Kenji Mizoguchi

Last updated
Kenji Mizoguchi
Kenji Mizoguchi 3.jpg
Born(1898-05-16)16 May 1898
Hongō, Tokyo, Japan
Died24 August 1956(1956-08-24) (aged 58)
Kyoto, Japan
NationalityJapanese
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter
Years active19231956
Notable work
Kenji Mizoguchi travelling through Europe, 1953 Kenji Mizoguchi - in Europe, 1953.jpg
Kenji Mizoguchi travelling through Europe, 1953

Kenji Mizoguchi (溝口 健二, Mizoguchi Kenji, 16 May 1898 – 24 August 1956) was a Japanese filmmaker who directed roughly one hundred films during his career between 1923 and 1956. [1] [2] [3] His most acclaimed works include The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939), The Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu (1953), and Sansho the Bailiff (1954), [4] [5] with the latter three all being awarded at the Venice International Film Festival. A recurring theme of his films was the oppression of women in historical and contemporary Japan. [2] [3] [6] Together with Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirō Ozu, Mizoguchi is seen as a representative of the "golden age" of Japanese cinema. [7]

Contents

Biography

Early years

Mizoguchi was born in Hongō, Tokyo, as the second of three children, to Zentaro Miguchi, a roofing carpenter, and his wife Masa. [8] [9] [10] The family's background was relatively humble until the father's failed business venture of selling raincoats to the Japanese troops during the Russo-Japanese War. [8] [9] [10] The family was forced to move to the downtown district of Asakusa and gave Mizoguchi's older sister Suzu up for adoption, which in effect meant selling her into the geisha profession. [8] [9] [10]

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, [8] [9] where he finished primary school. [9] His return coincided with an onset of crippling rheumatoid arthritis, [9] which left him with a walking gait for the rest of his life. [8] In 1913, his sister Suzu secured him an apprenticeship as a designer for a yukata manufacturer, and in 1915, after the mother's death, she brought both her younger brothers into her own house. [8] [9] Mizoguchi enrolled for a course at the Aoibashi Yoga Kenkyuko art school in Tokyo, which taught Western painting techniques, [8] [9] and developed an interest in opera, particularly at the Royal Theatre at Akasaka where he helped the set decorators with set design and construction. [8] [10]

In 1917, his sister again helped him to find work, this time as an advertisement designer with the Yuishin Nippon newspaper in Kobe. [8] [9] [10] The film critic Tadao Sato has pointed out a coincidence between Mizoguchi's life in his early years and the plots of shinpa dramas, which characteristically documented the sacrifices made by geisha on behalf of the young men they were involved with. Probably because of his familial circumstances, "the subject of women's suffering is fundamental in all his work; while sacrifice – in particular, the sacrifice a sister makes for a brother – makes a key showing in a number of his films, including some of the greatest ones (Sansho the Bailiff/Sansho Dayu [1954], for example)." [8] After less than a year in Kobe, however, Mizoguchi returned "to the bohemian delights of Tokyo" (Mark Le Fanu). [8] In 1920, Mizoguchi entered the film industry as an assistant director at the Nikkatsu studios in Mukojima, Tokyo. [2] [3] Three years later, he gave his directorial debut with Ai ni yomigaeru hi (The Resurrection of Love). [2] [3]

Film career

After the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo, Mizoguchi moved to Nikkatsu's studios in Kyoto. His early works included remakes of German Expressionist cinema [2] [3] and adaptations of Eugene O'Neill and Leo Tolstoy. [8] While working in Kyoto, he studied kabuki and noh theatre, and traditional Japanese dance and music. [10] He was also a frequent visitor of the tea houses, dance halls and brothels in Kyoto and Osaka, [8] which at one time resulted in a widely covered incident of him being attacked by a jealous prostitute and then-lover with a razor. [8] [9] [11] His 1926 Passion of a Woman Teacher (Kyōren no onna shishō) was one of a handful of Japanese films shown in France and Germany at the time and received considerate praise, [5] but is nowadays lost like most of his 1920s and early 1930s films. [6] By the end of the decade, Mizoguchi directed a series of left-leaning "tendency films", including Tokyo March and Metropolitan Symphony (Tokai kokyōkyoku). [2] [3] [8]

