1954 was a busy year for Kenji Mizoguchi, this being his third release for that year… first time he’d been that prolific since 1935, if IMDB is right. Tony Rayns’ introduction left me a bit apprehensive again, as this seems to have been another case of Mizoguchi not wanting to do the film; Rayns hypothesises that his drive to outdo Kurosawa was finally fading and also he was in poor spirits over the bitter end of his curious romance with Kinuyo Tanaka, plus he was apparently continually clashing with his star Kazuo Hasegawa (who was not quite as “too old” here as he would be in An Actor’s Revenge in 1963, but was still not as young as his character was probably supposed to be). I wonder if he was just burned out by this time, though, cos to be honest I got that sort of feeling from the film… This was a really unsatisfying film for some reason, made even stranger by the fact that Mizoguchi’s source—a puppet play by Chikamatsu based on an actual case from the 1600s of adultery and “double suicide”—was, if the DVD booklet is to be believed, a kind of comic tale. Mohei is the head clerk for the Great Printer of Kyoto, whose wife Osan needs money to help her brother but the Printer is a tight-fisted old prick, so Mohei offers to help by, well, defrauding the old bastard. When he gets sprung, he and Osan run for it, which makes everyone think they’ve also been lovers all along… and this was an age when adultery was punishable by crucifixion, so they’re in even bigger trouble. Possibly it’s a barrel of laughs on stage (the play even has a “happy” ending), but hardly so on screen (Mizoguchi ditches the happy ending and even has the printer punished for not reporting the adulterers on top of that). Either way, it just didn’t click for me at all.
Chikamatsu monogatari (1954)