Mizoguchi Kenji, 60th Anniversary

While now recognized alongside Ozu, Kurosawa and Naruse as one of the classical masters of Japanese […] Read more

While now recognized alongside Ozu, Kurosawa and Naruse as one of the classical masters of Japanese film, Mizoguchi Kenji (1898- 1956) remains more complex, more enigmatic and even more difficult to categorize in a lengthy career that evolves from silent films (most of which are now lost) through a golden era of social criticism in the 1930s, more nationalistic films of the war period and profound changes accompanying both Western challenges to postwar Japan (including women’s suffrage) and Mizoguchi’s own conversion to Buddhism in 1950.

Nonetheless, certain striking consistencies unify his rich career: his deep attention to detail, the lengthy shots and careful movement of his camera, and especially his strong political concern with the patriarchal system of Japan and its impacts on centuries of women. Mizoguchi’s own story contributed to the last interest, including the ruin of his family and the traumatic sale of his older sister as a geisha (a system of exploitation to which he insistently returns). This sister, in fact, later fostered Mizoguchi’s careers as an artist and set designer before he found himself in front of and behind the cameras in the 1920s. He made 50 films, ranging from adaptations of Tolstoy to Japanese period pieces, before he felt his own career began in the mid-1930s. After World War II, he was seen as old-fashioned in his home country, despite his politics, but became lionized by Western critics. In this period, he explored a wide range of Japanese history and culture while still focusing on critical revisions of patriarchy and feminism conveyed by exquisite historical aesthetics. His career was cut short by leukemia in 1956 but his reputation has continued to grow among film connoisseurs for decades.

This Cine Fan retrospective provides two classic early films and the later films that established the director’s global reputation in the 1950s, including one of his rare forays into color, the exquisite New Tales of the Taira Clan (1955).

Further reading:

Mizoguchi Kenji, From The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia by Sarris, Andrew (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1998)

Mizoguchi Kenji, From The New Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson (New York: Knopf Publishing Group 2002)

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