Kenji Mizoguchi

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Kenji Mizoguchi
Kenji Mizoguchi 1.jpg
Kenji Mizoguchi
Born(1898-05-16)May 16, 1898
Hongo, Tokyo, Japan
DiedAugust 24, 1956(1956-08-24) (aged 58)
Kyoto, Japan
Other namesGoteken
Occupation film director, screenwriter, editor
Years active19231956

Kenji Mizoguchi(溝口 健二,Mizoguchi Kenji, May 16, 1898 August 24, 1956) was a Japanese film director and screenwriter.

Film director Person who controls the artistic and dramatic aspects of a film production

A film director is a person who directs the making of a film. A film director controls a film's artistic and dramatic aspects and visualizes the screenplay while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfilment of that vision. The director has a key role in choosing the cast members, production design, and the creative aspects of filmmaking. Under European Union law, the director is viewed as the author of the film.

Screenwriter writer who writes for TV, films, comics and games

A screenplay writer, scriptwriter or scenarist, is a writer who practices the craft of screenwriting, writing screenplays on which mass media, such as films, television programs and video games, are based.


Mizoguchi's work is renowned for its long takes and mise-en-scène. [1] According to writer Mark Le Fanu, "His films have an extraordinary force and purity. They shake and move the viewer by the power, refinement and compassion with which they confront human suffering." [2]

In filmmaking, a long take is a shot lasting much longer than the conventional editing pace either of the film itself or of films in general. Significant camera movement and elaborate blocking are often elements in long takes, but not necessarily so. The term "long take" should not be confused with the term "long shot", which refers to the distance between the camera and its subject and not to the temporal length of the shot itself. The length of a long take was originally limited to how much film a motion picture camera could hold, but the advent of digital video has considerably lengthened the maximum potential length of a take.

His film Ugetsu (1953) brought him international attention and appeared in the Sight & Sound Critics' Top Ten Poll in 1962 and 1972. Other acclaimed films of his include The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939), The Life of Oharu (1952), and Sansho the Bailiff (1954). Today, Mizoguchi is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of world cinema.

<i>Ugetsu</i> 1953 film by Kenji Mizoguchi

Ugetsu, Tales of Ugetsu or Ugetsu Monogatari (雨月物語) is a 1953 Japanese romantic fantasy drama film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi and based on stories in Ueda Akinari's book of the same name. It is a ghost story and an example of the jidaigeki genre, starring Masayuki Mori and Machiko Kyō.

Sight & Sound is a British monthly film magazine published by the British Film Institute (BFI).

<i>The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums</i> 1939 film by Kenji Mizoguchi

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, also translated as The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum and The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums, is a 1939 Japanese film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, about a male actor specialising in playing female roles in late 19th century Japan.


Early years

Mizoguchi was born in Hongo, Tokyo, [3] one of three children. His father was a roofing carpenter. The family was modestly middle-class until his father tried to make a living selling raincoats to soldiers during the Russo-Japanese war. The war ended too quickly for the investment to succeed; his family circumstances turned abject and they had to give his older sister up "for adoption" and moved from Hongo to Asakusa, near the theatre and brothel quarter. [3] In effect his sister Suzuko, or Suzu, was sold into geishadom - an event which profoundly affected Mizoguchi's outlook on life. Between this and his father's brutal treatment of his mother and sister, he maintained a fierce resistance against his father throughout his life.

Tokyo Metropolis in Kantō

Tokyo, officially Tokyo Metropolis, one of the 47 prefectures of Japan, has served as the Japanese capital since 1869. As of 2018, the Greater Tokyo Area ranked as the most populous metropolitan area in the world. The urban area houses the seat of the Emperor of Japan, of the Japanese government and of the National Diet. Tokyo forms part of the Kantō region on the southeastern side of Japan's main island, Honshu, and includes the Izu Islands and Ogasawara Islands. Tokyo was formerly named Edo when Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu made the city his headquarters in 1603. It became the capital after Emperor Meiji moved his seat to the city from Kyoto in 1868; at that time Edo was renamed Tokyo. Tokyo Metropolis formed in 1943 from the merger of the former Tokyo Prefecture and the city of Tokyo. Tokyo is often referred to as a city but is officially known and governed as a "metropolitan prefecture", which differs from and combines elements of a city and a prefecture, a characteristic unique to Tokyo.

