Saturday, March 28, 2015

Japanese Film by Year: Social-realism and Shoshimin-Eiga (1930-1939)

Japanese cinema is 35 years old and has attained full maturity. It can withstand comparison with any other national cinema of the day. It shows life as it is (rather than as how it should be) and puts emphasis on character and mood rather than plot (as pointed out by Donald Richie). 

The commercial studio system with its sophisticated machinery for production and consumption of films (the studios owned their own theaters) is in full swing. There is a star system, but also maverick directors who later would be recognized as auteurs have their place. The great classical directors such as Ozu, Mizoguchi, Naruse, Gosho, Shimizu, Kinugasa, etc., have all made their first films in the 1920s or early 1930s and will continue production until well in the 1960s and 1970s, thus ensuring continuity, especially as they often worked with fixed actors/actresses and a fixed team of technical staff and scenario writers. 

Japan had such a large public for film - a public that moreover in these years preferred Japanese films - that the industry could rely on the internal Japanese market and exports were not necessary. Foreign films were shown in different theaters and were only watched by a small but sophisticated public of urban intelligentsia. The 1930s have been called the "First Golden Age of Japanese Cinema."

As the benshi was very popular, so-called "silent films" (which were not at all silent but accompanied by music, song and the benshi narration - the benshi could even enact dialogues!) remained dominant for the first half of this decade. When sound was finally generally introduced in 1935, it was technologically more advanced than it had been in the late twenties or early thirties. Happily, Japan also evaded the phenomenon that plagued Hollywood where films became a sort of "canned theater," without filmic qualities. For most Japanese directors, a good sound film was one with lots of silence.

Unfortunately, even from this period, many films have been lost, as is shown by the example of director Yamanaka who worked in the 1930s: of his more than twenty films, only three have been preserved. The quality of the preserved copies, also, can't stand comparison with films from for example the U.S., France or Germany, where already starting in the late twenties, often beautiful copies without blemishes have been preserved. 

November – Prime Minister Hamaguchi is shot inside Tokyo Station in a failed assassination attempt.

The leftist movement is at its peak and as these films make money, the studios encourage their production. "What made her do it?" (Naniga Kanojo wo So Saseta ka?) by Suzuki Shigeyoshi (1900-1976), is Japan's most famous leftist film (keiko eiga), about a naive orphan girl, Sumiko (Takatsu Keiko), up against corrupt and materialistic society. After her father commits suicide, she is sent to live with relatives who steal her money and sell her to a circus. The faces in this film are great - the poor are not heroic proletarians, but look realistically mean and degraded. Via the poorhouse, she later lands a job as maid with a rich family and very pampered daughter, making for some nice contrast. The daughter spits out her food when she finds a small fish bone in it, but the maids have to do with leftovers. Sumiko is finally forced to commit arson. When the film was first shown, audiences rioted in support of its anti-capitalist sentiments. It scored Kinema Junpo Best Film for this year.

"Walk Cheerfully" (Hogaraka ni Ayume) was Ozu's 14th film and the second one still extant (disregarding the fragment from I Graduated, But...). It is a sort of gangster comedy in which the delinquent reforms for love of a pure young woman, a typist. Two other extant Ozu films from this year are "I Flunked, but..." Rakudai wa Shita Keredo...), a "nonsense" comedy with the message that being stuck in school after failing the exams, is not so bad as there are no jobs for graduates anyway - containing the first substantial role of Ryu Chishu; and "That Night's Wife" (Sono Yo no Tsuma), about an impoverished father who robs a bank. As an adaptation of a piece of American pulp fiction, it also shows the impact which American films and Western culture had in Japan. On the other hand, we also already find one of Ozu's characteristic film elements: the close-up of objects which serve as sheer transition, without carrying connotative weight.

[The Neighbor's Wife and Mine]

September: The Mukden or Manchurian Incident is staged by the Japanese military to create a pretext for the 1931 invasion of Manchuria.

Already in this year political suppression put an end to Pro Kino and the popularity of leftist tendency films waned, although generally speaking, many films from the 1930s do contain strong socialist-realist elements. This is true of many of the films from the 1930s by Ozu, by Mizoguchi, and by Tasaka Tomotaka, Yamamoto Kajiro and Uchida Tomu.

More importantly, 1931 is the year the first Japanese sound film was made, although the general introduction of sound would have to wait until the middle of the decade - it remained a rarity. That film was "The Neighbor's Wife and Mine" (Madamu to Nyobo) by Gosho Heinosuke, a domestic comedy (shoshimin-eiga) made at Shochiku about a playwright suffering from writer's block and distracted by various noises, such as a baby crying, the ticking of a clock, but most of all a jazz band practicing in the home of the modern woman living next door (a good excuse to go there and join the party). Sound is used sparingly and inventively - this is a film that needs sound for the many off-screen noises and could never have worked with a benshi. On top of that, it introduced many new Hollywood codes, and was also inspired by French film such as René Clair's Under the Roofs of Paris (of which the signature melody is whistled in Madamu to Nyobo). Kinema Junpo Best Film for this year.

