Sunday, October 21, 2007
One of the most distinguished cinema artist in Japan is Konji Mizogushi.He is considered Shakespeare of Japanese Cinema ,because his style is so tragic , full of dimentions .Yet his cinematic writings are very simple ; Konji is in the constant search of reality in the world ,posing his looks on women ;badly treated by men who themselves are brutally manipulated by their violences and powers .
Konji uses all the beauty of women trying to find their places in a society led by men .His cinema is importantly fiminist and progressist.
ALLAL EL ALAOUI
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b. May 16, 1898, Tokyo, Japan
d. August 24, 1956, Kyoto, Japan
by Alexander Jacoby
Alexander Jacoby, 23, is a British-born, Tokyo-based film critic whose particular interests include Japanese cinema and silent film. His writing has appeared in various publications, both on and offline.
“The comparisons are as inevitable as they are unfashionable,” wrote James Quandt, introducing the centenary retrospective of the films of Kenji Mizoguchi. “Mizoguchi is cinema's Shakespeare, its Bach or Beethoven, its Rembrant, Titian or Picasso.” (1) If this remains a minority opinion, it's not because others have tried him and found him wanting. Mizoguchi is either admired or ignored. If he is, as I believe, the greatest of Japanese directors, then he has eluded general recognition as such only through unpropitious circumstances.
The first circumstance was historical. The bulk of Mizoguchi's work was produced years before Japanese films were widely shown in the West. When a handful of Japanese movies did play in France and Germany in the late '20s, Mizoguchi's Passion of a Woman Teacher (1926) received considerable praise. But whereas its contemporary, Crossways (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1928) became (and remains) a staple repertory item in Europe, all trace of Mizoguchi's film has long since disappeared. Only in the '50s, as Japanese films again began to make their way into European festivals, did Mizoguchi win a belated international recognition for his late, bleak, yet beautiful and serenely moving period films. When he died, relatively young, in 1956, attention passed to such younger filmmakers as Kurosawa and Ichikawa, very much less distinguished artists who both profited from a fashionable brand of sentimental humanism and an obtrusive emphatic visual style consisting predominantly of rhetorical close ups and generally at the service of simplistic emotions.
Tales of the Pale and Silvery Moon After the Rain
The other circumstance, then, was artistic. Although a much more profound humanist than Kurosawa, Mizoguchi rarely, if ever, advertised his social concerns with the sort of condescending didacticsm which appealed to the message-hungry middlebrows of Sight and Sound and its ilk. As for his style, with its extraordinary elaboration, delicacy, beauty and grace, it must have struck the puritans who then dictated taste as decadent aestheticism. Naturally this sort of thing went down rather better in France, where Godard and Rohmer, then the Young Turk critics of Cahiers of Cinéma, hailed Ugetsu Monogatari (1953) as one of the cinema's supreme achievements and evoked comparisons with Homeric and Arthurian legend. But Mizoguchi's art eludes easy auteurist categorisation in a way that, say, Ozu's films do not. He vacilated politically between feudalism and feminism, militarism and Marxism. The essential features of his style – long takes, the rejection of close ups – remained constant for the last 20 years of his career, but the gulf between the stasis and austerity of Sisters of Gion (1936) and the roving camera and elaborate choreography of actors in Sansho Dayu (1954) is wide indeed. In consequence, critical opinion has often been divided: the traditional liberal humanist line, as exemplified by the criticism of Donald Richie, exalts the postwar period films, while the Marxist formalist school of Noel Burch prefers the prewar work for its supposedly more radical formal qualities.
My own feeling is that masterpieces were produced throughout Mizoguchi's career, that a commitment to feminism and progressive politics is, despite his occasional flirtations with the right, the single most consistent trait of his oeuvre; and that the visible transformations in his style obscure a more profound integrity of method and meaning. In fairness the generalisation must be qualified. Mizoguchi's work is no longer visible as a whole. Warfare, natural disaster and plain indifference have long since erased the greater part of Japan's cinematic heritage. Less than half of Mizoguchi's output is preserved, and his most prolific period – the silent era – is today represented by three complete films and a fragment. Surviving reviews and synopses suggest a considerable eclecticism and an interest in Western modes and material: thus Foggy Harbour (1924) was a transposition of Anna Christie, while Blood and Soul (1923) imitated German expressionism. Mizoguchi's only film to survive complete from the '20s, Song of Home (1925), displays a commendable determination to subvert the complacencies of a Government-sponsored political project, but is otherwise atypical. Even so, and despite such aberrations as the imperialist Dawn in Manchuria (1932), it is clear that Mizoguchi's recurrent themes were established by the early '30s. A concern with female psychology and suffering, often though not always centring on the experience of prostitutes and geishas, was already apparent in Passion of a Woman Teacher, Nihonbashi (1929), Okichi, Mistress of a Foreigner (1930), and Mizoguchi's contribution to the leftist “tendency film” cycle of the early '30s, And Yet They Go On (1931). His stylistic evolution is more difficult to judge, though surviving stills suggest a consistent visual lyricism. Certainly, however, the basic essentials of both his themes and style were established by the end of his silent period, as the two late silent films, Cascading White Threads (1933) and The Downfall of Osen (1934), attest.
