Along with Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi was one of the greatest Japanese filmmakers of his era, but as respected and beloved as he is, he’s sometimes overshadowed by the other two masters. The Museum of the Moving Image now presents an opportunity for Mizoguchi devotees and newcomers alike to correct this with the director’s first retrospective in the U.S. in twenty years.
“Mizoguchi” will present all 30 of the master filmmaker’s surviving films (out of the 85 he made in total), from the established classics to rarely-seen early works. As an added bonus, all films will be shown on celluloid, with most on 35mm but some in rare 16mm prints. In partnership with the Japan Foundation and the National Film Center in Tokyo, many of these archival prints have been imported from Japan.
Mizoguchi was a master of mise-en-scene and extended takes great enough to rival Max Ophuls or Jean Renoir, a humanist who was concerned with the suffering of women more than nearly any other filmmaker of his generation. After a breakthrough at the Venice Film Festival for 1952’s “The Life of Oharu” (for which he won the International Director’s Prize), Mizoguchi found further acclaim in Europe with “Ugetsu” and “Sansho the Bailiff” in the following two years. These extraordinary films were late-period works, however, and Mizoguchi found acclaim in Japan in the 1930s for classics such as “Osaka Elegy” and “The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums.”
The retrospective will open on May 2 with “Ugetsu,” a story of two brothers in war-torn 16th century Japan who leave their wives and village to pursue their respective dreams of wealth and martial glory. It will be followed on May 3 with a screening of “Sansho the Bailiff,” in which the merciless titular character kidnaps the children of a nobleman and sell them into slavery while their mother yearns to see them again. The latter will be introduced by film scholar David Bordwell in a special presentation titled “Mizoguchi: Secrets of the Exquisite Image.”
While most of Mizoguchi’s early films have been destroyed, the retrospective will include early surviving films, such as his earliest surviving film, 1925’s “Song of Home,” his first sound film, “Furusato” (or “Hometown”), and “Oyuki the Virgin,” a film based on the same Guy de Maupassant short story that inspired John Ford’s “Stagecoach.” “Song of Home” will be presented with live musical accompaniment by pianist Makia Matsumura.
After the Museum’s presentation, the retrospective will travel to the Harvard Film Archive (Boston, Mass.) and the Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley, California). All three cities have a terrific chance to catch up with one of the most compassionate and thoughtful directors in the history of the medium.
The retrospective will run from May 2 to June 8. Tickets for screenings are included with paid Museum admission and free for Museum members, who may also reserve tickets in advance. Otherwise tickets are distributed first-come, first-serve on the day of the screening. The full list of films, with showtimes and descriptions, can be found on the next page.
Ugetsu (Ugetsu Monogotari)
FRIDAY, MAY 2, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1953, 96 mins. 35mm print from Janus Films. With Masayuki Mori, Kinuyo Tanaka, Machiko Kyo. In war-torn sixteenth-century Japan, two brothers, Genjuro and Tobei, prodded by their ambition, leave their wives and their village behind to pursue respective dreams of wealth and martial glory. Initial good fortune only increases their yen for adventure, and on their next venture out, they encounter a beguiling noblewoman, Lady Wakasa, who puts further temptations before them—though she may not be of this earth. Justly celebrated as containing some of Mizoguchi’s most otherworldly and unforgettable imagery, Ugetsu is considered by many critics as one of the greatest of all films.
Sansho the Bailiff (Sansho Dayu)
Preceded by a special presentation by film scholoar David Bordwell
SATURDAY, MAY 3, 2:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1954, 124 mins. 35mm print from Janus Films. With Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiaki Hanayagi, Kyoko Kagawa. One of Mizoguchi’s crowning achievements, this deeply affecting fable is a harrowing, heartrending story of human suffering and resilience. In feudal Japan, the children of a nobleman are kidnapped and sold into slavery to the merciless Sansho the Bailiff, while their mother yearns desperately to see them again. Exquisitely crafted and rapturously photographed (witness the knockout shot of the family making their way through a field of gently swaying tall grass), the film is a hugely compassionate, overwhelmingly emotional experience.
