Kenji Mizoguchi: Wikis

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Kenji Mizoguchi

Kenji Mizoguchi
Born 16 May 1898(1898-05-16)
Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan
Died 24 August 1956 (aged 58)
Kyoto, Japan
Other name(s) Goteken
Occupation film director, screenwriter, editor
Years active 1923 - 1956
In this Japanese name, the family name is Mizoguchi.

Kenji Mizoguchi (溝口 健二 Mizoguchi Kenji; May 16, 1898 – August 24, 1956) was a Japanese film director and screenwriter. His film Ugetsu (1953) won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and appeared in the Sight & Sound Critics' Top Ten Poll in 1962 and 1972. Mizoguchi is renowned for his mastery of the long take and mise-en-scène.

Contents

Biography

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Early years

Mizoguchi was born in Tokyo, 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 elder sister up for adoption and moved from Hongo to Asakusa. The adoptive family eventually sold his sister as a geisha, 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.

Mizoguchi left school at the age of 13 to work and to study graphic arts at the Aohashi Institute, and his first job was as an advertising designer in Kobe, in 1913. In 1915 his mother died, and his elder sister, putting his father in a home, took in her two younger brothers in Tokyo. 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 Aini yomigaeruhi (The Resurrection of Love), his first movie, during a workers' strike.

Film career

Mizoguchi's early works had been exploratory, mainly genre works, remakes of German Expressionism and adaptions 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.

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 whom he was co-habiting with, attacked and wounded Mizoguchi's back with a razor-blade.

Several of Mizoguchi's later films were keiko 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 Sisters of the Gion and Naniwa Elegy, both dating from 1936.

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 modernism. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939) won a prize with the Education Department; like the two abovementioned 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-angled lensing.

Kenji Mizoguchi travelling through Europe, 1953

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"). [1]

Notable directors who have admired his work include Akira Kurosawa[1], Orson Welles[2], Jean-Luc Godard[3], Andrei Tarkovsky[4], and Jacques Rivette.

Post-war recognition

Although regarded, like his contemporary Yasujirō Ozu, as outdated and old-fashioned by Japanese audience immediately after the war, Mizoguchi was rediscovered, particularly by Cahiers du cinéma critics like Jacques Rivette, in the West. 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) takes a premise from feudal Japan (and the short story by Mori Ōgai) and reworks it as a Confucian morality tale. Of his nearly 100 films, only two — Tales of the Taira Clan (1955) and Princess Yang Kwei-Fei (1955) — were made in colour.

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. 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.

Themes and aesthetics

Mizoguchi's films are well known for their championing of women. He has been called the first major feminist director, though modern audiences may find that his themes do not line up with the modern concept of feminism. Typically he revealed women's position in the Japanese society as downtrodden and oppressed, and showed that they may be capable of greater nobility between the sexes. He made many films on the plight of the geisha, but his protagonists could derive from anywhere: prostitutes, workers, street activists, housewives, and feudal princesses.

Screenwriter Yoshikata Yoda, Actress Kinuyo Tanaka, and Kenji Mizoguchi visit Paris, 1953

Mizoguchi's films have an aesthetic that is reminiscent of Japanese art. He favoured long takes and rich, painterly mise-en-scene, seldom with the Western-favoured device of the close-up; a typical scene can take a few minutes, and places emphasis on lighting and placement — much like the works of Josef von Sternberg. Its formalized beauty is balanced by its involvement with the audience through the subject-matter, skillfully inviting sympathy for the main characters; in his finest works the emotionalism can be extraordinarily moving.

Mizoguchi's obsession with rehearsals was infamous, and could become a nightmare for his actresses. His preference for a long take meant there was little room for errors: there are stories of him rehearsing one shot nearly a hundred times. Kinuyo Tanaka, Mizoguchi's regular actress, once recounted that Mizoguchi asked her to read a whole library in preparation of a role.

Mizoguchi himself cited Marcel L'Herbier, Josef von Sternberg, William Wyler and John Ford as his influences.

Selected filmography

Notes

  1. ^ Cinematheque Ontario -- Programmes -- Kenji Mizoguchi
  2. ^ Welles, Orson; Peter Bogdanovich (1998). This is Orson Welles. Da Capo Press. p. 146. ISBN 030680834X.  
  3. ^ Kenji Mizoguchi’s Movies Seek Beauty -- New York Times
  4. ^ Tarkovsky's Choice

External links


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