There will be a season of films dedicated to the female actors who dazzled as stars during the Golden Age of Japanese cinema at the BFI Southbank from October 16th to November 29th It is called, Tears and Laughter: Women in Japanese Melodrama. Billed as “an opportunity for audiences to explore the cinema of Japan’s ‘Golden Age’, with a distinctly female focus,” there are thirteen films programmed and several of those titles are rarely screened in the UK so this is a good opportunity to get acquainted with them.
The season opens with a double bill of films by Kenji Mizoguchi and that will followed up by a season introduction on October 17th, – Women in Japanese Melodrama – during which experts including Alexander Jacoby and Alejandra Armendáriz will discuss the work of the female stars who dazzled at the heart of mid-century Japanese cinema. Following that will be the rest of the films from directors such as Yasujiro Ozu. Keisuke Kinoshita, Mikio Naruse and others who made powerful female led dramas such as Setsuko Hara, Hideko Takamine and others who are now becoming well-known across the world.
I’ve only seen one of these films so I’m using the synopses from the BFI’s site.
It’s a great line-up! Here is what has been programmed:
夜の女たち 「Yoru no onnatachi」
Release Date: May 26th, 1948
Running Time: 75 mins.
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Writer: Eijirô Hisaita (novel), Yoshikata Yoda (story)
Starring: Kinuyo Tanaka, Sanae Takasugi, Tomie Tsunoda, Mitsuo Nagata
Synopsis: Returning to film in the now-devastated Osaka in the wake of World War Two, Mizoguchi made his rawest and most despairing film, shot with a stark, neorealist immediacy. Kinuyo Tanaka gives a performance of animalistic ferocity as a woman whose life is torn apart by the conflict, and in desperation turns to prostitution on the chaotic, rubble-strewn streets to survive.
浪華悲歌 「Naniwa hika」
Release Date: May 28th, 1936
Running Time: 71 mins.
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Writer: Tadashi Fujiwara (Dialogue), Kenji Mizoguchi (Story), Saburo Okada (Story “Mieko”), Yoshikata Yoda (screenplay)
Starring: Isuzu Yamada, Yoko Umemura, Chiyoko Okura, Kensaku Hara, Eitaro Shindo, Takashi Shimura,
Synopsis: A tragic tale of entrapment and compromise that established Mizoguchi’s reputation as the greatest director of the plight of women in Japanese society. Isuzu Yamada is superb as a switchboard operator who sees her own dreams fade after she agrees to a scandalous relationship with her boss in order to pay off her wastrel father’s gambling debts.
婚約指輪 「Konyaku yubiwa」
Release Date: July 01st, 1950
Running Time: 96 mins.
Director: Keisuke Kinoshita
Writer: Keisuke Kinoshita (Screenplay),
Starring: Kinuyo Tanaka, Toshiro Mifune, Jukichi Uno, Nobuko Otowa
Synopsis: Hailed in the West as ‘Japan’s Bette Davis,’ Kinuyo Tanaka was one of Japanese cinema’s best-loved stars and finest actors. The chemistry is electric in this yearning tale of forbidden physical attraction, in which Tanaka gives a playful, exuberant performance as a woman who falls for the dashing, strapping doctor (Mifune) who’s treating her sickly and bed-bound husband.
偽れる盛装 「Itsuwareru seiso」
Release Date: January 13th, 1951
Running Time: 103 mins.
Director: Kozaburo Yoshimura,
Writer: Kaneto Shindo (Screenplay),
Starring: Machiko Kyo, Yasuko Fujita, Keiju Kobayashi, Emiko Yanagi,
Synopsis: Glamorous and sensual, Machiko Kyo was a new kind of female star in the 1950s. Shortly after starring in Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, she gave a superb performance in Yoshimura’s story of the contrasting fate of two sisters in a post-war Japan caught between the old and the new; one a geisha in Kyoto’s Gion district (Kyo), the other (Fujita) employed by the tourist board
Running Time: 104 mins.
Release Date: September 15th, 1953
Director: Shiro Toyoda
Writer: Masashige Narusawa (Screenplay), Ogai Mori (Original Novel)
Starring: Hideko Takamine, Hiroshi Akutagawa, Choko Lida, Eijiro Tono, Jukichi Uno,
Synopsis: Hideko Takamine’s peerlessly expressive face was capable of registering the deepest emotion in merely a glance – qualities vividly displayed in Toyoda’s heartbreaking film. Takamine plays a lowly divorcee who is tricked into becoming mistress to a despised moneylender, but she dares to dream of love and escape from the confines of her position when she falls for a kind-hearted student.
Release Date: November 23rd, 1953
Running Time: 130 mins.
Director: Tadashi Imai
Writer: Yoko Mizuki, Toshiro Ide (Screenplay), Ichiyo Higuchi (Original Short Stories)
Starring: Chikage Awashima, Haruko Sugimura, Yoshiko Kuga, Nobuo Nakamura, Natsuko Kahara
Synopsis: Based on stories by the great 19th-century female writer Ichiyo Higuchi, Tadashi’s sensitive, beautifully observed anthology beat even Ozu’s Tokyo Story to be named best film of 1953 by the Japanese film magazine Kinema Jumpo. It presents three devastating portraits of women trapped by injustice and circumstance, with outstanding performances by some of the finest actors of the time.
