With the new restoration of Kenji Mizoguchi's late masterpiece UGETSU (1954) playing in theaters nationwide - it opens at the AFS Cinema on Saturday, June 24 - the rediscovery of this great master, whose career was roughly contemporaneous with our John Ford and who was similarly a poet of the screen, has begun again. Film scholar and essayist David Bordwell has pointed out that this Mizoguchi rediscovery happens roughly every ten years.
In his long essay here, Bordwell provides what might be the best sustained context for understanding the career and work of Mizoguchi before you plunge into the mysteries and ecstasies of UGETSU.
Mizoguchi's approach to melodrama, summarized here by Bordwell, gives an idea of his approach to genre and commercial expectations of the film markets:
"Mizoguchi refuses to beg for tears. Some directors, notably Sirk, amp up melodrama; others, like Preminger, bank the fires. Mizoguchi seems to try to extract the situation’s emotional essence, a purified anguish, that goes beyond sympathy and pity for the characters."
This purity of film essence is what makes Mizoguchi so special, and what sets him apart from his distinguished counterparts Ozu and Kurosawa, who also made a splash on the American atthouse scene in the '50s (Bordwell details this as well, and it's fascinating - well, to me it is).
Here is the trailer for a film that has often been considered one of the most beautiful ever made.