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Mizoguchi's Greatest Decade

September 06
through
November 01

Where George Gund Building , Aitken Auditorium

Mizoguchi's Greatest Decade

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Nine films made by Japan’s master filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi will show between September 6 and November 1 in the Cinematheque series “Mizoguchi’s Greatest Decade.”

Mizoguchi is an exalted figure in the history of cinema. Long considered one of the "big three" of classical Japanese cinema (along with Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa), Mizoguchi (1898-1956) directed over 80 films (silent and sound) in a career that spanned 34 years. He was a supreme visual stylist, and one of the foremost proponents of the long take and choreographed camera movement. His great theme was the exploitation of women, supposedly the result of childhood trauma he experienced when his older sister was sold into “geishadom” by his impoverished family.

Though Mizoguchi made great movies in the 1930s and 1940s (one of them, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, shows on 9/10 at the Cleveland Museum of Art), most experts regard the films he made during the 1950s, at the end of his life, as his finest achievements. And what a run it was—one celebrated masterpiece after another (The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff, and Crucified Lovers, to name just four). Mizoguchi’s movies from this decade are always turning up on film critics’ lists of the best films ever made. Throughout the fifties Mizoguchi worked with the celebrated cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa. (He also shot Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Ozu’s 1959 Floating Weeds, and too many other major Japanese movies to mention.) Their collaboration is just one reason why the current unavailability of North American film prints of many of Mizoguchi’s 1950s classics is so distressing.

Fortunately The Japan Foundation in Tokyo owns English-subtitled prints of most of the late Mizoguchi films that are unavailable here. And they have generously agreed to co-present the series and loan (and ship) their precious copies to the U.S. Thanks to them (and especially Kanako Shiraski in The Japan Foundation’s New York office), the Cinematheque is able to present nine Mizoguchi beauties from his greatest decade.

Film Schedule

Saturday, September 6, at 5:00pm
Mizoguchi’s Greatest Decade
THE LIFE OF OHARU
SAIKAKU ICHIDAI ONNA
Japan, 1952, Kenji Mizoguchi
We begin our Mizoguchi retrospective with the film that the director himself regarded as his masterpiece. It’s a beautifully photographed period piece that charts the step-by-step downfall of a 17th-century woman (Kinuyo Tanaka, Mizoguchi’s favorite actress) from court woman to common prostitute. With Toshiro Mifune. “Perhaps the finest film made in any country about the oppression of women.” –Joan Mellen. Subtitles. 35mm. 136 min. Special admission $10; members, CIA I.D. holders, and those age 25 & under $8; no passes, twofers, or radio winners.

Saturday, September 13, at 5:00pm
Mizoguchi’s Greatest Decade
UGETSU
UGETSU MONOGATARI
Japan, 1953, Kenji Mizoguchi
Mizoguchi’s most celebrated film is an atmospheric samurai drama and ghost story in which two peasants living in war-torn 16th-century Japan leave their homes hoping to profit from the conflict. This haunting movie subtly conveys the illusory nature of ambition and desire. With Machiko Kyō and Kinuyo Tanaka; cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa. “Simultaneously realistic, allegorical and supernatural, Ugetsu is the most stylistically perfect of all Mizoguchi’s work, and many critics consider it the greatest Japanese film ever made.” –David L. Cook. Subtitles. 35mm. 96 min. Special admission $10; members, CIA I.D. holders, and those age 25 & under $8; no passes, twofers, or radio winners.

Saturday, September 20, at 5:00pm
Mizoguchi’s Greatest Decade
A GEISHA
aka GION FESTIVAL MUSIC
GION BAYASHI
Japan, 1953, Kenji Mizoguchi
In Mizoguchi’s reworking of his 1936 masterpiece Sisters of the Gion, an elderly geisha trains a self-centered young girl in the art of “entertaining,” while also trying to steer her clear of the profession’s more sordid realities. Cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa. Imported 35mm print! Subtitles. 85 min. Special admission $10; members, CIA I.D. holders, and those age 25 & under $8; no passes, twofers, or radio winners.

