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Review of "Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director"
on November 5, 2013
There are already many competent reviews of Ugetsu. ( I love the movie more every time I see it.) I'm posting a review of the documentary on disc 2 because the editorial review is the only one that goes into detail about it, and perhaps a second opinion could be helpful.
This is a rambling, repetitive documentary. The editorial review notes "it occasionally gets bogged down in biographical minutia"; for "occasionally", I'd put "frequently". Some interesting interviews with actors are interspersed with old cronies giggling about his drinking and whoring, and such sacred sights as the corridor of the hospital where Mizoguchi died, and his favourite urine bottle (to avoid breaks in filming). If you think Mizoguchi sympathized with the suffering of women at the hands of men, his lifelong mistreatment of women will be an (unpleasant) eye-opener. It seems the principal source for his slimy male characters was himself. By the time the seventh person laughingly repeated Mizoguchi's joke that "you can't understand women until you've been stabbed by one"(as he had), I was almost ready to eject the DVD into the trash can.
If you are very patient and are willing to sit through a lot of garbage, there is about 15 minutes of worthwhile material, mostly from the actors. Documentary director Shindo (director of Kuroneko, Onibaba, Children of Hiroshima, etc.)repeatedly tries to get them to complain about Mizoguchi's exhausting directing style. One after another says something to the effect of: I don't hate directors who shoot a hundred takes of one scene; I hate directors who use the take where I was lousy. Mizoguchi brought out the best in his actors, however unpleasant the process.
I must disagree with the editorial reviewer when he says:
"Director/interviewer Kaneto Shindo ultimately arrives at an emotionally devastating coup de grace when he informs the great actress Kinuyo Tanaka...that Mizoguchi had considered her "the love of his life." "
What I saw was Shindo repeatedly hounding Tanaka about her relationship with Mizoguchi, ignoring her obvious discomfort. If "emotionally devastating" means watching poor Tanaka being stalked by Mizoguchi from beyond the grave, okay. I could have done without it.
One note: the film notes Mizoguchi's first wife was hospitalized for insanity, and refers to a ''blood test" he took to confirm that he was not the cause, then abruptly changes the subject. I had to look elsewhere to confirm that the "insanity" was syphilis-- an obvious guess, but really, why couldn't they come out and say it? Not all the onscreen text was being translated, which may account for some of the confusion.
Also, if you plan on sitting through this, make sure you've remembered which actors are which from his movies. Their names are flashed briefly, once, at their first appearance as decades older interviewees, and some are more recognizable than others.
Well, now maybe this needs to be titled "A rambling, repetitive review of a rambling, repetitive documentary". At least if you've read this far, you may have what it takes to sit through this documentary.