These two films were based (as was Nihonbashi before them) on stories by Kyoka Izumi, the novelist held by critic Yomota Inuhiko to have “laid the logical and mythological foundations for the establishment of film as melodrama in Japan.” (2) Though Mizoguchi revered the author, and apparently visited him for advice as regards the adaptation of his books, he was not content merely to reproduce the baroque extravagance of his source material. The films are both notable for an extremely close fusion of melodramatic incident and realistic detail: what Mark LeFanu has described as “a documentary interest over and above the dramaturgical.” (3) Particularly in Cascading White Threads, a narrative of passionate conviction and melodramatic intensity is deepened by the carefully observed backdrop of provincial Japan and the financial struggles of a group of touring players. Nonetheless, Izumi's flamboyant plots were closely in tune with Mizoguchi's own sensibility. The plot structures of both films are virtually identical, and in both a story of romantic self-sacrifice is used to expose the iniquities of Japanese patriarchal society. It's crucial that the sacrifice is not endorsed, as it might have been in a conservative melodrama. Instead, it is heavily ironised – in both films, the heroine's actions serve to perpetuate the social order whose requirements destroy her. In Cascading White Threads, her lover, whose legal studies she has financed, becomes her judge when she is accused of a murder committed in the effort to raise money for him. In The Downfall, Osen prostitutes herself to finance her boyfriend's medical studies; years later, as a doctor, he is unable to cure her of syphilis. Mizoguchi's own guilt feelings – his sister had been given over for adoption after their mother's death, and later worked as a geisha – may in part account for the intensity of the drama, but not for the beauty of his direction. (4) His mise-en-scène is rather more conventional than in his later works, but a preference for the long take and the long shot is already apparent. So too is his skill in directing actresses. The magnificent performances of Takako Irie and Isuzu Yamada bring full conviction to Mizoguchi's feminist concerns.
In both political and formal terms, however, the radicalism of those silent films was muted by the historical setting (late nineteenth century) and the relatively close adherence to the traditions of shimpa melodrama. It was with his great prewar sound films (produced between 1936 and 1939 after a couple of minor works) that Mizoguchi's art reached its first peak. We may accept, provided that we don't employ it as an excuse to downgrade the later work, Noel Burch's contention that at this period Mizoguchi's style diverged most radically from the conventions of classical narrative film. (5) It is true also that at a time of political conservatism and militarist ascendancy, the open radicalism of Osaka Elegy and Sisters of Gion (both 1936) was both courageous and unusual. Robin Wood has observed that the two films are companion pieces, the one “as single-mindedly dedicated to the analysis of the oppression of women within the family as [the other]… is beyond it” (6). Osaka Elegy, though powerful, is very much the lesser of the two, occasionally clumsy, over-rhetorical and uncertain in its balance between distance and involvement. Sisters of Gion is a masterpiece, and among Mizoguchi's most perfect films. His mise-en-scène – long, static takes interspersed with slow, implacable tracks – exposes the oppressive structures of Japanese society with a breathtaking clarity. Neither conformity nor rebellion offers a hope of escape for Mizoguchi's condemned women. The examination of the theme is exemplary in its concision, force and rigour. Though Mizoguchi was to make more complex films, the scalpel-like precision of Sisters of Gion remains unique.
The most complex film of this period is perhaps the least known: The Straits of Love and Hate (1937), loosely inspired by Tolstoy's much-filmed Resurrection, which had been one of the staples of Japanese film adaptation in the silent era. Here the balance between distance and involvement is perfectly achieved – one sympathises profoundly with the ill-treated heroine while remaining aware of the social conditions which create her plight. In fact, of all Mizoguchi's prewar films, this is the most positive in its feminism: his heroine is not doomed, but permitted to rebel successfully against the cruel patriarch who seeks to separate her from her child. By comparison the rather better known Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (1939), for all its staggering formal beauty, is a little monotonous emotionally. Another story of a woman who sacrifices herself so that the man she loves – a kabuki actor – can achieve professional fulfillment, it is as affecting as any film Mizoguchi made, but the emotional complexities which give The Straits of Love and Hate, Five Women Around Utamaro (1946) or A Woman of Rumour (1954), amongst others, their enduring fascination, are less visible. Mizoguchi compensates with one of his most astonishing exercises in mise-en-scène: a stylistic mastery which is admittedly a little less closely bound up with the experiences and feelings of his characters than was generally the case in his work. Even so, his style in this film, confining actors to a single plane within an expansive screen space, using repeated sound effects as leitmotifs, is unique in the cinema of its period, and confirms Mizoguchi as one of the great avant-garde directors.