Asakusa town located in Taitō-ku, Tokyo

Asakusa (浅草) is a district in Taitō, Tokyo, Japan, famous for the Sensō-ji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. There are several other temples in Asakusa, as well as various festivals, such as the Sanja Matsuri.

Brothel Place of prostitution

A brothel or bordello is a place where people engage in sexual activity with prostitutes. Technically, any premises where prostitution commonly takes place qualifies as a brothel. However, for legal or cultural reasons, establishments often describe themselves as massage parlors, bars, strip clubs, body rub parlours, studios, or by some other description. Sex work in a brothel is considered safer than street prostitution.

In 1911, Mizoguchi's parents, too poor to continue paying for their son's primary school training, sent him to stay with an uncle in Morioka, in northern Japan, for a year - a period that saw the onset of crippling rheumatoid arthritis that was to afflict him during adolescence and leave him with a lop-sided walking gait for the rest of his life. [4] The year 1912, back with his parents, was spent almost entirely in bed. In 1913 Mizoguchi's sister Suzu secured him work as an apprentice, designing patterns for kimonos and yukatas. In 1915 his mother died, and Suzu brought her younger brothers into her own house and looked after them. In 1916 he enrolled for a course at the Aoibashi Yoga Kenkyuko art school in Tokyo, which taught Western painting techniques. At this time too he pursued a new interest in opera, particularly at the Royal Theatre at Akasaka where he began, in due course, to help the set decorators.

Morioka Core city in Tōhoku, Japan

Morioka is the capital city of Iwate Prefecture located in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan. As of 1 October 2016, the city had an estimated population of 296,739, and a population density of 335 persons per km2. The total area of the city is 886.47 square kilometres (342.27 sq mi).

Rheumatoid arthritis An arthritis that is an autoimmune disease which attacks healthy cells and tissue located in joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term autoimmune disorder that primarily affects joints. It typically results in warm, swollen, and painful joints. Pain and stiffness often worsen following rest. Most commonly, the wrist and hands are involved, with the same joints typically involved on both sides of the body. The disease may also affect other parts of the body. This may result in a low red blood cell count, inflammation around the lungs, and inflammation around the heart. Fever and low energy may also be present. Often, symptoms come on gradually over weeks to months.

<i>Kimono</i> Japanese traditional garment

The kimono(着物, きもの) is a traditional Japanese garment. The term means "garment"; ki (着) means "to wear", and mono (物) means "thing" or "object". It has come to mean full-length formal robes. The standard English plural is kimonos, but kimono is also used for the plural form in English as Japanese does not distinguish plural nouns. Kimonos are often worn for important festivals and formal occasions as formal clothing.

In 1917 his sister again helped him to find work, this time a post with the Yuishin Nippon newspaper in Kobe, as an advertisement designer. The writer Tadao Sato has pointed out a coincidence between Mizoguchi's life in his early years and the plots of shimpa dramas. Such works characteristically documented the sacrifices made by geishas on behalf of the young men they were involved with. Though Suzu was his sister and not a lover, "the subject of women's suffering is fundamental in all his work; while the sacrifice a sister makes for a brother - makes a key showing in a number of his films - Sansho Dayu for example." [4] After less than a year in Kobe however he returned, "to the bohemian delights of Tokyo." [4] Mizoguchi entered the Tokyo film industry as an actor in 1920; three years later he would become a full-fledged director, at the Nikkatsu studio, directing Ai-ni yomigaeru hi (The Resurrection of Love), his first movie, during a workers' strike.

