Japanese Journals - The Classics. Mizoguchi, Ozu, Kurosawa

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Japanese Journals - The Classics. Mizoguchi, Ozu, Kurosawa

Postby trevor826 » Tue Aug 09, 2005 10:44 pm

The films of the great Japanese directors

Three names synonymous with classic Japanese cinema, all very different from each other with their own style yet each in their own way masters of cinema and highly influential.

Mizoguchi, an extremely humanist director especially where the suffering of women was concerned. He created films of subtlety, simplicity but with so much depth, a large number of his films are set during Japans feudal period and deal with peasants, geishas and prostitutes rather than the grand scale epics that Kurosawa is renowned for. Seen by some as the greatest Japanese director of all time.

Ozu, famous for his static camera work, minimalist approach to plot and films about life and the family, also showing the changing face of post-war Japan, its only in recent years that his name and films have become better known in the West as the films were seen as being too Japanese for a Western audience. Thankfully more of his films are at last seeing the light of day.

Kurosawa, probably the most well known Japanese director in the world, from the Samurai epics like Seven Samurai through to Ran to the smaller scale of Ikiru and Dersu Uzula, Akira Kurosawa was lauded on the world stage far more than he was in Japan where he often had great difficulty raising the money for his next project.

Please feel free to add your own comments, reviews and criticisms to this thread.

INDEX

Mizoguchi

Insight to Mizoguchi by Johndav

Sansho the Bailiff (1954) - Review by wpqx

Sansho the Bailiff (1954) - further notes by Johndav

Ozu

Late Spring (1949)

Early Summer (1951)

Tokyo Story (1953)

The Only Son (1936) - Review by johndav.

Good Morning (1959) - Review by wpqx

End of Summer/Early Autumn (1961) - Review by wpqx

Kurosawa

The Seven Samurai (1954) - Review by wpqx

Throne of Blood (1957) - Review by wpqx

Ikiru (1952) - Review by wpqx

Rashomon (1950) - Review by wpqx

Rhapsody in August (1991) - Review by wpqx

Rhapsody in August (1991) - Review by Howard Schumann

Still to come.


For other sections of Japanese Journals, please use the links

1.General

2. Kurosawa, Ozu & Mizoguchi - The Classics

3. Kitano, Tsukamoto & Miike - The Modern Cult Directors

4. Anime

5. Horror & Ghost Stories

6. Jidaigeki (Chambara)

Cheers Trev
trevor826
 


Re: Japanese Journals - The Classics. Mizoguchi, Ozu, Kurosawa

Postby wpqx » Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:41 pm

Here's a slightly dated review I did of Sansho the Bailiff. Just wanted to contribute something to this.

Almost as fierce a debate as who Japans greatest director is, is what particular film is the best of each said director. The big three (Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi) contrast sharply in style, and their films are all in their own world, but the debate as to who the auteur supreme is, still continues. As for Mizoguchi his style was elegance. No other director used such beautiful scenery to contrast such horrible suffering. It is also safe to say that no one suffers quite like someone in a Mizoguchi film. Sansho the Bailiff is rank with suffering, the cruelty of man, and some of the best cinematography youll ever find.
One of the present themes in Sansho the Bailiff is good luck followed by incredible bad luck. A prime example comes when Tamaki (Kinuyo Tanaka), her two children and their maid are traveling to meet her husband. They meet a priestess who offers them food and shelter, and arranges for their travel plans. They are grateful for her help, but then the trick is played. After this kind gesture from this woman they are separated and sold into slavery, the children to the cruel Sansho (Eitaro Shindo) and Tanaka to a brothel.
This sets up the other present theme, which is that the world may be a cruel place, but there are people who care and will help. In many ways this may be Mizoguchis most humanistic film. From the advice of Masauji Taira (Masao Shimizu) we are given the message of the film. It is that Man without mercy is not a human being. Be tough on yourself, but merciful to others. Zushio (Yoshiaki Hanayagi) tries his best to live up to those words, but for a time forgets their meaning.
It is hard to describe ones feeling about the film. I may admit to not having a heart beat, because I couldnt really feel for these people. Mizoguchi bombarded us with too much misery that it becomes hard to swallow. It is nowhere near as extreme as Life of Oharu, arguably the most pessimistic film ever made, but it is hardly light hearted. The most effective scene in the film is the reunion between Zushio and his mother. The reason this becomes effective is because the film lets up a little before. Zushio escapes and becomes Governor. He frees the slaves and things are getting on track. He is dealt one more blow by finding of his sisters (Kyoko Kagawa) suicide, but since we already knew about it, the effect has already been made. This primes us for a very touching conclusion that should still move you even if the two hours preceding it failed to.
My only complaint is that one more bit of the world is a horrible place was thrown in. I ask for what reason Tamaki had to go blind? It couldnt have been enough that she suffered so, lost her family, was sold into prostitution, and was living a life of exile. On top of that she had to have lost her eyesight. This seems manipulative, and I offer it as proof that the film is clearly melodrama. With any melodrama though, the way to enjoy it is to accept it as such. Mizoguchi worked well in melodrama, and as long as you know what to expect, you can have a lot of fun with it.
Mizoguchis directorial style makes sitting through any of his films worth the time. Sansho the Bailiff was made as Mizoguchi was approaching his creative and commercial peak. Ugetsu was making him internationally known, so he had all the confidence necessary walking into this film. He also had the benefit of a couple dozen movies behind him. The camera does move here, but not in a ridiculous obvious way. It has a graceful presence. It tracks when it needs to, but primarily keeps its distance. It never gets closer than a medium close up in the entire film, and that is only during the reunion.
By keeping his distance it forces us to notice the composition. Since the thirties Mizoguchi had been a master at staging in depth, and this film is no exception. He keeps all planes in focus, and it is like watching a separate film paying attention to what is in the background. Keeping with the fluidity is a nearly unified use of dissolves. The pattern is to have a simple cut within a scene, but nearly every transition is done via dissolve. A dissolve always has a more graceful effect than a cut, and considering Mizoguchi is one of the most fluid directors, this fits his style perfectly.
Music is never really a focal point of Japanese films, and Mizoguchi nearly does away with his score completely. The most memorable bit of music comes from Tamakis song, heard throughout the film, although always sung without the aid of music. The reunion is a prime example of a scene shot with no music. It is only as the camera returns to the establishing shot of the sea that the score comes on to cue the end title. That moment is very well the only noticeable use of music in the film, and it does the job of hammering home that powerful moment. Mizoguchi is wise to keep music out of the reunion dialogue. It is too easy to use a dramatic score to highlight a poignant moment in a film, but Mizoguchi knows that this scene is powerful enough, and his style is not manipulation. Unlike Hitchcock, he seems to respect the intelligence of his audience, and lets us experience one of his film, without ever feeling overwhelmed by style or craft.
I cant say that this is his best film, or a flawless masterpiece. Sure there are many great films that are flawed, but I lacked the emotional impact I felt was necessary. Perhaps if Mizoguchi had been a little more manipulative, it might have worked, but it seems that his greatest asset looks like his greatest fault. So Ill respect the effort, but for now resign myself to the fact that this film is a damn good film, but not exactly a masterpiece.
wpqx
 