In 1932, Mizoguchi left Nikkatsu and worked for a variety of studios and production companies. [8] The Water Magician (1933) and Orizuru Osen (1935) were melodramas based on stories by Kyōka Izumi, depicting women who sacrifice themselves to secure a poor young man's education. Both have been cited as early examples of his recurring theme of female concerns and "one-scene-one-shot" camera technique, [2] [6] which would become his trademark. [12] The 1936 diptych of Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion , about modern young women (moga) rebelling against their surroundings, is considered to be his early masterpiece. [13] [14] [15] Mizoguchi himself named these two films as the works with which he achieved artistic maturity. [16] Osaka Elegy was also his first full sound film, [17] and marked the beginning of his long collaboration with screenwriter Yoshikata Yoda. [13] [18]

1939, the year when Mizoguchi became president of the Directors Guild of Japan, [8] saw the release of The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, which is regarded by many critics as his major pre-war, [16] if not his best work. [19] [20] Here, a young woman supports her partner's struggle to achieve artistic maturity as a kabuki actor at the price of her health.

During World War II, Mizoguchi made a series of films whose patriotic nature seemed to support the war effort. The most famous of these is a retelling of the classic samurai tale The 47 Ronin (1941–42), an epic jidaigeki (historical drama). While some historians see these as works which he had been pressured into, [21] others believe him to have acted voluntarily. [22] Fellow screenwriter Matsutarō Kawaguchi went as far as, in an 1964 interview for Cahiers du Cinéma , calling Mizoguchi (whom he otherwise held in high regards) an "opportunist" in his art who followed the currents of the time, veering from the left to the right to finally become a democrat. [23]

1941 also saw the permanent hospitalisation of his wife Chieko (m. 1927), [8] whom he erroneously believed to have contracted with venereal disease. [24]

International 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

During the early post-war years following the country's defeat, Mizoguchi directed a series of films concerned with the oppression of women and female emancipation both in historical (mostly the Meiji era) and contemporary settings. All of these were written or co-written by Yoda, and often starred Kinuyo Tanaka, who remained his regular leading actress until 1954, when both fell out with each other over Mizoguchi's attempt to prevent her from directing her first own film. [25] [26] Utamaro and His Five Women (1946) was a notable exception of an Edo era jidaigeki film made during the Occupation, as this genre was seen as being inherently nationalistic or militaristic by the Allied censors. [16] [27] Of his works of this period, Flame of My Love (1949) has repeatedly been pointed out for its unflinching presentation of its subject. [6] [28] Tanaka plays a young teacher who leaves her traditionalist milieu to strive for her goal of female liberation, only to find out that her allegedly progressive partner still nourishes the accustomed attitude of male preeminence.

Mizoguchi returned to feudal era settings with The Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu (1953) and Sansho the Bailiff (1954), which won him international recognition, in particular by the Cahiers du Cinéma critics such as Jean-Luc Godard, [2] Eric Rohmer [5] and Jacques Rivette, [29] and were awarded at the Venice Film Festival. [2] [3] While The Life of Oharu follows the social decline of a woman banished from the Imperial court during the Edo era, Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff examine the brutal effects of war and reigns of violence on small communities and families. In between these three films, he directed A Geisha (1953) about the pressures put upon women working in Kyoto's post-war pleasure district. After two historical films shot in colour ( Tales of the Taira Clan and Princess Yang Kwei Fei , both 1955), [30] [31] Mizoguchi once more explored a contemporary milieu (a brothel in the Yoshiwara district) in black-and-white format with his last film, the 1956 Street of Shame .

Mizoguchi died of leukemia at the age of 58 [9] [30] [32] in the Kyoto Municipal Hospital. [24] At the time of his death, Mizoguchi was working on the script of An Osaka Story , which was later realised by Kōzaburō Yoshimura. [33]

Legacy

In 1975, Kaneto Shindō, a set designer, chief assistant director and scenarist for Mizoguchi in the late 1930s and 1940s, released a documentary about his former mentor, Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director , [24] as well as publishing a book on him in 1976. [34] Already with his autobiographical debut film Story of a Beloved Wife (1951), Shindō had paid reference to Mizoguchi in the shape of the character "Sakaguchi", [35] a director who nurtures a young aspiring screenwriter.