Gosho Heinosuke (1902-1981) was an outstanding practitioner of shoshimin-eiga. In contrast to Ozu and Naruse, he is virtually unknown among Western film fans. His work is imbued with compassionate humanism, and is rich and complex, while also being visually intelligent (showing a debt to Lubitsch). By the way, how gradually sound was introduced in Japan is shown by the fact that Gosho after Madamu to Nyobo returned to silent production until 1935. And again to show how much has been lost: Madamu to Nyobo was Gosho's earliest film that has survived, but in fact the 39th movie he made (Gosho had started as a director in 1925). Among his postwar films are Where Chimneys Are Seen (1953), perhaps his best work, and films based on literary works as Growing Up (1955, based on a story by Higuchi Ichiyo) and Hunting Rifle (1961, based on a story by Inoue Yasushi).

I already mentioned Naruse Mikio in the above paragraph. He was a shoshimin-eiga director with a rather dark view, who like Ozu made his greatest work in the 1950s and early 1960s (all women's films). His first preserved film is "Flunky, Work Hard!" (Koshiben Gambare) from this year, about an impoverished insurance salesman. The salesman desperately tries to sell accident coverage to a wealthy woman with five children, while his own uninsured son is hit by a train.

Naruse Mikio (1905-1969) is considered, along with Mizoguchi and Ozu, one of the three greatest Japanese directors of his generation. For most of his career he pursued the theme of the social status of women in patriarchal Japanese society, but his films are very different from those of that other "woman director," Mizoguchi. Born in Tokyo, Naruse joined Shochiku where he had to work for 10 years in subordinate positions before being allowed to direct his first film. In 1934 he moved to Toho, where he would remain the rest of his career, appreciated for the fact that he always turned out high-quality films efficiently and economically. After the war, he remained a major force in Japanese cinema with such noted films as Mother (1952), Floating Clouds (1955), Flowing (1956) and When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960). In his 37 years as a director (between 1930 and 1967) he created 89 films.

Ozu Yasujiro made two films this year, "The Lady and the Beard" (Shukujo to Hige) and "Tokyo Chorus" (Tokyo Gassho), the first a nonsense comedy about a bearded kendo swordfighting star, who is tamed by his girlfriend and made to shave. The second one is a shoshimin-eiga about an office worker who sticks up for a colleague and gets fired himself. After the student comedies and other nonsense films, this is Ozu's first (preserved) home drama, a big step towards next year's I Was Born, But..., with which it has the young salaryman family in common.

Of course, as every year many period films were made. There were two outstanding ones this year. "Long-sought Mother" (Mabuta no Haha) by Inagaki Hiroshi, with Kataoka Chiezo, was based on a novel by Hasegawa Shin, a lyrical story about a ronin's search for and rejection by his long lost mother, - still extant and many times remade. Inagaki was a versatile film maker who mostly worked in jidaigeki - after WWII, he would become internationally famous with the Miyamoto Musashi Trilogy and The Rickshaw Man.

Inagaki Hiroshi (1905-1980) is known for his period films, which he started directing in the silent era. His film Rickshaw Man (1943) was selected as the 8th best Japanese film of all time in a 1989 poll of Japanese critics and filmmakers. The color remake, Rickshaw Man (1958), won the Golden Lion award at that year's Venice Film Festival. Inagki also won international acclaim (earning an Academy Award) with his trilogy Miyamoto Musashi (1954-56). Other well-known works are his version of Chushingura (1962), Samurai Banners (1969) and Ambush (1970).

"Jirokichi the Rat" (Otsurae Jirokichi Goshi) by Ito Daisuke with Okochi Denjiro, is one of the rare surviving films by this period director. The climax consists of a dazzling lantern-filled pursuit.

[I Was Born But...]

January: Sakuradamon incident: assassination attempt against Emperor Hirohito by a Korean independence activist.
May 15 Incident: attempted coup d'état by reactionary elements in the navy and army. Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi assassinated by 11 young naval officers. Popular support led to light sentences for the assassins, and a strengthening of the rise of militarism.
August – Tokyo Takarazuka Cinema Production, the predecessor of Toho, founded.
December – Shirokiya Department Store fire leaves 14 people dead.

This year Ozu Yasujiro made one of his best films (still a "silent" film) and at the same time one of the best Japanese films ever made: "I was born, but..." (Umarete wa mita keredo...). Two small boys learn to live with the fact that their father is not a great man, but simply a company employee ("salaryman"), who has to be obsequious to his boss. The worst moment comes when the boss gives a show for the neighborhood of a home movie he shot in which the father is shown clowning to please his superior. The boys ask why their father has to behave so silly, and why they can't beat up the boss' kid when they are stronger? In the end, of course, they have to learn something of the ways and compromises of the adult world. A serious comedy, funny and devastating at the same time, that teaches us to accept life as it is. Kinema Junpo Best Film for this year. Technically, in this film also Ozu's systematic low-angle frontality begins to appear.

"No Blood Relations" (Nasanu Naka) by Naruse Mikio is a melodrama about a Japanese film star who has become rich in Hollywood and now returns to Japan to search for the little daughter she has left behind. With the help of her brother, a gangster, she succeeds in wrestling away the girl from the step-mother, but as the girl now really loves the step-mother, she in the end gives in and returns alone to America.

Itami Mansaku (1900-1946), a friend of Ito Daisuke, brought new ideas to period drama. In "Peerless Patriot" (Kokushi Muso), the story of poor ronin who impersonates a famous swordsman, he ridiculed feudal traditions. Also more generally speaking, with the demise of leftist tendency films, also the nihilistic hero was on his way out. He was supplanted by what Sato Tadao calls "the free spirit hero," replacing nihilism with an advocacy of freedom portrayed in resistance against feudal authority. As in this film, Kataoka Chiezo became the typical actor for such roles.