The Loyal Forty-Seven Ronin
of the Genroku Era
The loss of Mizoguchi's subsequent theatrical melodramas, A Woman of Osaka (1940), The Life of an Actor (1941) and Three Generations of Danjuro (1944), may well be the most unfortunate in world cinema. As it is, his wartime career is represented only by the samurai films which he made in conformity with national policy directives. His version of that Japanese perennial, The Loyal Forty-Seven Ronin of the Genroku Era (1941-2) is exquisitely beautiful, and so restrained in tone as to subvert its own propagandist intentions, but Mizoguchi was able only partially overcome the limitations of the official project. Still, in answer to those who see Mizoguchi as a political opportunist, it's clear that he volunteered to direct The Forty-Seven Ronin only reluctantly to save a studio (Shochiku) threatened with dissolution; whereas, after the war, he embraced Allied directives with undisguised enthusiasm, pursuing the preferred themes of female emancipation and liberal democracy to an extent which must have unsettled the essentially conservative regime of US General Douglas MacArthur. Already, he had courted their suspicion by requesting permission to work in the official proscribed genre of jidai-geki (the period film): the result, Five Women Around Utamaro, was one of the cinema's finest portraits of the artist, Mizoguchi evidently finding a kindred spirit in the eighteenth-century woodblock master who himself defied official strictures to pursue his art. The image of the artist tatooing the image of a woman onto the bare back of a courtesan is an emblem of Mizoguchi's art, so fragile and so vital, its beauty rooted in the traditional arts of Japan, yet alive to the textures of the human body and the expressions of the face.
Utamaro, however, is something of an odd film out in Mizoguchi's late '40s career, where it precedes a sequence of political films passionately committed to feminist principles and directed with a didactic urgency. In general, despite the customary intelligence of the mise-en-scène and the magnificence of Mizoguchi's then regular collaborator, the great actress Kinuyo Tanaka, these are minor works: the political projects, while laudable, deprive them of the complexities of his greatest work. Yet this phase produced one out-and-out masterpiece in My Love Has Been Burning (1949), a masterly account of Meiji-era politics and society which exposes the complacencies of liberal thought and asserts the rights of women with a radicalism which still looks ahead of our time, let alone its own. That the film concludes with Tanaka leaving her husband – a liberal politician whose public principles are not carried over into his private life – would in itself be almost unparallelled by any American film of the period (though Mervyn LeRoy's underrated East Side, West Side, made the same year, does end similarly). That she departs, along with the serving girl that her husband has seduced, to found a school where women can be offered a feminist education, remains unprecedented in Western popular film. Nor can one imagine any Hollywood director making his plea for freedom with such stylistic restraint, eloquence and beauty.
Mizoguchi's next few films are generally underrated; the trilogy of “bourgeois melodramas” of the early '50s not only includes at least two films – Portrait of Madame Yuki (1950) and Miss Oyu (1951) – which rank as fully achieved works in their own right, but also prefigures the style and motifs of the late, internationally renowned period films. The motif of water, which will recur in Ugetsu and Sansho Dayu, is used with a particular complexity in Madame Yuki, where it becomes symbolically associated with, and finally consumes, the vacilating heroine. But the quality of Mizoguchi's work at this period was barely appreciated in Japan, and his career seemed in the doldrums by the time he obtained funding to adapt the work of a great prose writer, Saikaku, in The Life of Oharu (1952). This magisterial chronicle of a court lady who descends into prostitution after a forbidden love affair won him international acclaim, sharing top honours at Venice and heralding the sequence of late works on which his reputation continues to rest. In Oharu itself, Ugetsu Monogatari, Sansho Dayu, and the finest sequences of Shin Heike Monogatari (1955), he evolved his mature style: a mise-en-scène of exquisite beauty patterned on traditional Japanese painting (whence, the preference for high angle shots, and the sense of human figures lost in the landscape), yet made fluent and wholly cinematic through elaborate camera movements and the choreography of actors on screen. It is a formal style, but not a formalist one, and the astonishing visual beauty of Mizoguchi's images never deadens the power of his human drama, or his sense of outrage against oppression. The supreme demonstration of his method is the scene of the murder of the heroine in Ugetsu, staged in long shot: the wounded Kinuyo Tanaka, stabbed by bandits in a quarrel over food, crawling away in the foreground, while, in the distance, the thieves squabble over the food they have robbed from her. In its juxtaposition of high tragedy and intransigent physical realism, the scene deserves the adjective Shakespearean.
