In some danger of being overlooked in the press of history that reveres Ozu's rigorous constancy and Kurosawa's noble pulp, Kenji Mizoguchi is a more difficult master magician to love. His style was neither hyper-restrained nor post-Kabuki rather, Mizoguchi followed in the footsteps of Murnau, investigating the potential for emotional expression through camera motion and placement. The laziest eye can see how Mizoguchi's heat-seeking visual style expresses the stories and vice versa. The Film Forum mini-retro brings out the late films that made his reputation in the art houses of the postwar era: The Life of Oharu(1952), the still magisterial Ugetsu (1953), the Job-like bludgeon Sansho the Bailiff (1954), and his final film, Street of Shame (1956), a stinging portrait of an Americanized postwar Tokyo where hooking became the new geisha-dom. Shoring these up are two earlier worksSisters of the Gion (1936) and The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (1939)each an indictment of a lingering traditional culture in which even headstrong women are reduced to sex slavery.
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