[The Water Magician]

A new film company, P.C.L. (later renamed to Toho) is set up to take advantage of sound technology. Founder was the owner of the Hankyu Railway group, Kobayashi Ichizo, and the company also managed the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater (Kobayashi had already set up the all-female Takarazuka revue in 1914) and the Imperial Theater. It specialized in the adaptation of modern novels and attracted inventive directors as Naruse Mikio. Naruse switched to the new studio from Shochiku, as there he had to work under the constant shadow of Ozu Yasujiro, both being shoshimin-eiga directors.

The best film of this year is another Ozu work, "Passing Fancy" (Dekigokoro). This silent film is about a father, Kihachi, and a son living together in impoverished circumstances. The father here is not a "salaryman" but works in a brewery. A widower, he becomes captivated by a new girl in the area, but she herself is infatuated with his younger friend, who is still single. The father recognizes his folly when the son becomes seriously ill and barely survives. Sakamoto Takeshi plays the father; Kihachi's type would recur several times in Ozu's cinema of the 1930s, and in fact formed the inspiration for the famous character of Torasan played by Atsumi Kiyoshi from 1969 to 1995. Kinema Junpo Best Film for this year.

A second Ozu film from this year is the short feature "Woman of Tokyo" (Tokyo no Onna) about a young woman (Tanaka Kinuyo) who puts her younger brother through school with the money she earns. But when he notices that she not only works in an office but also is a prostitute at night, he commits suicide. More than for the melodramatic story, this film is interesting for the development of two of Ozu's style characteristics: besides the further development of his "cut-away still-lifes," we also find the systematic disregard for eye-line matching here.

1933 is also the year from which we have one of the first surviving films by Mizoguchi Kenji, with Ozu and Kurosawa one of the greatest Japanese directors of all time. Mizoguchi had already become a director in 1923, at Nikkatsu where he made films based on contemporary urban melodramas (shinpa); this was his 48th film (!), again vividly demonstrating how much has been lost. "The Water Magician" (Taki no Shiraito) is a Shinpa-style melodrama about a girl water magician who falls in love with a poor student and puts him through college, after which they loose contact. Later she is driven to murder an usurer; at the trial she meets her former lover again, who is now a judge. He has to give her the death sentence. Based on a play by Izumi Kyoka. The melodrama is redeemed by Mizoguchi's cool, distant take. Mizoguchi's prewar films were often about the plight of women trapped in impossible situations. After WWII, this would change into the more general liberal-humanist topic about the liberation of women. In all cases, Mizoguchi expressed his deep sympathy for women victimized by an oppressive society.

Mizoguchi Kenji (1898-1956) was with Ozu Yasujiro and Kurosawa Akira one of the three greatest Japanese directors of all time. In the 1950s, Mizoguchi was the idol of the French New Wave, because his moving-camera, long-shot long-take technique exemplified the aesthetic that the young Cahiers du cinéma critics were championing. Rivette adored him for the mastery of his mise-en-scene, Godard eulogized his elegance, metaphysics and instinct as a director and called him “one of the greatest of filmmakers." Mizoguchi's prewar films were often about the plight of women trapped in impossible situations. After WWII, this would change into the more general liberal-humanist topic about the liberation of women. In all cases, Mizoguchi expressed his deep sympathy for women victimized by an oppressive, patriarchal society. His most famous films, also internationally, are The Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu (1953) and Sansho the Bailiff (1954). These films excel because of their moral complexity, dramatic power and visual beauty.

[Tanaka Kinuyo]

Another interesting film of 1933 is "Dancing Girl of Izu" (Izu no Odoriko) by Gosho Heinosuke, based on the eponymous novella by Kawabata Yasunari. Although in the original story the theme is in the first place the acceptance of the lonely student by a troupe of itinerant actors (the lowest of the lowest at that time, often forbidden entry into the villages) and his happiness at being connected with humanity, Gosho sets the tone for a whole string of Odoriko films in which the (platonic) love between the student and the underage dancing girl is highlighted, ending in a moving scene of separation. Tanaka Kinuyo played the dancing girl, and as she was a real actress (in contrast to the singers and teenage "talents" who would follow), she is by far the best. The film as a whole is not so good, as Gosho unfortunately tacked on a subplot about a gold mine which is not in Kawabata, but it was shot on location in the Izu Peninsula and there are beautiful landscapes. This film also was the start of what has been called the jun-bungaku or "Pure Literature" movement in film (also called bungei eiga), the adaptation to the cinema of literary masterworks. More would follow later on in the 1930s.

There was more in this rich year: a friend and contemporary of Ozu at Schochiku, Shimizu Hiroshi, made "Japanese Girls at the Harbor" (Minato no Nihon Musume), a romantic melodrama in which he probed the dilemmas of a country posed between native and Western ideas, tradition and liberalism. It is an aesthetically exciting film, visualized in terms of art deco patternings.

Shimizu Hiroshi (1903-1966) made subtle, charming and humorous films, often about children, and is known for the humanity of his oeuvre.

Finally we have to mention two films by Naruse Mikio, "Every Night Dreams" (Yogoto no Yume), a melodrama about the poor, visually influenced by Von Sternberg's 1928 The Docks of New York, and "After Our Separation" (Kimi to wakarete), a love melodrama set in the geisha world.

[My Little Neigbor, Yae]

April: The Teijin Incident, a political scandal, brings down the government.
September: The violent Muroto typhoon leaves 3,000 dead in its wake.

