This fourth release in Masters of Cinema's brilliant series of late Mizoguchi films follows the same format as its predecessors: a double feature on 2 discs, excellent packaging, a substantial booklet with critical essay, source texts and lots of photographs. Tony Rayns contributes a filmed introduction & commentary (and actually manages to be a bit enthusiastic this time!).
The main feature here is AKASEN CHITAI, which was Mizoguchi's very last film (1956). It's a fairly low-key movie set in a postwar Tokyo brothel & looks at the seedy lives of the prostitutes, pimps & clients - this is the grim downbeat world of prostitution with none of the usual exotic geisha distraction to sweeten the pill. Every character is equally corrupt and degenerate. Perhaps the film is a scathing attack on prostitution, but I think Mizoguchi is not really judging anyone but rather saying that everyone has their own motives and reasons for doing what they do.
Apparently AKASEN was a huge success in Japan which is surprising given its uncompromising style, but it is definitely an exceptional film. It's amazing that that the old and dying Mizoguchi could come up with something so sharp and modern. In the booklet essay Kieko MacDonald criticizes the brief final scene, but I thought it one of the most effective closing images I've ever seen - especially given that it closes Miziguchi's long career.
In complete contrast, the other feature, YOKIHI, is a lavish costume drama - filmed in colour - and based on an old Chinese tale. It concerns love, romance and the fickleness of power in the royal court. It's basically hokum but beautifully stylised - I really enjoyed it!
This release might be thought to lack the appeal of the previous three releases in the series (eg SANSHO and UGETSU), but it can be thoroughly recommended to anyone who loves Mizoguchi and, indeed, to anyone who loves classic Japanese cinema.