Kobe Designated city in Kansai, Japan

Kobe is the sixth-largest city in Japan and the capital city of Hyōgo Prefecture. It is located on the southern side of the main island of Honshū, on the north shore of Osaka Bay and about 30 km (19 mi) west of Osaka. With a population around 1.5 million, the city is part of the Keihanshin metropolitan area along with Osaka and Kyoto.

Tadao Sato is a Japanese film critic, theorist and historian. He has published more than a hundred books on film, and is one of Japan's foremost scholars and historians addressing film. He is recognized as one of the world's foremost authorities on Japanese cinema specifically, although little of his work has been translated for publication abroad. He has also written books on Chinese, Korean, American and European films.

Actor person who acts in a dramatic or comic production and works in film, television, theatre, or radio

An actor is a person who portrays a character in a performance. The actor performs "in the flesh" in the traditional medium of the theatre or in modern media such as film, radio, and television. The analogous Greek term is ὑποκριτής (hupokritḗs), literally "one who answers". The actor's interpretation of their role—the art of acting—pertains to the role played, whether based on a real person or fictional character. Interpretation occurs even when the actor is "playing themselves", as in some forms of experimental performance art.

Film career

Mizoguchi's early works had been exploratory, mainly genre works, remakes of German Expressionism and adaptations of Eugene O'Neill and Leo Tolstoy. In these early years Mizoguchi worked quickly, sometimes churning out a film in weeks. These would account for over fifty films from the 1920s and 1930s, the majority of which are now lost.

Kenji Mizoguchi travelling through Europe, 1953 Kenji Mizoguchi - in Europe, 1953.jpg
Kenji Mizoguchi travelling through Europe, 1953

After the Great Kantō earthquake on September 1, 1923, Mizoguchi moved to Nikkatsu’s Kyoto studios, and was working there until a scandal caused him to be temporarily suspended: Yuriko Ichijo, a call girl who he was co-habiting with, attacked and wounded Mizoguchi's back with a razor-blade. "Working in Kyoto - the home of the traditional arts - had a decisive influence. Mizoguchi studied kabuki , noh , and traditional Japanese dance and music." [5]

Several of Mizoguchi's later films were keikō-eiga or "tendency films," in which Mizoguchi first explored his socialist tendencies and moulded his famous signature preoccupations. Later in his life, Mizoguchi maintained that his career as a serious director did not begin until 1936, when Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion were released.

In his middle films, Mizoguchi began to be hailed as a director of 'new realism': social documents of a Japan that was making its transition from feudalism into modernity. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939) won a prize with the Education Department; like the two above mentioned films, it explores the deprecatory role of women in an unfairly male-centered society. During this time, Mizoguchi also developed his signature "one-scene-one-shot" approach to cinema. The meticulousness and authenticity of his set designer Hiroshi Mizutani would contribute to Mizoguchi's frequent use of wide-angle lenses.

During the war, Mizoguchi was forced to make compromises for the military government as propaganda; the most famous is a retelling of the Samurai bushido classic The 47 Ronin (1941), an epic jidai geki ("historical drama").

Significant directors who have admired his work include Akira Kurosawa, [6] Orson Welles, [7] Masahiro Shinoda and Kaneto Shindo, Jean-Luc Godard, [8] Andrei Tarkovsky, [9] Jean-Marie Straub, Victor Erice, Jacques Rivette and Theo Angelopoulos. [10]

Mizoguchi once served as president of the Directors Guild of Japan. [11]

Post-war recognition

Screenwriter Yoshikata Yoda, Actress Kinuyo Tanaka, and Kenji Mizoguchi visit Paris, 1953 Yoshikata Yoda, Kinuyo Tanaka, Kenji Mizoguchi - in Paris, 1953.jpg
Screenwriter Yoshikata Yoda, Actress Kinuyo Tanaka, and Kenji Mizoguchi visit Paris, 1953