Re: Japanese Journals - The Classics. Mizoguchi, Ozu, Kurosawa

Postby trevor826 » Wed Aug 10, 2005 3:27 pm

Wow, great start wpqx, I'm glad somebody else covered this one. My collection is a bit short on Mizoguchi's films, only three and I haven't seen Sansho Dayu for a long time.

I'm making a start with the Noriko trilogy from Ozu.

Cheers Trev.
trevor826
 

Re: Japanese Journals - The Classics. Mizoguchi, Ozu, Kurosawa

Postby trevor826 » Thu Aug 11, 2005 8:12 am

Banshun (1949) Late Spring

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

Starring Setsuko Hara, Chishu Ryu

The first of the films that have become known as the Noriko Trilogy is centred on a father, daughter relationship. Noriko is 27, single and more than happy to stay that way preferring to spend her time looking after her widower father. Pressure mounts on her to get married, from her auntie and her friends but her love and care for her father is far more important to her than to get married just because of her age. Its only when her father tells her hes thinking of remarrying that she finally caves in to the pressure, meets an arranged date set up by her auntie and agrees to marriage.

Thats the basic simple plot but there is so much going on throughout the film, so many tiny moments, understated but clearly understood. Noriko for the most part has a smile that at times is very natural but at other times is clearly a mask to cover up her true emotions. Her father who at first appears to depend on her for everything is clearly a clever man who dearly loves his daughter; enough for him to be deceptive to give her the final push she needs to start her own life, even though it means he wont have her company and care anymore.

Central to the film is a long segment that is the pivotal point for Noriko and her relationship with her father, they attend a Noh performance during which Noriko notices her fathers attention being taken with a widow, simple smiles and gestures are enough (on top of her aunties comments) to make her realise that her fathers life wont fall apart if shes not around.

Another point which is a regular feature of Ozus films, the modernisation/westernisation of post-war Japan, at home, Norikos father dresses in traditional robes but when he goes to work in Tokyo, he wears a suit and hat, many of the signs are for American businesses and are in English. Theres a moment when Noriko goes for a bicycle ride with her fathers assistant along a barren coastal road, there in the middle of nowhere is a post with a Drink Coca Cola advert, now of course that would be great product placement but that certainly wasnt Ozus intention.

A great example of Ozus work where the performances are paramount to the storyline.

Interesting point You would think the pressure of getting married by a certain age would be a product of the past but many women in Japan and China are still (usually by their families) expected to follow this centuries old practice or be seen as failures.