The Life of Oharu
The greater breadth and perspective of these late films has led some critics to consider them as displaying a relative conservatism in comparison to the visible anger and commitment of Sisters of Gion and My Love Has Been Burning. Mizoguchi himself, who had converted to Buddhism around 1950, spoke dismissively of the “barbarous” qualities of his stridently political films of the late '40s, explaining that such stories “don't need to be filmed with such an impassioned attitude” and that “it's necessary to retain enough self-possession to create a portrait that's objective as well as evocative” (7). It is certainly possible to see in much of his later work, particularly in films such as Gion Festival Music (1953), The Princess Yang Kwei Fei (1955) and Crucified Lovers (1955) – even in The Life of Oharu – the negative consequences of this: a slightly wilful, sentimental pessimism; a sense that “life is just like that” (the overt, apparent message of the famous ending of Ugetsu, where the camera cranes up from the heroine's grave to rest upon a farmer, placidly tilling the fields as his forebears and followers have done and will do for generations). But this is by no means a fair summation of the effect and tone of the later films, and sceptics should bear in mind the following: that Mizoguchi's later preference for period drama allows him to foreground the recurrent structures of oppression in a society where, in his own words, “women have always been treated like slaves” (8); that Ugetsu Monogatari and Sansho Dayu are in part critiques of an “art for art's sake” ethos, and assertions of the artist's continuing moral and political responsibilities; that the theme of Shin Heike Monogatari is the overthrow of a conservative ruling elite; and that his major late gendai-geki, A Woman of Rumour and Street of Shame (1956), are, on the one hand, a masterly critique of the geisha system whose ostensible resignation is lacerated with Sirkian irony, and, on the other, a blistering assault on prostitution which may have been instrumental in forcing the legal abolition of the practice soon afterwards.
Sansho Dayu, in any case, transcends all reservations. It is the triumphant summation of Mizoguchi's style and themes, as well as the most compassionate response imaginable to those atrocities which had been committed in then very recent years, in Japan and all over the world. It is the most humanist of films, but it asserts that humanism is powerless without politics, just as politics is purposeless without humanism. The last sequence is the most perfect ending in cinema, so broad in implication, so exquisite in form. The reunion of mother and son – the revelation of human love – is at once the most important thing in the world, and an event insignificant against the panorama of human suffering. The double perspective – never to see things in isolation, always in context – is assured by Mizoguchi's style, and defines his art. Sansho Dayu is, in Gilbert Adair's words, “one of those films for whose sake the cinema exists” (9). If any art has justified this medium, so often crude, thoughtless and mundane, it is the art of Kenji Mizoguchi.
ector Kozaburo Yoshimura.
Mizoguchi's filmography is notoriously problematic. He himself could not remember how many films he made, and records of his early career no longer exist in full. In general I have followed the filmography in the invaluable monograph, Mizoguchi the Master, edited by Gerald O'Grady, I have, however, compared other available filmographies and corrected one or two minor errors.