Sunday, September 28, at 3:45pm
Mizoguchi’s Greatest Decade
SANSHO THE BAILIFF
SANSHO DAYU
Japan, 1954, Kenji Mizoguchi
Critic Robin Wood once called this sublime Mizoguchi drama “the greatest movie I have ever seen.” An aristocratic family living in 11th-century Japan is broken up, exiled, and sold into slavery. Over many years, the family members struggle to reunite. This deeply moving drama of great formal beauty advocates for empathy, justice, and mercy. Cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa. Subtitles. 35mm. 123 min. Special admission $10; members, CIA I.D. holders, and those age 25 & under $8; no passes, twofers, or radio winners. Please use Bellflower Road entrance to CIA parking lot for this showing.

Saturday, October 4, at 5:00pm
Mizoguchi’s Greatest Decade
A WOMAN OF RUMOR
UWASA NO ONNA
Japan, 1954, Kenji Mizoguchi
Kinuyo Tanaka, in her 15th and final role for Mizoguchi, plays a geisha house owner in 1950s Kyoto who is distressed to realize that her doctor lover prefers her respectable daughter to herself. Cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa. Imported 35mm print! Subtitles. 84 min. Special admission $10; members, CIA I.D. holders, and those age 25 & under $8; no passes, twofers, or radio winners.

Saturday, October 11, at 5:00pm
Mizoguchi’s Greatest Decade
CRUCIFIED LOVERS
CHIKAMATSU MONOGATARI
aka A TALE FROM CHIKAMATSU
Japan, 1954, Kenji Mizoguchi
Mizoguchi’s exquisite, heartbreaking adaptation of a 17th-century puppet theatre play by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (Japan’s Shakespeare) tells of two illicit lovers who flee their wrathful society, but later return to face the music. Masterfully photographed by Kazuo Miyagawa, this movie is ranked by some Japanese critics as the director’s best. Imported 35mm print! Subtitles. 102 min. Special admission $10; members, CIA I.D. holders, and those age 25 & under $8; no passes, twofers, or radio winners.

Saturday, October 18, at 5:00pm
Mizoguchi’s Greatest Decade
PRINCESS YANG KWEI-FEI
YÔKIHI
Japan/Hong Kong, 1955, Kenji Mizoguchi
Mizoguchi’s first color film has been called “the most beautiful film ever made” (Fabiano Canosa). In 8th-century China, the Emperor’s love for a servant girl leads to tragedy. With Machiko Kyō and Masayuki Mori. Imported 35mm print! Subtitles. 98 min. Special admission $10; members, CIA I.D. holders, and those age 25 & under $8; no passes, twofers, or radio winners.

Thursday, October 23, at 7:00pm
Mizoguchi’s Greatest Decade!
TALES OF THE TAIRA CLAN
SHIN HEIKE MONOGATARI
aka TAIRA CLAN SAGA
Japan, 1955, Kenji Mizoguchi
Mizoguchi’s sumptuous samurai saga (one of only two films he made in color) is set in feudal 12th-century Japan, where three factions (the samurai, the clerics, and the court) vie for control. Lavish sets, elaborate costumes, lush cinematography (by Kazuo Miyagawa), and armies of extras. “Arguably Mizoguchi’s best and the best of all films.” –Ian Cameron. Imported 16mm print! Subtitles. 108 min. Special admission $10; members, CIA I.D. holders, and those age 25 & under $8; no passes, twofers, or radio winners. Shown in CIA’s Ohio Bell Auditorium; ticket seller will direct you.

Saturday, November 1, at 5:00pm
Mizoguchi’s Greatest Decade!
STREET OF SHAME
AKASEN CHITAI
Japan, 1956, Kenji Mizoguchi
Mizoguchi’s final film (he died at age 58 six months after it opened) is a penetrating group portrait of prostitutes at a fictional brothel in 1950s Tokyo. It explores the desperation that drives women to this profession and proved so effective that legal prostitution was outlawed in Japan a year after its release. With Machiko Kyo. “The best of all film examining the problems of women in postwar Japan.” –Donald Richie. Subtitles. 35mm. 85 min. Special admission $10; members, CIA I.D. holders, and those age 25 & under $8; no passes, twofers, or radio winners.

Above: image from UGETSU: Janus Films

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