Mizoguchi's films have regularly appeared in "best film" polls, such as Sight & Sound's "The 100 Greatest Films of All Time" (Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff) [36] and Kinema Junpo's "Kinema Junpo Critics' Top 200" (The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu and The Crucified Lovers). [37] A retrospective of his 30 extant films, presented by the Museum of the Moving Image and the Japan Foundation, toured several American cities in 2014. [38] Among the directors who have admired Mizoguchi's work are Akira Kurosawa, [39] Orson Welles, [40] Andrei Tarkovsky, [41] Martin Scorsese, [42] Werner Herzog, [43] Theo Angelopoulos [44] and many others. Film historian David Thomson wrote, "The use of camera to convey emotional ideas or intelligent feelings is the definition of cinema derived from Mizoguchi's films. He is supreme in the realization of internal states in external views." [45]

Filmography

Lost films (except where noted)

Extant films (except where noted)

Home media releases (English subtitled)

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kazuo Miyagawa</span> Japanese cinematographer

Kazuo Miyagawa was a Japanese cinematographer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kinuyo Tanaka</span> Japanese actress and film director (1909–1977)

Kinuyo Tanaka was a Japanese actress and film director. She had a career lasting over 50 years with more than 250 acting credits, but was best known for her 15 films with director Kenji Mizoguchi, such as The Life of Oharu (1952) and Ugetsu (1953). With her 1953 directorial debut, Love Letter, Tanaka became the second Japanese woman to direct a film, after Tazuko Sakane.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Machiko Kyō</span> Japanese actress (1924–2019)

Machiko Kyō was a Japanese actress who was active primarily in the 1950s.

<i>Ugetsu</i> 1953 film

Ugetsu, also known as Tales of Ugetsu or Ugetsu Monogatari, is a 1953 Japanese historical drama and fantasy film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi starring Masayuki Mori and Machiko Kyō. It is based on two stories in Ueda Akinari's 1776 book of the same name, combining elements of the jidaigeki genre with a ghost story.

<i>Sansho the Bailiff</i> 1954 film

Sansho the Bailiff is a 1954 Japanese period film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi based on a 1915 short story of the same name by Mori Ōgai, which in turn was based on a sekkyo-bushi(oral lore) appearing in written form in the 17th century. It follows two aristocratic children who are sold into slavery.

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

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, also titled The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum and The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums, is a 1939 Japanese drama film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. Based on a short story by Shōfu Muramatsu, it follows an onnagata struggling for artistic mastery in late 19th century Japan.

<i>Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director</i> 1975 Japanese film

Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director is a 1975 Japanese documentary film on the life and works of director Kenji Mizoguchi. It was produced, written and directed by Kaneto Shindō.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Daisuke Katō</span> Japanese actor

Daisuke Katō was a Japanese actor. He appeared in over 200 films, including Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo, and Ikiru. He also worked repeatedly for noted directors such as Yasujirō Ozu, Mikio Naruse and Kenji Mizoguchi.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kyōko Kagawa</span> Japanese actress

Kyōko Kagawa is a Japanese actress. During her career spanning 70 years, she has worked with directors like Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujirō Ozu and Mikio Naruse, appearing in films such as Tokyo Story, Sansho the Bailiff, The Bad Sleep Well, Mothra, and High and Low.

<i>Osaka Elegy</i> 1936 Japanese film

Osaka Elegy is a 1936 Japanese drama film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. It forms a diptych with Mizoguchi's Sisters of the Gion which shares much of the same cast and production team, and is considered an early masterpiece in the director's career.

