Mizoguchi’s “Princess Yang Kwe-Fei”

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In the mid-1950s Mizoguchi Kenji was on a roll with films set in the Japanese past (Ugestsu, Sanshô, Crucified Lovers, all three of which won international film festival awards, and IMO his best three films). His 1955 “Princess Yang Kwe-Fei” (“Yôkihi” or “Imperial Concubine Yang”) switched to Chinese history with Kyô Machiko as Yang Yuhuan was shot in very unimpressive color (especially in contrast the earlier “Gate of Hell,” also shot by Sugiyama Kohey.) She was good as a sort of Cinderella who comforts the forlorn widower T’ang emperor Xuan Zong (Mori Masayuki).

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I don’t really see much point to the very Japanese portrayal of the T’ang court, other than that the emperor cannot be to blame for anything bad that happens and doesn’t know what his ministers (his consort’s uncle who has become chancellor, in particular) are doing to oppress the people. Like Hirohito exculpated of war-making and war crimes?

The first half of the 89-minute movie is becalmed, the second rushed through. There is an army marching (led by the general who saw the potential of Yuhuan), though it appears to be unarmed.

The conscientiously self-sacrificing heroine is ground down as is typical of Mizoguchi movies, dying out of devotion to her man (i.e., the emperor). She is hanged for being a Yang rather than for anything she did as (conniving) consort. The music, costume, décor, and plum-blossom viewing all seem more Japanese than Chinese. The movie was coproduced by “Run Run” Shaw and had a Chinese cowriter, Doe Ching, who directed some movies produced by the Shaw brothers (along with Mizoguchi’s standby screenwriter, Yoda Yoshikata).

Though decorative, Mizoguchi’s first color film is a disappointment both visually and dramatically. BTW, it was shot in a Hong Kong studio.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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