Empress Yang Kwei-Fei, The (Yōkihi) (Directors Suite) (1955)

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Released 15-Jun-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Teaser Trailer
Trailer-Four Directors Suite trailers
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1955
Running Time 87:86 (Case: 91)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Kenji Mizoguchi
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Machiko Kyō
Masayuki Mori
Sō Yamamura
Eitarō Shindō
Eitarō Ozawa
Haruko Sugimura
Yōko Minamida
Bontarō Miake
Tatsuya Ishiguro
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Fumio Hayasaka


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Alternate Subtitles
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     The Empress Yang Kwei-Fei (Yōkihi) is only one of two films that Kenji Mizoguchi shot in colour. It is also the only film he made that didn't have a Japanese setting. For all his bravado in making films in the 1950s with prostitution as the main theme, making a joint Japanese-Chinese co-production feature set in the 8th Century Tang dynasty era of China would have to rank as being just as brave. The film re-unites the stars of Mizoguchi's most famous film, Ugetsu, Machiko Kyō and Masayuki Mori, albeit in very different roles.

     David Melville in his Senses of Cinema article on this film describes it as "an overpoweringly lush colour fantasia (half history, half Cinderella) about a young woman who rises from murky origins to snare the heart of a reigning monarch. A historical fairytale without, of course, a 'happy ever after' ending." The film does have its roots in 8th century Chinese history and comparisons to Cinderella can be made, although Princess Yang Kwei-Fei (Machiko Kyō) is presented as a scapegoat to the ambitions of her own family, a theme that Mizoguchi explored in many of his films due to his father's decision to give up his sister for adoption to settle his family's debts when Mizoguchi was a child.

     Emperor Xuan Zong (Masayuki Mori) is recently widowed and pines for his departed wife. An Lushan, an ambitious political general, discovers a maid who looks a lot like the dead empress. He convinces the girl’s family to present her to the emperor. When she takes him out to a street festival, he falls in love with her.

     The Yang family get promotions but become corrupt causing the people to revolt. General An Lushan becomes an enemy also when the Yang family do not promote him to a provincial leader. The Empress realises that she is an innocent victim in other people's conflicting plans and offers her life to save the life of the Emperor.

     The story is a popular Chinese legend which presents the historical facts in an altered way for the sake of its moral. Machiko Kyō plays the innocent Empress perfectly. She is able to portray the part in a subtle manner yet still provoke the viewer to sympathise with her doomed fate.

     The setting of the film may not be faithfully Chinese or representative of the Tang dynasty either, but it is the closest that Mizoguchi comes to the archetypal costume drama. Shot in Eastmancolor, the picture looks rich and regal. As the Emperor Masayuki Mori is stately and discreet, in contrast General An Lushan (Sō Yamamura) is ambitious and boisterous. I could imagine Toshiro Mifune in this role quite easily.

     The Empress Yang Kwei-Fei is a film that divided critics as to where it stands in Kenji Mizoguchi's film career. Noted critics such as Donald Richie and Tony Rayns see it as a typical drama film which does not stand out, whereas Mark Le Fanu praises its virtues. Personally, I feel that there's more to The Empress Yang Kwei-Fei than meets the eye.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     As mentioned, this is Kenji Mizoguchi's first film shot in colour.

     The aspect ratio is 1:33:1 full-frame, not 16x9 enhanced. The average bitrate is solid at 6.98 m/b per second. Images are reasonably sharp and there is good shadow detail. Shot in Eastmancolor, the film has a regal red, yellow and purple look to every scene. The age of the transfer has possibly dulled the colours in comparison to its 1955 theatrical release.

     Negative (white) film artefacts are evident through most of the film with scratches, dust and specks visible against dark backgrounds.

     Subtitles are offered in default yellow (due to the main presentation being in colour) or white.

     There is no RSDL change as the main feature is presented on the first layer of a Dual-layered DVD.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The Japanese audio transfer sounds okay, although it does have slight background hiss at times.

     The main soundtrack is in Japanese. It is encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 kbps. Dialogue is clear and the audio is synchronised.

     Fumio Hayasaka uses both a contemporary and ancient sounding score to support the film. There are some sequences played in the film where sound is diegetic (sound whose source is visible on the screen.) This is related to the plot-line of the story where the Emperor seeks to compose music at the beginning of the film to cope with the loss of his wife.

     There is no surround channel usage because the main soundtrack is in mono. The subwoofer is not utilised either.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Teaser Trailer (2:00)

     This trailer is a promotion for Daiei Productions’ move into producing colour features in the mid-1950s. It promotes both of Kenji Mizoguchi's colour films of 1955, The Empress Yang Kwei-Fei and New Tales of the Taira Clan.

Directors Suite trailers

     Four Directors Suite trailers are included for Yasujiro Ozu's Early Summer, Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru, Jules Dassin's Night and the City and Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Empress Yang Kwei-Fei has been released in Region 2 in the United Kingdom by Masters of Cinema under its traditional Japanese title, Yōkihi. This comes in a two-disc release with Akasen Chitai (also known as Street of Shame). The extras include video discussions on both films by Tony Rayns which run for 9-11 minutes, an audio commentary on Akasen Chitai again by Japanese film critic Tony Rayns and a 64-page booklet featuring writing by Keiko I. McDonald (author of Mizoguchi), Mark Le Fanu (author of Mizoguchi and Japan), Masako Nakagawa (author of The Yang Kuei-fei Legend in Japanese Literature), ninth-century poetry (A Song of Unending Sorrow) by Po Chü-i, and rare production stills.

     In my opinion, the video discussions and expert audio commentary by Tony Rayns and the booklet, together with the inclusion of Akasen Chitai, makes the Region 2 Masters of Cinema release the best available version on DVD.

Summary

     It's a shame that Madman Directors Suite label has not graced this release with similar extras to the other Mizoguchi films released onto DVD during April-June 2010.

     The Empress Yang Kwei-Fei is a unique addition to Kenji Mizoguchi's career that needs to be seen by all who are interested in Kenji Mizoguchi's work as a filmmaker.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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