The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Review)

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939)
Zangiku Monogatari
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi
142 minutes
8/10

If Chushingura serves as the model for the ideal Japanese male, than The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (8/10) serves as the model for the ideal Japanese female. “Chrysanthemums” is another film by Mizoguchi (made in 1939). I enjoyed this film, too, but not as much as I liked “Sansho.” This story is about son of a famous actor. He is not very good, but gets by because of his father’s name (family names in Japanese theater groups are supposedly essential for success). The son eventually powerful affections for the wet nurse of the family because she is completely honest with him and yet, desires to help him succeed as an actor. Thus, the story begins about the son’s attempt to make it as an actor. The film is accessible and moving, and I think many of you will agree with the 7 scoring.

(spoilers)

Seeing the son, Kikunosuke, start from the bottom and work his way to the top is a compelling, but, clearly, Otoku–the wet-nurse–that supports and loves him is the hero of the film. While she is an inspiring figure (in the mold of Oshin, for those of you familiar with that popular TV series in Japan), I have mixed feelings about the message of the film. Otoku is always in the background of the man and does everything to help him succeed. Even when he wrongfully gets angry and hits her, she takes the blame for this. Her life is literally given for his career. I see this as quintessentially Japanese, but also a bit troubling, too. Her character is noble, but I feel for the woman who feel trapped and bitter because they are expected to conform to this model.

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