Resurrection of Love (Ai no Yomigaeru Hi) (1923)
Hometown (Furusato) (1923)
Dreams of Youth (Seishun no Yumeji) (1923)
Harbour of Desire (Joen no Chimata) (1923)
Song of Failure (Haisan no Uta wa Kanashi) 1923)
813 (The Adventures of Arsène Lupin) (1923)
Blood and Soul (Chi to Rei) (1923)
Foggy Harbour (Kiri no Minato) (1923)
The Night (Yoru) (1923)
In the Ruins (Haikyo no Naka) (1923)
Song of the Mountain Pass (Toge no Uta) (1924)
The Sad Idiot (Kanashiki Hakuchi) (1924)
Queen of Modern Times (Gendai no Jo) (1924)
Strong is the Female (Jose wa Tsuyoshi) (1924)
This Dusty World (Jin-Kyo) (1924)
Turkeys in a Row/The Trace of a Turkey (Shichimencho no Yukue) (1924)
Chronicle of the Rainy Season (Samidare Zoshi) (1924)
Woman of Pleasure (Kanraku no Onna) (1924)
Death at Dawn (Aka Tsuki no Shi) (1924)
Queen of the Circus (Kyokubadan no Jo) (1924)
No Money, No Fight (Musen Fusen) (1925)
Out of College (Gakuso o Idete) (1925)
The White Lily Laments (Shirayuki wa Nageku) (1925)
Under the Crimson Sunset (Akai Yuki ni Terasarete) (1925)
The Earth Smiles (Daichi wa Hohoemu) (1925)
Song of Home (Furusato no Uta) (1925)
The Human Being (Ningen) (1925)
A Sketch on the Road/Street Scenes (Gaijo no Sukechi) (1925)
General Nogi and Kuma-San (Nogi Taisho to Kuma-San) (1925)
The Copper Coin King (Doka-O) (1926)
A Paper Doll's Whisper of Spring (Kami-Ning-Yo Haru No Sasayaki) (1926)
It's My Fault - New Version (Shin Onoga Tsumi) (1926)
Passion of a Woman Teacher (Kyoren no Onna Shisho) (1926)
The Boy From the Sea (Kaikoku Danji) (1926)
Money/Gold (Kane/Kin) (1926)
A Woman of Rumour (1954)
The Imperial Grace (Ko-On) (1927)
The Cuckoo - New Version (Jihi Shincho) (1927)
A Man's Life (Hito no Issho) (1928)
My Loving Daughter (Musume Kawaiya) (1928)
Bridge of Japan (Nihonbashi) (1929)
Tokyo March (Tokyo Koshin-kyoku) (1929)
The Morning Sun Shines (Asahi wa Kagayaku) (1929)
Metropolitan Symphony (Tokai Kokyogaku) (1929)
Okichi, Mistress of a Foreigner (Tojin Okichi) (1930)
Hometown (Furusato) (1930)
And Yet They Go On (Shikamo Karera wa Yuku) (1931)
Dawn in Manchuria/The Dawn of the Founding of Manchuko and Mongolia (1932)
The Man of the Moment/Timely Mediator (Toki no Ujigami) (1932)
Cascading White Threads/White Threads of the Waterfall (Taki no Shiraito) (1933)
Gion Festival (Gion Matsuri) (1933)
The Shimpu Group (Shimpu-Ren) (1933)
The Mountain Pass of Love and Hate (Aizo-Toge) (1934)
The Downfall of Osen/Osen of the Paper Cranes (Orizuro Osen) (1934)
Oyuki the Virgin (Maria no Oyuki) (1935)
The Poppy (Gubijin-so) (1935)
Osaka Elegy (Naniwa Ereji) (1936)
Sisters of Gion (Gion no Shimai/Gion no Kyodai) (1936)
The Straits of Love and Hate (Aien Kyo) (1937)
Ah, my Hometown (A, a, Furusato)(1938)
Song of the Camp (Roei no Uta) (1938)
Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (Zangiku Monogatari) (1939)
A Woman of Osaka (Naniwa Onna) (1940)
The Life of an Actor (Geido Ichidai Otoko) (1941)
The Loyal 47 Ronin of the Genroku Era (Genroku Chushingura) (1941-2, two parts)
Three Generations of Danjuro (Danjuro Sandai) (1944)
The Swordsman (Miyamoto Musashi) (1944)
The Famous Sword (Bijomaru Meito) (1945)
Victory Song (Hisshoka) (1945) Dir: Masahiro Makino and Hiroshi Shimizu (Mizoguchi directed opening sequence only)
Victory of Women (Josei no Shori) (1946)
Five Women Around Utamaro (Utamaro o Meguro Gonin no Onna) (1946)
The Loves of Actress Sumako (Joyu Sumako no Koi) (1947)
Women of the Night (Yoru no Onna Tachi)(1948)
My Love Has Been Burning (Waga Koi wa Moenu) (1949)
Portrait of Madame Yuki (Yuki Fujin Ezu) (1950)
Miss Oyu (Oyusama) (1951)
The Lady From Musashino (Musashino Fujin) (1952)
The Life of Oharu/The Life of a Woman, by Saikaku (Saikaku Ichidai Onna) (1952)
Tales of the Pale and Silvery Moon After the Rain (Ugetsu Monogatari) (1953)
Gion Festival Music (Gion Bayashi) (1953)
Sansho the Bailiff (Sansho Dayu) (1954)
A Woman of Rumour/The Crucified Woman (1954)
Crucified Lovers/A Story From Chikamatsu (Chikamatsu Monogatari) (1955)
The Empress Yang Kwei Fei (Yokihi) (1955)
Tales of the Taira Clan (Shin Heike Monogatari) (1955)
Street of Shame (Akasen Chitai) (1956)
When Mizoguchi died in August 1956, he was on the point of filming his first postwar comedy, Osaka Story. The script was realised in 1957 .