossless linear PCM mono - with the option for Dolby mono. It seems devoid of any major flaws (dropouts, pops) but there is a subtle 'crackle'. I honestly expect that this is the best it will sound. Acceptably imperfect. There are optional English subtitles (see sample below) on the region 'B'-locked discs.

Unfortunately no extras on the screener discs that I was sent. Even bare-bones this has immense value to Mizoguchi, or Japanese film, fans in general. Utamaro and His Five Women is a hoot.

This is a rare, landmark, Blu-ray set and one that many serious film devotees will gravitate to and cherish. For North Americans - another in the many reasons to have a region FREE Blu-ray player. We can warmly recommend!

Gary W. Tooze


Menus

 

Artificial Eye - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

 

Shochiku Home Video - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 


CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Screen Captures

 

 

1) Artificial Eye - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Shochiku Home Video - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

1) Artificial Eye - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Shochiku Home Video - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

1) Artificial Eye - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Shochiku Home Video - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

1) Artificial Eye - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Shochiku Home Video - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

 

Box Cover

 

 

 

 

YesAsia for US customers:

YesAsia for Global Customers:

  

 

Distribution Artificial Eye - Region 'B' - Blu-ray Shochiku Home Video - Region 'A' - Blu-ray Criterion Collection - Spine #832 - Region 'A' Blu-ray




 

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