Street of Shame (Akasen Chitai)
SATURDAY, MAY 3, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1956, 87 mins. 35mm print from Janus Films. With Machiko Kyo, Aiko Mimasu, Ayako Wakao. Mizoguchi’s final film is nothing less than a summation of his art. The Japanese National Diet’s debate over illegalizing prostitution is in the air, but it’s business as usual in Tokyo’s red-light district at the Dreamland salon (Hiroshi Miutani’s fantastic closed-world set). Street concerns five working girls living double-lives as daughters, mothers, wives, loan sharks, and dreamers when they are not waylaying potential clients in a terrifying pull-and-tug clamor. Machiko Kyo is a standout as Hollywood-brainwashed “Mickey” in this unusual late-period contemporary drama. Shortly after it premiered, Mizoguchi was dead of leukemia at 58—and prostitution was outlawed in Japan.
Sisters of the Gion (Gion no Shimai)
SUNDAY, MAY 4, 6:30 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1936, 96 mins. 35mm print from Janus Films. With Isuzu Yamada, Yoko Umemura. Along with Osaka Elegy (released the same year), this devastating portrait of courtesans scraping by in Kyoto’s “pleasure district” marked a turning point in Mizoguchi’s career. Its story of two geisha sisters—one deferential and loyal, the other defiant and mercenary—lays forth one of the earliest and most forceful expressions of the director’s central thematic concern: the subjugation of women in a callously patriarchal society.
Song of Home (Furusato no Uta)
With live musical accompaniment by Makia Matsumara
SUNDAY, MAY 4, 2:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1925, 45 mins. 35mm print from the National Film Center. With Shigeru Kido, Sueko Ito, Shiro Kato, Kentaro Kawamata. Mizoguchi’s 30th film is the earliest surviving example of his work, and his only film of the 1920s to survive complete. Song of Home finds the director already concerning himself with the collision of traditional and modern values. The film is structured around the contrast of two country-bred boys: a coach driver who has never left his home, and a student who returns from Tokyo with city-slicker affectations and Western jazz records. Produced by the Ministry of Education, the film has a simplistic lesson-plan at its heart, but what lingers in the mind after viewing are its more ineffable qualities: The dulcet, lyric, evocation of a disappeared rural past.
Oyuki the Virgin (Maria no Oyuki)
SUNDAY, MAY 4, 3:30 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1935, 78 mins. 35mm print from National Film Center. With Isuzu Yamada, Komako Hara. As civil war threatens, two geishas flee their village in a coach, in the odd company of aristocrats and sturdy bourgeoisie. Though they are supposedly beneath this company, the women of ill repute prove to be morally superior to their social betters, as Mizoguchi likens his fallen women to Madonnas and, not for the last time, drapes his film in Christian imagery. Oyuki the Virgin is based on Guy de Maupassant’s short story “Boule de Suif,” later a key influence on John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939).
Utamaro and His Five Women (Utamaro o Meguru Gonin no Onna)
FRIDAY, MAY 9, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1946, 95 mins. 35mm print from Janus Films. With Minosuke Bando, Kinuyo Tanaka, Kotaro Bando. Woodblock print-master Utamaro shuts out the turbulence of the rambunctious seventeenth-century Edo period by painstakingly and conscientiously practicing his art, with the help of five selflessly devoted models. The outside world refuses to be ignored, though, and an incensed local magistrate devises a particularly insidious punishment for Utamaro by banning him from drawing for 50 days—here there is an echo of Mizoguchi’s own struggles for creative freedom under both the censorious wartime government and the American Occupation. This artistic self-portrait is a key illustration of Mizoguchi’s theme of sacrifice: of women for men, and of creator for creation.