Antony Rayns is a British writer, commentator, film festival programmer and screenwriter. He wrote for the underground publication Cinema Rising before contributing to the Monthly Film Bulletin from the December 1970 issue until its demise in 1991. He has written for the British Film Institute's magazine Sight & Sound since the 1970s, and also contributed extensively to Time Out and to Melody Maker in the late 1970s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Matsutarō Kawaguchi</span> Japanese writer (1899–1985)

Matsutarō Kawaguchi was a Japanese writer of short stories, novels, dramas and screenplays. He repeatedly collaborated on films of director Kenji Mizoguchi, and his books were adapted by directors such as Mikio Naruse and Kōzaburō Yoshimura.

<i>Utamaro and His Five Women</i> 1946 Japanese film

Utamaro and His Five Womena.k.a.Five Women Around Utamaro is a 1946 Japanese historical drama film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. It is based on the novel of the same title by Kanji Kunieda, itself a fictionalized account of the life of printmaker Kitagawa Utamaro.

<i>Sisters of the Gion</i> 1936 Japanese film

Sisters of the Gion or Sisters of Gion is a 1936 black and white Japanese drama film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi about two geisha sisters living in Kyoto's Gion district. It forms a diptych with Mizoguchi's Osaka Elegy which shares much of the same cast and production team.

An Osaka Story is a 1957 Japanese historical drama film directed by Kōzaburō Yoshimura. The film had originally been planned by Kenji Mizoguchi, who had adapted several stories by Saikaku Ihara into a script. After Mizoguchi's death, the project was assigned to Yoshimura.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nobuko Otowa</span> Japanese actress

Nobuko Otowa was a Japanese actress who appeared in more than 100 films between 1950 and 1994.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eitarō Shindō</span> Japanese actor

Eitarō Shindō was a Japanese film actor. He appeared in more than 300 films between 1936 and 1975. He is most closely associated with the work of Kenji Mizoguchi, with whom he made twelve films.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Masaichi Nagata</span> Japanese film producer

Masaichi Nagata was a Japanese businessman and served as president of Daiei Film. The self-proclaimed creator of Gamera, he produced the kaiju's second film Gamera vs. Barugon, with the remainder of the Showa Gamera films produced instead by his son Hidemasa Nagata.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yoshikata Yoda</span> Japanese screenwriter

Yoshikata Yoda was a Japanese screenwriter. He wrote for more than 130 films between 1931 and 1989. He is most famous for his work with Kenji Mizoguchi. He wrote for the film Bushido, Samurai Saga, which won the Golden Bear at the 13th Berlin International Film Festival.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tazuko Sakane</span> Japanese film director

Tazuko Sakane was a Japanese film director. She was Japan's first female director, followed by Kinuyo Tanaka. Her first feature film New Clothing is known to be the first Japanese feature film directed by a female. The majority of her films are educational nonfiction films produced by Manchukuo Film Association for Japanese immigrants and Manchu in Manchukuo. Her only known surviving film is Brides on the Frontier. She worked closely with Japanese Director Kenji Mizoguchi and was credited as an Editor and/or Assistant Director for over 15 films directed by him. While growing up, her father, a wealthy businessman, often took her to the cinema. She graduated from Nikkatsu Uzumaki Girls' School in 1929.

