A Story from Chikamatsu Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Tale Worth Watching

Criterion continues their welcome attention to the works of director Kenji Mizoguchi with this superb new Blu-ray release.
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When an adulterous nobleman learns that his wife is rumored to be carrying on an affair with a member of his staff, he seeks to punish both of them. Sure, it’s fine for the man to brazenly step out on his wife, but when the smallest hint of initially untrue impropriety is leveled against her, his righteous indignation speaks volumes about the vast gender morality imbalance. There’s also the matter of his continued noble status, as his failure to punish his perceived transgressors carries the risk of loss of his esteemed title. With that setup in place, director Kenji Mizoguchi weaves a mesmerizing tale of forbidden romance and the evils of social perception.

The nobleman’s wife (Kyoko Kagawa) and employee (Kazuo Hasegawa) don’t initially have any romantic interest in each other, but after being forced to flee the estate together they’re bonded by their shared plight, ultimately turning what started as a rumor into the truth. With his house in disarray, the nobleman (Eitaro Shindo) scrambles to perform damage control, sending out troops to hunt down the lovers before the scandal threatens to seal his fate. All of the players are victims of their circumstances, with only the nobleman deserving the trouble he gets.

Although Mizoguchi crafts his film to move at a leisurely pace, the actors add excitement with their occasionally overwrought performances, wailing about their predicament as they search for any potential solution. The film has some exterior scenes, but is largely produced like a stage performance, making the exuberant performances more at home than they would be in a typical film. That careful attention to the staging is heightened by amazing cinematography that makes each frame look like a work of art. The film’s style is so incredible that it possibly exceeds the substance, but the fascinating plot is fully worthy of following to its conclusion.

The Blu-ray features a new 4K digital restoration that is absolutely impeccable, with no noticeable debris or scratches. Contrast is superb, highlighting the breathtaking black and white cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa. The soundtrack is uncompressed monaural that has also been polished to remove any signs of degradation.

Bonus features are a bit sparse, with only two items present, but one of those is a brand-new interview with surviving lead actress Kyoko Kagawa, looking surprisingly spry 60+ years later while offering her insight into the film’s production. She’s amusing throughout, especially when she describes Mizoguchi’s total lack of direction to the actors, forcing them to guess if they were doing the right thing since he never told them what he wanted. The other feature is a lengthy “illustrated audio essay” about Mizoguchi’s career by a film historian, very dry but informative for viewers interested in an insightful overview of his works. 

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