Nikkatsu finishes building its Tamagawa studio in Tokyo; from now on, it will make gendaigeki in Tokyo and jidaigeki in Kyoto.

Ozu made another great film in 1934, which again won the Kinema Junpo Best Film award: "A Story of Floating Weeds" (Ukigusa Monogatari), a film about the head of a traveling theater group (Sakamoto Takeshi) who in a mountain village meets again the - now grown-up - son who was the result of a casual affair. Based on a forgotten American 1928 circus film, The Barker. Ozu added the character of the former mistress (played by a strong Iida Choko) to the story and in his subtle characterization of the older actor and his jealous wife far surpasses the original. Ozu remade the film in 1959 in color (and, of course, sound).

Although little known today, Shimazu Yasujiro was the pioneer of the shoshimin-eiga genre ("films about people like you and me") at Shochiku, who made his first comedy about the everyday life of the lower middle class already in 1921. One of his best films was made this year, the domestic drama (shoshimin-eiga) "My Little Neighbor, Yae" (Tonari no Yae-chan), the story of a young girl who falls in love with the boy next door. The carefully calculated lack of action in this film gives the effect of "eavesdropping on life itself," as Anderson & Richie put it. Shimazu had a great talent for realistic observation and his blending of humor and pathos as well as his understated melodrama have influenced many other directors, such as Gosho, Kinoshita and Kawashima.

Shimazu Yasujiro (1897-1945)

[Wife! Be Like a Rose!]

The third major film corporation, Toho (formerly PCL) starts operation. There are now 1,500 theaters in Japan; audiences also have steadily increased to a total of 185 million admissions annually. This is the year that sound finally becomes widely accepted.

The film companies have their own house styles: Shochiku specializes in shoshimin-eiga (home drama about the lower middle class); Nikkatsu in realistic period drama (jidaigeki) and films based on literary works; Toho also specializes in literary adaptations of modern novels. There are also other differences between the studios. For example, Toho based its mode of production around the central figure of the producer (Hollywood -style), but Shochiku favored a "director system" - thereby giving directors like Ozu the means to assemble a team of people for different, specialized fields of production and to cultivate them so that they could continue to work together.

The Kinema Junpo Best Film award went this year to Naruse's "Wife, Be Like a Rose" (Tsuma yo, bara no yo ni), his first true success. A bright office girl who lives with her mother, a poet, finds out that her father is living in the countryside with his disreputable mistress. She visits them intending to ask the father to come back home. But she finds a large, poor family with many children and also sees the love of the mistress for her father. In fact, the daughter discovers the mistress to be good and the (ex-)wife to be the worse of the two. Although the father comes to town when she has her wedding, he again returns permanently to the other family, for that is where he now belongs. We find again a mature acceptance of life as it is in this Japanese film, rather than a forced happy ending in Hollywood-style. Interestingly, this became one of the first Japanese feature films to be distributed in the United States (the first one may have been Gosho's A Daughter of Two Fathers, which played in 1928 in New York).

My favorite film of the year is "The Hundred Ryo Pot" (Hyakumanryo no Tsubo) by Yamanaka Sadao, a period film that is at the same time a breezy farce about the fruitless search for a lost pot thought to contain a map pointing to a treasure. The film features the famous one-eyed and one-armed swordsman Tange Zazen, played by Okochi Denjiro - since 1927 a staple of jidaigeki - but Yamanaka turns him into a soft-hearted slacker who sponges off the much stronger woman who operates a shooting gallery (the only film role played by Kiyozo, a real-life geisha from the Shinbashi district in Tokyo). This subversion of Bushido (and of the tateyaku type) is typical of the humanist Yamanaka - there is no swordplay in this home comedy. In the end, Tange and the shooting gallery mistress adopt a little boy who helped in the search for the pot and become a happy family.

Yamanaka Sadao (1909-1938) directed 26 films between 1932 and 1938 and was one of the greatest upcoming directors of Japanese cinema; tragically, he died in 1938 from an illness in Manchuria, after having been drafted into the army.

"Okoto and Sasuke" (Shunkinsho: Okoto to Sasuke) by Shimazu Yasujiro is a rendering of Tanizaki Junichiro's famous novella Shunkinsho in the style of a shoshimin-eiga, set in down-town Osaka. At the same time it is one of the earliest and most successful bungei-eiga, also thanks to the solid acting of the two stars Tanaka Kinuyo and Takada Kokichi. Despite the addition of some funny elements, the film works very well, and is in fact a surprisingly good version of the difficult to adapt Tanizaki story.

Mizoguchi Kenji made "Oyuki the Madonna" (Maria no Oyuki), a period drama about a prostitute with a heart of gold, interestingly based on Maupassant's Boule de Suif.

Ozu Yasujiro made another social-realist film with the Kihachi character, "An Inn in Tokyo" (Tokyo no Yado), about a vagrant father and his two sons who find the companionship of a poor widow and her little daughter.

[Osaka Elegy]

February – February 26 Incident: The Imperial Way Faction engineers a failed coup against the Japanese government; several  politicians are killed. The emperor orders the arrest of the conspirators and in July 19 of them will be courtmartialed and executed.
May – Abe Sada strangles her lover with an obi and then cuts off his genitals to keep as a souvenir. The incident creates an enormous sensation and will be the subject of many films in the postwar years, such as Oshima's Empire of Passion. July – The International Olympic Committee announces that the 1940 Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo (the games will later be canceled because of WWII).
August – Japan competes at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, and wins six gold medals, four silver, and eight bronze.

