I got this confused with Naruse’s later film entitled Late Chrysanthemums, so I watched his When a Woman Ascends the Stairs to get an idea of Naruse’s style and point of view before watching his Chrysanthemum movie. Unfortunately, I learned that I enjoy Naruse’s movies more than Mizoguchi’s. Still, it’s the earliest Mizoguchi movie I’ve seen by over a decade, and I figured perhaps he hadn’t fully developed his theme of depressed women, fucked over by life, dying sad and alone. The premise had promise, but sure enough, halfway through, the main couple is coughing, crying, broke in the rain. The man recovers, becomes famous, but there’s no saving the woman.
Kikunosuke (Kiku) is the rich, spoiled son of a master actor, who keeps fucking up on stage. Not knowing a bloody thing about Japanese theater, I can’t tell the difference between a good and bad performance (any more than I could figure why The Puppetmaster was considered a master) so I took the movie’s word for it. He falls for Otoku the maid because she’s the first person to tell him outright that his performances are bad.
Kiku leaves town for a year, then comes back for Otoku and she faithfully follows him to a travelling troupe where he gradually improves. Poverty kinda turns him into an asshole, but he’s still devoted to his woman – to a point. When his family takes him back to the respectful theater in Tokyo, they’re easily able to separate the two, and he only returns in time to see her die.
The high-def picture was pretty beat-up looking. Kiku is often tiny in the frame, facing away from the camera, but I can still recognize his Sherlock Holmes hat. Also, at one point there was a monkey.
The Guardian on Mizoguchi:
He was nicknamed “the Demon”, and it was often said that he only made films in order to have enough money to entertain geishas. He was fascinated all his life by demimondaines [“a class of women on the fringes of respectable society supported by wealthy lovers” aka prostitutes], and some critics have suggested there was something suspect about his compassion for the often tragic fate of such women. However, in Late Chrysanthemums he remorselessly shows the selfishness of the actor and the innate snobbery of the kabuki world.