References

  1. "溝口健二". Japanese Movie Database (in Japanese). Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "溝口健二". Kinenote (in Japanese). Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "溝口健二". Kotobank (in Japanese). Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  4. "The Tales and Tragedies of Kenji Mizoguchi". Harvard Film Archive. 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  5. 1 2 3 Jacoby, Alexander (October 2002). "Mizoguchi, Kenji". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Jacoby, Alexander (2008). Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors: From the Silent Era to the Present Day. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press. ISBN   978-1-933330-53-2.
  7. Sharp, Jasper (15 May 2015). "Kenji Mizoguchi: 10 essential films". British Film Institute. Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Le Fanu, Mark (2005). Mizoguchi and Japan. London: BFI Publishing. ISBN   978-1-84457-057-7.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Andrew, Dudley; Andrew, Paul (1981). Kenji Mizoguchi: A Guide to References and Resources. Boston: G.K. Hall. ISBN   9780816184699.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Sato, Tadao (2008). Kenji Mizoguchi and the Art of Japanese Cinema. Bloomsbury. ISBN   9781847882318.
  11. Phillips, Alastair; Stringer, Julian, eds. (2007). Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts. London and New York: Routledge. p. 95. ISBN   9780415328470.
  12. Thomas, Kevin (6 January 1997). "A Closer Look at a Japanese Master". The Los Angeles Times . Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  13. 1 2 "浪華悲歌". Kinenote (in Japanese). Retrieved 1 October 2022.
  14. "浪華悲歌". Kotobank (in Japanese). Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  15. Anderson, Joseph L.; Richie, Donald (1959). The Japanese Film – Art & Industry. Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company.
  16. 1 2 3 "The Best Japanese Film of Every Year – From 1925 to Now". British Film Institute. Retrieved 3 January 2022.
  17. McDonald, Keiko (Winter 1982). "Form and Function in "Osaka Elegy"". Film Comment. Vol. 6, no. 2. pp. 35–44.
  18. "Osaka Elegy". Time Out. Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  19. Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums". Chicago Reader. Chicago. Retrieved 7 October 2022.
  20. Macpherson, Don. "The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums". Time Out. Retrieved 7 October 2022.
  21. Dougill, John (2006). Kyoto: A Cultural and Literary History. Signal Books. ISBN   9781904955139.
  22. Burch, Noël (1979). To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema. University of California Press. p. 243. ISBN   9780520038776.
  23. "Six entretiens autour de Mizoguchi: Kawaguchi Matsutaro". Cahiers du Cinéma. Vol. XXVII. August–September 1965. pp. 5–8.
  24. 1 2 3 Aru eiga-kantoku no shōgai Mizoguchi Kenji no kiroku[Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director] (DVD) (in Japanese). Asmik Ace. 2001.
  25. Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey (March 2018). "Kinuyo Tanaka's The Eternal Breasts (1955)". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 8 October 2022.
  26. Gonzalez-Lopez, Irene (2017). Tanaka Kinuyo: Nation, Stardom and Female Subjectivity. Edinburgh University Press. p. 14. ISBN   978-1-4744-4463-7.
  27. Freiberg, Freda (March 2003). "Utamaro and his Five Women". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  28. McShane, Rod. "My Love Has Been Burning". Time Out. Retrieved 8 October 2022.
  29. Rivette, Jacques (March 1958). "Mizoguchi vu d'ici". Cahiers du Cinéma. No. 81.
  30. 1 2 Sharp, Jasper (2011). Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. ISBN   9780810857957.
  31. "Yokihi". Viennale (in German). Retrieved 8 October 2022.
  32. Jacoby, Alexander (26 August 2006). "Kenji Mizoguchi: The enduring relevance of a master of cinema". The Japan Times Weekly. Retrieved 8 October 2022.
  33. "大阪物語(1957)". Kinenote (in Japanese). Retrieved 8 October 2022.
  34. 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). Vol. 962. Iwanami. ISBN   4-00-414080-3.
  35. Mellen, Joan (1976). The Waves at Genji's Door: Japan Through Its Cinema. Pantheon Books. p. 250.
  36. "The 100 Greatest Films of All Time". British Film Institute. Retrieved 8 October 2022.
  37. "Kinema Junpo Critics' Top 200". MUBI. Retrieved 8 October 2022.
  38. "Kenji Mizoguchi Will Receive of Retrospective at Moving Image, 5/2-6/8". Broadway World. 11 April 2014. Retrieved 8 October 2022.
  39. 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.
  40. Welles, Orson; Bogdanovich, Peter (1998). This is Orson Welles. Da Capo Press. p. 146.
  41. "Tarkovsky's Choice". Archived from the original on 2009-07-06. Retrieved 2009-04-13.
  42. "Martin Scorsese's Top 10 List". The Criterion Collection. 29 January 2014. Retrieved 8 October 2022.
  43. Cronin, Paul (2019). Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed. Faber & Faber. ISBN   9780571336067.
  44. Horton, Andrew (1997). "Angelopoulos, the Continuous Image, and Cinema". The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation. Princeton University Press. ISBN   9780691011417.
  45. Thomson, David (2010). The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (Fifth ed.). p. 674.