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Zangiku Monogatari)
SATURDAY, MAY 10, 6:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1939, 143 mins. 35mm print from Janus Films. With Shotaro Hanayagi, Kokichi Takada, Gonjuro Kawarazaki, Kakuko Mori. In nineteenth-century Meiji-era Tokyo, a young actor, Kikunosuke, breaks away from his adoptive father’s Kabuki practice after a family servant, Otoku, is dismissed. When they are reunited as lovers, Otoku encourages Kikunosuke to rededicate himself to his art—he is an oyama, playing female roles, but she is the one who makes the ultimate sacrifice. Mizoguchi’s first film for Shochiku Studios is a key work in defining his mature style, encapsulating his ideas on the vampiric nature of artistic production, and altogether making for what scholar Joan Mellen called “one of the most brilliant satires of the Japanese family system.”
Hometown (Fujiwara Yoshie no Furusato)
SATURDAY, MAY 10, 1:00 P.M.
SUNDAY, MAY 11, 2:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1930, 75 mins. 35mm print from the Japan Foundation. With Yoshie Fujiwara, Fujiko Hamaguchi, Shizue Natsukawa. Mizoguchi’s first sound film—and one of the first sound films made in Japan—was a vehicle for popular tenor Yoshie Fujiwara. Returning to his home in northern Japan from opera training in Italy, a young singer with aspirations towards fame is torn between two women. Taken up by a rich female patron, he jilts his loyal, low-born wife. An innovative part-talkie that has been called the Japanese Jazz Singer, Hometown finds the director taking to new technology like a fish to water, already experimenting with the fluid, highly involved sequence shots that would be his hallmark.
White Threads of the Waterfall (Taki no Shiraito)
SATURDAY, MAY 10, 3:00 P.M.
SUNDAY, MAY 11, 4:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1933, 75 mins. 16mm print from the Japan Foundation. With Takako Irie, Tokihiko Okada. A late silent, White Threads of the Waterfall is also the earliest of Mizoguchi’s extant “women’s pictures.” This adaptation of a shinpa (non-traditional melodrama) play concerns a circus performer, Taki, who goes beyond her means to support the young law school student who she loves. After circumstances force Taki to crime, she goes before the court and the presiding judge—none other than her lover, who must blindly mete out what passes for justice. According to film theorist Noël Burch, in the character of Taki we can see “the prototype of Mizoguchi’s rebellious heroines.”
SATURDAY, MAY 10, 4:30 P.M.
SUNDAY, MAY 11, 6:30 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1944, 55 mins. 16mm print from the Japan Foundation. With Chojuro Kawarasaki, Kinuyo Tanaka, Kigoro Ikushima, Kan’emon Nakamura. Mizoguchi added a dash of signature style to this jidaigeki (period drama) concerning the seventeenth-century inventor of two-sword combat, later the subject of Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy. Mizoguchi’s particular twist is mixing in an element of wrathful womanhood, as Musashi is recruited by a young woman, Shinobu, and her brother, who are seeking training in order to avenge the death of their father. Perhaps it is this dangerous, untamed femininity that led to censorship by the same wartime government who had rapturously received Mizoguchi’s The 47 Ronin.
The Life of Oharu (Saikaku Ichidai Onna)
FRIDAY, MAY 16, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1952, 136 mins. 35mm print from Janus Films. With Kinuyo Tanaka, Toshiro Mifune. “Death is easy, but life is not so simple.” So learns the once-beautiful, aging prostitute Oharu, who must endure hardship after hardship on her slow descent into the lowest rungs of society. Mizoguchi beautifully renders the tragedy through carefully composed long takes, psychologically charged camera movements, and a delicate handling of actors. As embodied by the remarkable, infinitely touching Kinuyo Tanaka, Oharu stands as arguably the most poignant and enduring of the director’s many “fallen” women.
The Downfall of Osen (Orizuru Osen)
SATURDAY, MAY 17, 4:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1935, 87 mins. 35mm print from the National Film Center. With Isuzu Yamada, Daijiro Natsukawa. After their unscrupulous master is arrested, servant girl Osen and penniless young Sokichi must fend for themselves. They live together in straightened circumstances in Meiji-era Tokyo, and Osen’s love drives her to pay Sokichi’s way through medical school, finally turning to secret streetwalking on his behalf. Told in an elaborate flashback structure, The Downfall of Osen has been singled out as a transitional film that bridges Mizoguchi’s early and middle periods, as well as the silent and sound eras—the voiceover was recorded by one of Japan’s traditional benshi narrators.