Shochiku opens its Ofuna studio on the Miura Peninsula near Kamakura, which would remain in operation for 64 years.

A rich year. Mizoguchi Kenji makes his two best films of this decade. "Osaka Elegy" (Naniwa Ereji) is his first work with script writer Yoda Yoshikata. A young telephone operator, a very modern woman (played by Yamada Isuzu), is ruined when she tries to help her father with a money problem by becoming the mistress of her boss. When her employer tires of her, she has no recourse but prostitution, especially when a scheme to cheat the boss' friend out of his family backfires and lands her in police custody. Her fiance (of course, a ninaime type) stands helplessly by. Filmed in a modern style, with an open ending: a close-up of the face of the protagonist as a big question mark. The film in which Mizoguchi found his true direction. Also an invaluable document of Japanese urban life in the mid-thirties. The reality of the location is emphasized by the use of Osaka dialect.

That is also true of the other Mizoguchi film from this year, after modern Osaka situated in traditional Kyoto. "Sisters of the Gion" (Gion no Shimai) takes a realistic look at the glamorous world of traditional geisha in Kyoto's Gion district. There is an interesting contrast between a strict and traditional elder sister (Umemura Yoko) who is faithful to her patron even after he has gone broke and a younger one (Isuzu Yamada) who is modern and opportunistic - she goes from man to man for money, being a geisha is after all "business." Although the director's sentiments seem to go to the elder sister, the end of the film leaves her in fact condemned. Kinema Junpo Best Film for this year.

Ozu finally changes to sound in "The Only Son" (Hitori Musuko), an example of Japanese "neo-realism" avant-la-date. A mother has slaved to send her son to college in Tokyo. After she has not heard anything from him for a long time, she visits him, using up all her savings. She finds him poor, a teacher at a night school, living in eye-sore suburbia, with wife and child (the existence of both also new to her!), and wholly disillusioned. But he borrows money to entertain his mother and she returns to the countryside where she still pretends to be proud of him. A moving work about the disappointments of family life, and the essential loneliness of human beings. The first film in Ozu's fully established mature style. Interesting is the use of off-screen sound: when we are in the living room of the son's house, we constantly hear the clicking of the machinery of a nearby factory.

Shimizu Hiroshi directs his lyrical masterpiece "Mister Thank-you" (Arigato-san), about a polite and kind bus driver (Uehara Ken), based on a story by Kawabata Yasunari. The film was shot entirely on location in the Izu Peninsula, almost like an impromptu, and in its exquisite landscape photography expresses Shimizu's love of the countryside. At the same time, he also shows the extreme poverty of country dwellers during the Depression. A wonderful film, with only a flimsy story, almost like a documentary. Uehara Ken really had to learn how to drive a bus for the film.

Gosho Heinosuke made what may well be his best film of the '30s with "Woman of the Mist" (Oboroyo no Onna), a fusion of shoshimin-eiga with romantic comedy. A widow is slaving to put her son through university (a common theme in the 1930s), but he has other interests beside his study, resulting in the pregnancy of a waitress (Iizuka Toshiko). To save the future of the boy, his (married but childless) uncle (as usual, a very warmhearted Sakamoto Takeshi) pretends that the child is his. The waitress agrees, although she had hoped to marry the student, sacrificing herself to save his future. But sadly, mother and child die in hospital due to complications with the pregnancy...

Itami Mansaku, like Yamanaka Sadao another great director of humanistic jidaigeki with little or no swordplay, directs Akanishi Kakita, an intelligent comedy based on a story by Shiga Naoya. Kataoka Chiezo plays two different roles: Akanishi Kakita, an ugly-looking spy trying to expose a plot against the Date clan, and Harada Kai, the leader of the discontented group framing the plot. In his first role, Itami has Kataoka play in a natural way, and speak normal Japanese, in the second he has him wear heavy white make-up and speak in difficult to understand Kabuki jargon, like in a conventional period film. In this way, Itami develops a meta-criticism of the obsolete conventions in jidaigeki. A very artistic film - one of the favorite period films of great director Kurosawa Akira. The film is full of jokes and funny situations - not only when Akanishi catches a cat to chase away noisy mice and the cat proves to be more noisy with his constant meowing, but also when he needs an excuse to leave the Date mansion in Edo to bring an important report to his clan lord and therefore proposes to the most beautiful servant girl in the house, fully expecting to be refused with his ugly face (and therefore having to flee) - but she gladly accepts him, so that this plan totally backfires. But after all the clan troubles have been resolved, the film closes on the sounds of the Wedding March... (Kataoka Chiezo Productions)

Another interesting period film is Kochiyama Soshun by Yamanaka Sadao. Based on a low-life Kabuki play by Kawatake Mokuami, this is a complex story set in a downtown neighborhood ruled by a gang boss. Onami (Hara Setsuko) sells sweet sake, her younger brother Hirotaro is a good-for-nothing who has to go in hiding after a botched love suicide (shinju) with a prostitute, as the gang boss demands 300 ryo in payment for her death. The two are helped by Kochiyama Soshun, a gambler who dresses like a priest, and Kaneko Ichinojo, the yojinbo of that gang leader, who is dissatisfied with his idle life. Through this plays another story, of an antique kozuka (the knife worn in the scabbard of a katana) that has been stolen and sold by Hirotaro; although it has been bought back at a high price by the owner, he wrongly believes it is a look-alike fake and that situation gives Kochiyama the idea for a clever trick that nets him the compensation money. But in the meantime, Hirotaro has killed the gang boss and the gang is after him. Kochiyama and Kaneko die fighting in the sewers to hold the gang back so that Hirotaro can escape with the money and take his sister away to a safe place. (Nikkatsu)

[Humanity and Paper Balloons]

July: The Marco Polo Bridge Incident marks the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, which progresses with various battles. In December, the Nanking Massacre take place.