乳房よ永遠なれ 「Chibusa yo eien nare」
Release Date: November 23rd, 1955
Running Time: 106 mins.
Director: Kinuyo Tanaka
Writer: Sumie Tanaka (Screenplay),
Starring: Yumeji Tsukioka, Ryoji Hayama, Yuko Sugi, Junkichi Orimoto, Choko Lida, Masayuki Mori, Hiroko Kawasaki
Synopsis: Not only one of Japan’s greatest actresses, Kinuyo Tanaka was also the director of six features, including this powerful, frank film about the poet Fumiko Nakajo, who died of breast cancer aged 31 in 1954. Tanaka brings an unmistakeably female perspective to recounting Nakajo’s life – from divorce through single motherhood, illness and her growing independence in life and love as her literary reputation grows
Release Date: January 15th, 1955
Running Time: 118 mins.
Director: Mikio Naruse
Writer: Yoko Mizuki (Screenplay),
Starring: Hideko Takamine, Masayuji Mori, Mariko Okada, Isao Yamagata
I have seen this one, almost a year to the day, and it’s a good one.
Synopsis: Hideko Takamine was Naruse’s great muse as Setsuko Hara was Ozu’s and Kinuyo Tanaka was Mizoguchi’s, and this searing tale of amour fou is their most famous collaboration. Shifting back and forth in time, the film reveals the tumultuous love affair between Yukiko (Takamine) and married Kengo (Mori), who meet during the war, but find they can live neither with nor without one another in peacetime.
Release Date: 1957
Running Time: 130 mins.
Director: Heinosuke Gosho
Writer: Toshio Yasumi (Screenplay),
Starring: Yoshiko Kuga, Mieko Takamine, Masayuki Mori, Fumio Watanabe
Synopsis: An actress who worked with many of the greatest directors of Japanese cinema’s Golden Age, Yoshiko Kuga gives a performance of great sensitivity in Gosho’s exquisitely shot melodrama. Swooning romance meets Modernist alienation as handicapped Reiko (Kuga) becomes infatuated with an architect (Mori) whose marriage has grown cold, and whose wife (Takamine) is having an illicit affair with a student
東京暮色 「Toukyou Boshoku」
Release Date: April 30th, 1957
Running Time: 140 mins.
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Writer: Yasujiro Ozu, Kogo Noda (Screenplay),
Starring: Ineko Arima, Setsuko Hara, Chishu Ryu, Isuzu Yamada,
Haruko Sugimura, Nobuo Nakamura
Synopsis: Long immortalised as Japan’s ‘eternal virgin,’ Setsuko Hara shows another side to her acting in Ozu’s unusually downcast and melodramatic masterwork, which spans teenage pregnancy, abortion and maternal abandonment. Hara plays Takako, the elder of two sisters abandoned by their mother (Yamada) as children. As she deals with her faltering marriage, her younger sister Akiko (Arima) falls into serious trouble.
Release Date: October 08th, 1957
Running Time: 88 mins.
Director: Yasuzo Masamura
Writer: Yoshio Shirasaka (Screenplay), Keita Genji (Original Novel)
Starring: Ayako Wakao, Keizo Kawasaki, Kenji Sugawara, Ryuji Shinagawa, Yuko Yashio, Keiko Fujita,
Synopsis: The influence of Douglas Sirk’s contemporary melodramas is unmistakeable on Masumura’s fresh, colourful and sharply satirical Cinderella story, the first in a string of collaborations with the beautiful Ayako Wakao. Here Wakao embodies Japan’s new youth, playing an illegitimate daughter who travels to Tokyo to live with her father, only to find his house a seething nest of suspicion and resentment.
秋津温泉 「Akitsu Onsen」
Release Date: June 15th, 1962
Running Time: 112 mins.
Director: Yoshishige Yoshida
Writer: Yoshishige Yoshida (Screenplay), Shinji Fujiwara (Original Novel)
Starring: Mariko Okada, So Yamamura, Hiroyuki Nagato, Jukichi Uno,
Synopsis: Mariko Okada’s career bridged both the Golden Age and the New Wave she helped to define in the films she made with her director husband Yoshishige Yoshida. But first came this full-bodied, hauntingly intense melodrama of unrequited love and post-war disillusion, shot in lush widescreen colour, which observes the faltering relationship between a sickly soldier and an innkeeper.
夜の片鱗 「Yoru no Henrin」
Release Date: November 01st, 1964
Running Time: 106 mins.
Director: Noboru Nakamura
Writer: Toshihide Gondo (Screenplay), Kyoko Ohta (Original Novel)
Starring: Miyuki Kuwano, Mikijiro Hira, Keisuke Sonoi Tayo Iwamoto, Misako Tominaga, Koji Matsubara, Shinji Tanaka,
Synopsis: This intoxicating rediscovery follows Yoshie (Kuwano), a woman pushed into prostitution by her violent yakuza boyfriend, in a mode that filters the emotion of Naruse through the daring of Imamura. Gorgeously shot in widescreen, with bold compositions and editing, Nakamura’s revelatory film absorbs Douglas Sirk’s expressive use of colour, while pointing forward to the lyrical modernism of Wong Kar Wai.