Straits of Love and Hate (Aienkyo)
SATURDAY, MAY 17, 6:30 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1937, 108 mins. 35mm print from the National Film Center. With Fumiko Yamaji, Masao Shimizu. Set in a country inn in the northern mountains of Shinsu, ostensible shinpa (melodrama) adaptation Straits of Love and Hate also freely borrows elements from Leo Tolstoy’s Resurrection. After a servant is impregnated by her master’s son, they run away to Tokyo together. There he abandons her and the child, leaving her to turn to a career in prostitution and manzai comedy with a small traveling theater troupe. One of the most scarcely seen of Mizoguchi’s extant works, it has long been championed by critic Tony Rayns as one of his best.
SUNDAY, MAY 18, 5:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1935, 72 mins. 35mm print from the National Film Center. With Ichiro Tsukida, Kuniko Miyake, Daijiro Natsukawa. Based on a 1908 novel by Soseke Natsume, Poppy concerns a society woman in contemporary Kyoto who is betrothed to a diplomat, but who falls in love with the student who is teaching her English. Further complicating matters is the fact that the teacher is himself engaged to a woman to whose father he owes a tremendous debt of gratitude. The vicissitudes of this four-way entanglement are tracked through following the movements of a single watch intended as a wedding gift, a unique structural flourish which distinguishes this rarely seen, stealthily powerful big-budget melodrama.
Women of the Night (Yoru no Onnatachi)
SUNDAY, MAY 18, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1948, 75 mins. 35mm print from the Kawakita Foundation. With Kinuyo Tanaka, Tomie Tsunoda, Sanae Takasugi. Mizoguchi’s response to the cinematic challenge issued by Italian neorealism, the uniquely rough and immediate Women of the Night was shot on location in a still-scarred postwar Osaka and its seedy nightspots. The troubled fate of Japan is reflected in the stories of two sisters. One loses her husband and child from the war and its aftereffects, the other becomes her boss’s mistress; together they will go down into the depths of Osaka’s red-light district, where naked violence is the only law.
A Geisha (Gion Bayashi)
FRIDAY, MAY 23, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1953, 84 mins. 35mm print from the Japan Foundation. With Michiyo Kogure, Ayako Wakao. Set in Kyoto’s Gion district in the postwar period, A Geisha focuses on the student-mentor relationship between an experienced geisha and the teenaged girl who begs to apprentice with her. A stunning actresses’ duet, this is one of Mizoguchi’s most poignant portrayals of the confederation of sisterhood acting as a buffer against a hostile world. Japanese film scholar Donald Richie noted that A Geisha is “filled with sentiment, rather than sentimentality… and the performances are so perfect.”
Osaka Elegy (Naniwa Ereji)
SATURDAY, MAY 24, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1936, 90 mins. 35mm print from the Japan Foundation. With Isuzu Yamada, Seiichi Takegawa, Chiyoko Okura, Shinpachiro Asaka. “In this film the mature Mizoguchi style emerges for the first time,” wrote film scholar Joan Mellen. Ayako is barely making ends meet by working as a switchboard operator to support her family, so she becomes her boss’s mistress, and hardens herself into the role of a moga (“modern woman”). Mizoguchi said that Osaka Elegy was the film with which he found his true direction, and it is evidently among his most personal—Ayako’s feckless father is rumored to be based on the director’s own. Capped by a devastating final shot, it is also a trenchant social criticism, and after 1940 was banned by the military government.
The Famous Sword Bijomaru (Meito Bijomaru)
SATURDAY, MAY 24, 2:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1945, 65 mins. 35mm print from the National Film Center. With Isuzu Yamada, Shotaro Hanayagi, Ichijiro Oya, Eijiro Yanagi, Kan Ishii. Like The 47 Ronin, this tale of a nineteenth-century swordmaker was commissioned as a morale booster by the military government, although its emphasis on female fortitude looks forward to the films that Mizoguchi would make once his artistic freedom had nominally been restored. Sasae is engaged to her father’s killer, but she has other ideas, recruiting a blacksmith to forge her a weapon suitable for revenge.
