Chikamatsu Monogatari, dir. Kenji Mizoguchi

My problem with film over the last few years has been an inability to

become absorbed; – I find myself only too eager for the whole ordeal being over and to be able to be about something else – all too often I’m

impatient even for that and switch it off – but this film I enjoyed greatly (more so than other Mizoguchi I’ve seen previously – and I’ve seen, I

reckon, somewhere between 3 and 7, I don’t really know) and didn’t care particularly if it continued another few hours.

When it finished

though, I watched one of those DVD extras, where the critic Tony Rayns discussed the film, dismissing it as a minor Mizoguchi work and saying that the

director had had no interest in making it and had only done so because he was under contract to the studio. Rayns suggests that the direction was as a

consequence perfunctory and Mizoguchi’s indifference contributes to the film’s relative failure. – Naturally I wasn’t pleased at having my pleasure

questioned in this way (nor is this the only time recently I’ve found introductions to works I’ve enjoyed curiously tepid towards their subject) but

in some ways I recognised the truth of his remarks: – I had to say, having finished watching the film, that there had only been moments, occasional

shots, when I’d noticed the direction at all. What had me interested was the plot and certain elements of the dramatic structure – things which, in a

way, had nothing to do with Mizoguchi or his direction. For, it transpires, the story was taken from a puppet-play by genroku dramatist, Chikamatsu

Monzaemon, who was one of Japan’s greatest artists (as is the way with these things, he is often called the “Japanese Shakespeare”) – so I could feel

happy again with the idea that it was Chikamatsu’s skill rather than Mizoguchi’s which I’d enjoyed.

All of which made me think of some of

the bad literary translations I have (often of very rare works in English) and how, in similar circumstances, no matter if my reading is interrupted

now and then by sentences which are barely English, often the greatness of a work may still be conveyed.


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