With the start of the Sino-Japanese War, the government demands the cooperation of the film industry with the war effort and bans "decadent" films. Still, this year 562 films were produced in Japan, making it a peak year. Film had become a fundamental component of national culture.

Toho lures away ninaime star actor Hasegawa Kazuo from rival Shochiku. Hasegawa was probably attracted by the technical advantages of Toho as a new company. Such star-stealing often resulted in violence, as here: Hasegawa was attacked by a man who slashed his face with a razor, and who later appeared to be a professional gangster hired via-via by Shochiku.

The best film of 1937 (in my view, not of Kinema Junpo, which selected another film) and again one of the best Japanese films of all-time was "Humanity and Paper Balloons" (Ninjo Kamifusen) by Yamanaka Sadao. It is a bleak and pessimistic masterpiece with claustrophobic qualities, set in a slum quarter in Edo, presenting its samurai "hero" as a pathetic, servile man who is out of work. His wife has to make paper balloons so that they have something to eat. The ronin spends his days going around town begging for work. Then they become involved in drama when their neighbor, Shinza the barber, kidnaps the daughter of a wealthy merchant and hides her in the apartment of the ronin. A wonderful humanistic film made in dark times, showing something of the true life under the Tokugawa regime. Adapted from a Kawatake Mokuami kabuki play. In this and his previous film Yamanaka worked with actors and actresses of the Zenshinza, a troupe of radical kabuki players, part of a socially critical subculture. (Sony PCL / Toho / Zenshinsha)

"The Straits of Love and Hate" (Aienkyo) is a well-crafted and sophisticated melodrama by Mizoguchi Kenji. A young woman, Ofumi (Yamaji Fumiko), working at a spa hotel in Nagano runs off to Tokyo with her lover, Kenkichi, the pampered son of the owner. Kenkichi is brought back by his father, she is left alone with a baby in Tokyo. As she needs money she becomes a hostess - and we get to see some raucous nightlife scenes rare for this militant period. In the meantime, she has also met a poor musician (he lost his job as player in a cinema due to advent of sound!) and they finally join a theater troupe led by her uncle as a manzai team. The troupe travels to Nagano where she again meets her former lover, who now manages the spa hotel. For the future of her small son she is willing to stay with him, but his father again opposes the union. Finally, she returns to the troupe and the poor stage partner she really loves. As is usual for Mizoguchi, this is a film with unlucky but strong women and weak men. (Shinko Kinema)

"Children in the Wind" (Kaze no naka no Kodomo) by Shimizu Hiroshi contrasts the trusting world of the young with the corrupt world of adults. A father is accused of embezzlement at his firm and one of his sons - the younger, wilder one - is sent to live with an uncle. Making films about children was a good way to evade censorship and Shimizu proved to be a master in this genre.

"What Did the Lady Forget?" (Shukujo wa Nani wo Wasureteka?) by Ozu Yasujiro is a bright comedy set among the upper classes. A bourgeois housewife (Kurishima Sumiko) has her husband completely cowed, but - goaded on by his modern niece from Osaka who is visiting - he for once fights back, which finally leads to a better mutual understanding. The answer to the questioning title is, that the lady forgot to be nice to her husband. Ozu on bubbles, a film that deserves to be better known.

After finishing this film, Ozu was drafted and sent to China, where he remained for two years, until summer 1939. One can easily imagine his reaction to the barbarity of war and the regimentation he hated so much. In China he also briefly met Yamanaka Sadao, before the untimely death of this director who could be called the "Ozu of period drama."

The worst film of the year was without a doubt "The New Earth" (Atarishiki Tsuchi), also known as Die Tochter des Samurai as it was a Japanese-German co-production intended to show the union between both allies. The union did not work out, as the Japanese director, Itami Mansaku, who had been selected simply because he was the top director of his studio, and German director Arnold Fanck, who had strong Nazi sympathies, did not at all hit it off - they ended up making two different versions of the film. Also as regards the content, it was a failed attempt to form for Japan alien Nazi propaganda out of Japanese raw materials. The film was a box office disaster, despite the fact that the samurai daughter was played by a young Hara Setsuko.

[Yamanaka Sadao]

The war in China continues.
March: The National Mobilization Law puts the country an a wartime footing.
July– Torrential rains with debris flows occur in the Mount Rokko area in Kobe, causing 715 fatalities.

Deaths in the film world:
Yamanaka Sadao (28), master film maker, one of the primary figures in the development of the jidaigeki or period film. Yamanaka died of dysentery in Manchuria after being drafted into the army. Only three of his films (The Million Ryo Pot (1935), Kochiyama Soshun (1936) and Humanity and Paper Balloons (1937)) survive in complete form. His early death is a great tragedy for Japanese film.

The government calls for more patriotic films. Several directors take refuge in the safe territory of films about children or works set in the world of traditional music and theater.