Portrait of Madame Yuki (Yuki Fujin Ezu)
SATURDAY, MAY 24, 4:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1950, 88 mins. 35mm print from the National Film Center. With Michiyo Kogure, Yoshiko Kuga, Ken Uehara, Eijiro Yanagi. Born into a family of country gentry, Yuki lost everything in the war. Now she is mistreated by her loutish, insolvent husband, who nevertheless holds her in thrall sexually. When she fails to find comfort in the arms of a less virile neighbor, the inhibitions of her class conditioning leave her with no way out. This film of frank eroticism, and one of Mizoguchi’s most detailed portraits of entrapped, embattled psychology in extremis, is justly famed for the overwhelming pathos of its final sequence.
The 47 Ronin (Pt. 1 & 2) (Genroku Chushingura)
SUNDAY, MAY 25, 2:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1941, 241 mins. 35mm print from the Japan Foundation. Presented with intermission. With Chojuro Kawarasaki, Yoshizaburo Arashi, Utaemon Ichikawa. In the early years of the eighteenth century, the retainers of slain Lord Asano, led by the loyal Oichi, set out to avenge themselves against the man whose treachery was responsible for their master’s senseless death over a matter of court protocol, proving their unshakable fidelity to the grave. The most famous version of the most famous of Japanese tales, this epic was produced at the behest of the military government with propagandistic intent, but was made with a conviction, humanity, and graphic genius that transcend the circumstances of its production.
The Love of Sumako, the Actress (Joyu Sumako no Koi)
SATURDAY, MAY 31, 5:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1947, 95 mins. 35mm print from the National Film Center. With Kinuyo Tanaka, So Yamamura. In this wrenching drama, Mizoguchi returns to Utamaro’s theme of the consuming, singleminded drive of the pure creator—but here he has a female artist as his protagonist. Sumako Matsui, one of Japan’s first actresses and an unapologetic nonconformist, attracts the eye of director Shimamura, who breaks up his family to be with her. We follow Sumako and Shimamura’s company, innovators in Western-style drama, through her breakthrough in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, their hard times on the road, and finally through her tragic over-identification with the character of “Carmen.”
Miss Oyu (Oyu-sama)
SATURDAY, MAY 31, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1951, 95 mins. 35mm print from the Japan Foundation. With Kinuyo Tanaka, Nobuko Otowa, Yuji Hori. Wealthy bachelor Shinnosuke is set to marry Shizu—but instead he falls in love with her young widowed sister, Oyu. The three make an arrangement, based on mutual understanding, that satisfies society’s demand of propriety, but their pact proves all too vulnerable. Based on a novel by Junichiro Tanizaki, Lady Oyu contains astonishing long-take sequence shots which signify a landmark event in Mizoguchi’s career—this was his first teaming with the great cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, a collaboration which would define Mizoguchi’s late films.
The Crucified Lovers (Chikamatsu Monogatari)
SUNDAY, JUNE 1, 2:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1954, 102 mins. 35mm print from the Japan Foundation. With Kazuo Hasegawa, Kyoko Kagawa. Apprentice scrollmaker Mohei attempts to help his master’s wife out of a delicate financial situation, and as a result the two end up on the lam together. Thrown together by persecuting forces, they become lovers during a delicate idyll that shows Mizoguchi at the height of his pictorial powers. But such exquisite feelings are doomed to be punished by society. Based on a 300-year-old play by the famed dramatist Chikamatsu, this watershed work of postwar jidaigeki is one of Mizoguchi’s most beloved films in Japan, with Akira Kurosawa foremost among its admirers.