Immediately after the war, Mizoguchi's work, like that of his contemporary Yasujirō Ozu, was regarded by Japanese audiences as somewhat old-fashioned and dated.[ citation needed ] He was rediscovered, however, in the West - and particularly by Cahiers du cinéma critics such as Jacques Rivette. After a phase inspired by Japanese women's suffrage, which produced radical films like Victory of the Women (1946) and My Love Has Been Burning (1949), Mizoguchi took a turn to the jidai-geki —or period drama, re-made from stories from Japanese folklore or period history—together with long-time screenwriter and collaborator Yoshikata Yoda. It was to be his most celebrated series of works, including The Life of Oharu (1952), which won him international recognition and which he considered his best film, and Ugetsu (1953), which won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Sansho the Bailiff (1954) reworks a premise from feudal Japan (and the short story by Mori Ōgai). Of his nearly 80 films, only two— Tales of the Taira Clan (1955) and Princess Yang Kwei-Fei (1955)—were made in colour.[ citation needed ]

Mizoguchi died in Kyoto of leukemia at the age of 58, by which time he had become recognized as one of the three masters of Japanese cinema, together with Yasujirō Ozu and Akira Kurosawa. At the time of his death, Mizoguchi was working on a film called Osaka Story. In all, he made (according to his memory) about 75 films, although most of his early ones were lost. In 1975, Kaneto Shindo filmed a documentary about Mizoguchi, Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director , as well as writing a book published in 1976. [12] A retrospective series of his 30 surviving films, sponsored by The Japan Foundation, toured several American cities in 2014.


DVD releases (English subtitled)

UK and US



  1. Thomas, Kevin (6 January 1997). "A Closer Look at a Japanese Master". The Los Angeles Times . Retrieved 2010-11-23.
  2. Le Fanu 2005 , p. 1
  3. 1 2 Le Fanu 2005 , p. 22
  4. 1 2 3 Le Fanu 2005 , p. 23
  5. Sato 2008 , p. 10
  6. Donald Richie (20 January 1999). The Films of Akira Kurosawa, Third Edition, Expanded and Updated. University of California Press. p. 97. ISBN   978-0-520-22037-9. “His greatness was that he never gave up trying to heighten the reality of each scene. He never made compromises. He never said that something or other ‘would do.’ Instead, he pulled—or pushed—everyone along with him until they had created the feeling which matched his own inner image. An ordinary director is quite incapable of this. And in this lay his true spirit as a director—for he had the temperament of a true creator. He pushed and bullied and he was often criticized for this but he held out, and he created masterpieces. This attitude toward creation is not at all easy, but a director like him is especially necessary in Japan where this kind of pushing is so resisted. […] In the death of Mizoguchi, Japanese film lost its truest creator.”
  7. Welles & Bogdanovich 1998 , p. 146
  8. Kenji Mizoguchi’s Movies Seek Beauty -- New York Times
  9. Tarkovsky's Choice
  10. Mizoguchi The Master, Gerald O'Grady,ed.
  11. "Nihon eiga kantoku kyōkai nenpyō" (in Japanese). Nihon eiga kantoku kyōkai. Archived from the original on 26 July 2010. Retrieved 17 August 2010.
  12. Shindo, Kaneto (27 April 1976). Aru Eiga Kantoku - Mizoguchi Kenji to Nihon Eiga[A film director - Kenji Mizoguchi and the Japanese cinema]. Iwanami Shinsho (in Japanese). 962. Iwanami. ISBN   4-00-414080-3.
  13. "金|日本の映画情報を検索 日本映画情報システム". Japanese Cinema Database (in Japanese). Agency for Cultural Affairs . Retrieved 31 January 2013.
  14. Sato 2008 , p. 45
  15. Bock, Audie (1978). Japanese Film Directors. Kodansha. p. 63. ISBN   0-87011-304-6. No extant prints, negative or script.
  16. Sato3 2008 , p. 84

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