"Five Scouts" (Gonin no Sekkokei) by Tasaka Tomotaka was one of the first real war movies. It is about five scouts sent out to reconnoiter of whom only one returns - but he knows his time has come, too, when the signal for a general attack is given. A documentary-like war film in which no fighting is shown, but only the effects of the war. There are no heroes, but only ordinary people. Kinema Junpo Best Film for this year. It was also nominated Best Film at the Venice International Film Festival of 1939 - Japan at that time was aligned with Axis countries Italy and Germany. Also Tasaka's Tsuchi to Heitai ("Earth and Soldiers") from 1939, although celebrating duty and sacrifice, was similarly a continuation of the 1930s interest in human values. (Nikkatsu)

"The Abe Clan" (Abe Ichizoku) by Kumagai Hisatora is a masterful period drama examining the samurai spirit. It is based on a story by Mori Ogai about a retainer who commits junshi (seppuku to follow a deceased lord in death) in defiance of the shogun's command, a deed which leads to the destruction of his entire clan. Very ritualistic in style. Kumagai started as a leftist film maker, but later shifted to the right and ended up making patriotic propaganda films.

"Mother and Daughter" (Haha to Ko) by Shibuya Minoru (1907-1980) is a family melodrama in the Shochiku style, about a clerk (Saburi Shin) who rejects his lover to get engaged to the daughter of the company president (by a mistress) with a view to advancement in his job. Satisfyingly, the daughter (Tanaka Kinuyo) in the end rejects the clerk and chooses an independent lifestyle. Shibuya was one of Shochiku's most significant directors, who had started out as an assistant to Ozu and Gosho. (Shochiku)

"Fallen Blossoms" (Hana Chirinu) by Ishida Tamizo (1901-1972) is a portrait of life in a geisha house at the end of the Edo-period. Stylistically interesting for its technique of fragmentation and also for the sympathy it shows for its subject. Ishida's work is barely known, also in Japan, and most of his other films have been lost.

"Crybaby Apprentice" (Nakimushi Kozo) by Toyoda Shiro (1905-1977) is about a boy whose family is too busy to care for him; he is shifted from relation to relation and when he finally returns home, his mother has eloped with a boyfriend. A typical handkerchief film, based on a story by Hayashi Fumiko. Toyoda was a craftsman working in the classical studio system known for his many adaptations of Japanese literature (bungei eiga). His films are intelligent and he treats his literary sources always with respect.

"A Pebble by the Wayside" (Robo no Ishi) by Tasaka Tomotaka (1902-1974) is about a poor youth fighting adversity and making his way alone in the cold world of grown-ups. Based on a famous novel by Yamamoto Yuzo and full of melancholy naturalism. Although Tasaka specialized in romantic melodrama, he is now best known for his war films, such as the ones mentioned above.

"Composition Class" (Tsuzurikata Kyoshitsu) by Yamamoto Kajiro (1902-1974), with Takamine Hideko, shows the everyday life of the lower classes, based on the compositions of a poor girl in primary school - another film about the "safe" topic of children. Yamamoto was the mentor of Kurosawa Akira. He worked for Toho and is now best known for the patriotic war films he made. Together with Robo ni Ishi, Nakimushi Kozo and Haha to Ko, this film was part of the above-mentioned "Pure Literature" movement in film, which was now in full swing. It would continue after the war especially in the hands of Toyoda Shiro.

[Story of the Last Chrysanthemums]

The war in China continues.

With the Motion Picture Law, the film industry is placed completely under government control. All scripts have to be passed by censors. And still, several beautiful, humanistic films were made... Japan never was a fascist country and there was no empty triumphalism about the war, which was rather depicted as hardship for the common soldiers and a great suffering for the Japanese people.

The best film of this year is "Story of the Last Chrysanthemums" (Zangiku Monogatari) by Mizoguchi Kenji. It is the tragedy of a woman in the feudalistic and snobbish world of the Kabuki, but at the same time an almost "sacramental" depiction of the family system. A kabuki actor injures the dignity of his family by falling in love with a woman of the lower classes. She sacrifices herself for his career, even at the expense of her health, but he succeeds. Sodden melodrama filmed in a most refined way. Mizoguchi sought shelter from censorship by making this and other films about Japanese traditions.

"The Love-Troth Tree" (Aizen Katsura) by Shochiku house director Nomura Hiromasa (1905-1979), about the thwarted love between a weak hero, a doctor (Uehara Ken, the most famous pre-war ninaime actor), and an unfortunate heroine, a nurse (Tanaka Kinuyo). The nurse is in fact a widow with a little daughter, something which means the doctor's parents will not permit their marriage. On top of that she is poor and he is rich, the son of the owner-administrator of the hospital. Although he leaves home to marry her, she does not show up at the station due to a sudden illness of her child. The film was an unabashed tearjerker that was immensely popular with the public, although not with the critics. It belongs to the type of "surechigai," where the lovers repeatedly come close to a meeting but most of the time narrowly miss each other (another and even more famous example is the postwar film What is Your Name? by Oba Hideo). However, in the end the power of love overcomes all obstacles. (Note that there are no kisses or embraces yet in pre-1945 Japanese films - they just look each other soulfully in the eyes).