Victory of Women (Josei no Shori)
SUNDAY, JUNE 1, 4:30 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1946, 84 mins. 35mm print from the Kawakita Foundation. With Kinuyo Tanaka, Michiko Kuwano, Mitsuko Miura, Shin Tokudaiji. Working under the American Occupation government, which promoted certain democracy-promoting favored topics among Japanese filmmakers, Mizoguchi had the opportunity to deal with a topic nearer to his heart than wartime jingoism: women’s emancipation. A female lawyer, Hiroko (Kinuyo Tanaka), takes up the case of a recently widowed woman who killed her baby rather than raise it amid the endemic poverty and mercenary plundering of the postwar period. While fully engaged with the ambient despair of the time, Victory earns its affirmative title with a call-to-arms climax.
My Love Burns (Waga Koi wa Moenu)
SUNDAY, JUNE 1, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1949, 96 mins. 35mm print from Harvard Film Archives. With Kinuyo Tanaka, Ichiro Sugai, Mitsuko Mito, Kuniko Miyake. Mizoguchi gets in the trenches with the struggle for feminist self-determination in 1880s Japan with My Love Burns, which dramatically illustrates the feminist adage that “the personal is political.” Trailing a friend who has been sold into slavery, willful Eiko leaves her family home and relocates to Tokyo. There she begins to work with the opposition progressive party and falls in love with its leader, Kentaro Omoi. In years to come, Eiko and her friend will suffer untold brutality for the cause—yet when the progressives come into power, the issue of women’s rights has conveniently been forgotten.
Princess Yang Kwei-fei (Yokihi)
FRIDAY, JUNE 6, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1955, 98 mins. 35mm print from the Japan Foundation. With Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, So Yamamura. The court of Tang Dynasty China comes to vivid life in Mizoguchi’s ravishingly beautiful Princess Yang Kwei-fei, the filmmaker’s first film in color, which shows his compositional brilliance undiminished by the transition from black-and-white. A servant from the destitute countryside, Yang Kwei-fei becomes the consort of Emperor Huan Tsung, still grief-stricken and in mourning for his dead wife. Even in her new exalted position, however, the Princess remains the tool of her scheming family, and reaps the resentment sown by their manipulations among the peasantry.
The Lady of Musashino (Musashino Fujin)
SATURDAY, JUNE 7, 5:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1951, 88 mins. 35mm print from the National Film Center. With Kinuyo Tanaka, Masayuki Mori, Yukiko Todoroki. One of the lesser-known contemporary collaborations between Mizoguchi and his invaluable collaborator Kinuyo Tanaka, The Lady of Musashino stars Tanaka as Michiko, the unhappily married daughter of an old samurai family. After a prologue set during the war years, Michiko struggles against the changing times and her own heart, as a swelling Tokyo encroaches on her family seat, and the ardency of her cousin threatens the traditional, bedrock moral values that she alone seems to hold dear.
The Woman of the Rumor (Uwasa no Onna)
SATURDAY, JUNE 7, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1954, 83 mins. 35mm print from the Japan Foundation. With Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiko Kuga, Tomoemon Otani. Hatsuko is the proprietress of a Kyoto geisha house, and her profession is a source of humiliation to her daughter, Yukiko, who returns home shamefaced after a suicide attempt. The fault lines between the women only grow wider when both fall in love with the same young doctor, who looks after the working girls at the house. Sadly, Tanaka’s relationship with Mizoguchi soured on the set, and this was the last of the fifteen films that they made together—a body of work that taken altogether forms one of the most impressive teamings in cinema, to which The Woman of the Rumor is a fitting curtain call.
Tales of the Taira Clan (Shin Heike Monogatari)
SUNDAY, JUNE 8, 2:00 P.M.
Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi. 1955, 108 mins. 16mm print from the Japan Foundation. With Ichijiro Oya, Raizo Ichikawa. For his final historical film and penultimate work, Mizoguchi adapted Eiji Yoshikawa’s twelfth-century-set historical novel. Returning to Kyoto after great military successes, Captain Tadamori is snubbed by courtiers, and the hopes of the family fall on his son, who may or may not actually be the son of the former Emperor. The saga of the Tairas takes place against a backdrop of internecine struggle between the decadent aristocracy and the insurgent monks who are roving the countryside, all making for a lavish, full-color spectacle that combines sweeping, epic action and emotional intimacy.