Famous Kabuki actor Kikugoro (Kawarazaki) is ashamed of his adopted son Kiku (Hanayagi) due to his lack of acting talent; colleagues praise him but mock him behind his back. Only Otoku (Mori), the family’s wet-nurse, tells Kiku the truth but encourages him to hone his skills. When Otoku and Kiku become too close, the servant is fired. One year later they reunite when Kiku leaves to find her and court fame on his own terms.
Set during the Meiji era of the late 19th century, this epic drama by the prolific Mizoguchi explores a patriarchal society where a woman’s sacrifice attains sublime grace. Well-known theater actor Hanayagi tackles the role of Kiku with considerable skill, and he eventual redemption is something to behold. With Mizoguchi keeping his camera at a distance and employing fluid tracking shots around the expansive sets, you have the sense of modern techniques animating history in a powerful way. It’s a distinct pleasure to watch this “Chrysanthemum” bloom.