Cheers Trev

BBFC rated PG
trevor826
 

Re: Japanese Journals - The Classics. Mizoguchi, Ozu, Kurosawa

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 11, 2005 1:58 pm

I'm assuming we're not rating these films, because well they'd all be pretty damn high. What I remember most about Late Spring was the fact that it contained what I believe to be the longest tracking shot ever in an Ozu film, following the father and daughter along a walk outside. I remembered thinking at the time (damn Ozu's camera moved!) Great film in general, and widely considered one of Ozu's finest accomplishments. I was able to get a DVD import of it, considering nearly every other part of the world is more evolved in their Ozu collections. But of course once you break down and buy the film imported, then Criterion will announce it's release (at least that's my current belief whenever contemplating buying an import). Speaking of imported DVD's I have one of Life of Oharu, and I haven't watched it (other than to see if it works), so I might have to drag that out in the near future. Just to warn you I wasn't wild about Oharu the first time I saw it, so no promises I'll be kind to it.

I also have rather detailed reviews of Seven Samurai, Ikiru, Throne of Blood, Rashomon, and Good Morning on my old computer, which if I can retrieve it, I'll make sure to add them.
wpqx
 

Re: Japanese Journals - The Classics. Mizoguchi, Ozu, Kurosawa

Postby trevor826 » Thu Aug 11, 2005 11:23 pm

Bakush (1951) Early Summer

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

Starring Setsuko Hara, Chishu Ryu

Now this is bizarre, you make three unconnected films, each with the same actress playing a character whose name each time happens to be Noriko. To complicate matters even more, the actor who played her father in Late Spring is the same actor who plays her older brother in Early Summer!

Three generations of a family live in the same household on the outskirts of Tokyo, parents, their adult son and daughter, their daughter in law and two grandsons. Despite the fact that the son is a doctor and their daughter Noriko is a P.A money always seems to be tight and after a visit from an elderly uncle the parents decide that once Noriko is married off theyll retire to a small town and leave the house in the care of the son and his family. Efforts are made to find a match for Noriko but in the end and without her familys consent she finds her own future husband.

A very simple plot but there are problems compared with the other two Noriko films (Late Spring and Tokyo Story), things just dont seem to gel as well, there are too many central characters vying for attention and most without enough depth. A lot of the more interesting characters are on the sidelines; the uncle who pretends to be deaf when confronted with the grandchildren. The two grandsons, the elder is very abrupt and is an overpowering influence on the younger one. Even Noriko herself doesnt seem that strong a character until towards the end when she takes her future into her own hands in defiance of her brother and parents who under normal practise would have more say in her marriage plans.

If anything, that is the message of the film, women can become empowered and make their own choices, a message that is just as potent in Japanese society today as it was in 1951.

I lost count of the number of times the camera moved in Early Summer, quite an extraordinary event in any of Ozus films.

A classic ensemble piece with some nice comedic touches, just not up there with the best.

Cheers Trev

BBFC rated PG.
trevor826
 

Re: Japanese Journals - The Classics. Mizoguchi, Ozu, Kurosawa

Postby trevor826 » Thu Aug 11, 2005 11:51 pm

"I also have rather detailed reviews of Seven Samurai, Ikiru, Throne of Blood, Rashomon, and Good Morning on my old computer, which if I can retrieve it, I'll make sure to add them."

Okay I'll do my best to ignore these for now, I've got quite a few other films to get through and hopefully others will contribute as well.

Cheers Trev.
trevor826
 

Re: Japanese Journals - The Classics. Mizoguchi, Ozu, Kurosawa

Postby wpqx » Fri Aug 12, 2005 12:35 am

I actually like Early Summer more than Tokyo Story and Late Spring, but who knows different tastes I guess.
wpqx
 

Re: Japanese Journals - The Classics. Mizoguchi, Ozu, Kurosawa

Postby arsaib4 » Fri Aug 12, 2005 2:18 am

Geez, Trev. I didn't realize that you were ready to rock n' roll here. Some fine reviews from you and wpqx. I'll certainly contribute when I visit these films again. I guess it's okay if one film has a couple of reviews.

I'd hate to pick the best of Ozu since they're so similar in style and content. But if was forced to I'd have to go with Tokyo Story. (It sounds cliched, doesn't it?) Where is Naruse?
arsaib4
 

Re: Japanese Journals - The Classics. Mizoguchi, Ozu, Kurosawa

Postby trevor826 » Fri Aug 12, 2005 5:55 am

wpqx "I actually like Early Summer more than Tokyo Story and Late Spring, but who knows different tastes I guess."

For me the fact that minor characters overshadowed the major players plus the effort of trying to keep up with all the other characters who just seemed to pop in and out with no understanding of why? detracted from the overall impact.

I love the intimacy of Late Spring and the cohesion of Tokyo Story but the fact that I've seen both of the others a few times whereas I've only seen Early Summer once may affect my overall judgement.

The more opinions on these films the better especially as an insight for those who haven't seen them.
------------------------------------------------------

arsaib4 "Geez, Trev. I didn't realize that you were ready to rock n' roll here. Some fine reviews from you and wpqx. I'll certainly contribute when I visit these films again. I guess it's okay if one film has a couple of reviews."

Thanks arsaib4, wpqx set a high benchmark for the thread and I feel that whereas with a new(ish) film brief comments often suffice just to give people a taster, with these older films we can expand on that. I'd like to see a few comments for each film, they can easily be linked together on the index page, just don't expect me to write to the high standard I have come to expect from you, wpqx and others.

Cheers Trev.
trevor826
 

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