"An Older Brother and His Younger Sister" (Ani to Sono Imoto) by Shimazu Yasujiro shows feminist sympathies in its treatment of the heroine's rejection of a marriage proposal. A sister (Kuwano Michiko), who works in a modern office and speaks fluent English (she types a letter her boss dictates in Japanese directly in English!), lives with her brother (Saburi Shin) and his wife (Miyake Kuniko). When she rejects a marriage proposal, the suitor exerts pressure via his uncle, who happens to be the boss of the brother. The brother is anxious for advancement, the reason he plays go with his boss until late every night. But the sister remains adamant. A film with very modern dialogues and a contemporary feel, showing that white collar workers before the war were not so different from those in the postwar era. Also shows that already at that time commuting in packed trains was no pleasure. But it also reveals the time when it was made in the ending, when the brother and the sister have both quit their jobs in Tokyo and leave to set up a business in Manchuria - an expansion on behalf of an entrepreneur and a friend played by Ryu Chishu. (Shochiku)

"Warm Current" (Danryu) by Yoshimura Kozaburo was a major commercial success, a low-keyed melodrama about the romantic and professional problems of a young hospital superintendent. Great acting by Takamine Mieko as the daughter of the wealthy hospital owner and Saburi Shin as the young go-getting superintendent. She thinks she doesn't love him and refuses his proposal, but when another young woman confesses her ardent love for him, she feels confused. Another case of a modern, Westernized version of romantic love slipping past the censor.

"The Whole Family Works" (Hataraki Ikka) by Naruse Mikio was a realistic treatment of the hardships of the working class. All eleven members of a printer's family have to work so that there is enough to eat, also the young children and the grandparents; a crisis ensues when the oldest son wants to quit work to go to technical college.

"Four Seasons of Children" (Kodomo no Shiki) by Shimizu Hiroshi. Another lyrical film about country children.

"Earth" (Tsuchi) by Uchida Tomu. Realistic depiction of the lives of poor peasants, showing the cycle of the seasons. Made on location behind the back of the studio (it was made by director and staff in their spare time, with resources left over from other projects) by Uchida and his staff. Contains almost no plot and little dialogue. Called one of the finest films of the decade. Kinema Junpo Best Film for this year.

Uchida Tomu () was a film maker who managed to put his personal ideas in genre plots. After the war, he became famous for his versions of Daibosatsu Toge and Miyamoto Musashi.

When one sees how many wonderful films were still being made in the late 1930s, the hiatus caused by the war is all the more regrettable. Also when one notices through these films how modern Japan was becoming in the thirties, it is a pity that the war in a social and economic sense pushed the country back for at least ten years - warping a whole society.

[Reference works used: Currents In Japanese Cinema by Tadao Sato (Tokyo, 1987); The Japanese Film: Art and Industry by Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie (reprint Tokyo, 1983); A Hundred Years of Japanese Film by Donald Richie (Tokyo, 2001); Japanese Film Directors by Audrie Bock (Tokyo, 1985); A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors by Alexander Jacoby (Berkeley, 2008); A New History of Japanese Cinema by Isolde Standish (New York, 2005); The Japanese Period Film by S.A. Thornton (Jefferson & London, 2008); Eros plus Massacre, An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema by David Desser (Bloomington and Indianopolis, 1988); Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema by David Bordwell (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1988); Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema by Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto (Duke University Press: Durham, 2000); The Waves at Genji's Door by Joan Mellen (Pantheon Books: New York, 1976); Japanese Classical Theatre in Film by Keiko I. Macdonald (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994); From Book to Screen by Keiko I. Macdonald (M.E. Sharpe: New York and London, 2000); Reading a Japanese Film by Keiko I. Macdonald (University of Hawai'i Press: Honolulu, 2006); Behind the Pink Curtain, A Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema, by Jasper Sharp (Fab Press: Godalming, 2008); Contemporary Japanese Film by Mark Schilling (Weatherhill: New York and Tokyo, 1999); The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film by Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp (Stone Bridge Press: Berkeley, 2005); Kitano Takeshi by Aaron Gerow (British Film Institute: London, 2007); Iron Man: the Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto by Tom Mes (Fab Press: Godalming, 2005); Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike by Jasper Sharp (Fab Press: Godalming, 2003); Nihon Eigashi by Sato Tadao (Iwanami Shoten: Tokyo, 2008, 4 vols.); Nihon Eigashi 110-nen by Yomota Inuhiko (Shueisha; Tokyo, 2014). All images are linked from Wikipedia.]
History of Japanese Film by Year

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Japanese Film by Year: Art Films and Nihilistic Heroes (1920-1929)

The last decade of the 35 formative years of Japanese film sees several developments - the first generation of intellectuals, who had grown up with film, now started making films themselves. We find: a new and more realistic type of period film, with gradually more storytelling and not only filled with sword fights (chanbara); a number of fresh new actors playing nihilistic heroes; conscious art films, made by directors Murata Minoru and Kinugasa Teinosuke; and, at the end of the twenties, the birth of "everyday realism" (shomingeki) in the hands of new directors as Ozu, Mizoguchi, Naruse and Shimizu, working at Shochiku. Unfortunately, also from this period, the number of films that has been preserved intact, is still tiny. 

[Kirishima Sumiko]

January – Japan is a founding member of the League of Nations.

Japan's second major film company, Shochiku, begins production. Originally, Shochiku had started out as the national Kabuki production company. Like Nikkatsu, it owned theaters. It was set-up by Shirai Matsujiro and Otani Takejiro - the company name was a combination of the elements for "take," ("bamboo") and "matsu" ("pine tree") in their names, which are also symbols of happiness (the kunyomi "matsutake" was changed to the onyomi "shochiku" in 1937). The company started with substantial capital to produce and distribute films. Its studio was built in Kamata, in the southern suburbs of Tokyo. From the start, it used actresses instead of onnagata. Those actresses were such a novelty that they became stars almost overnight. The most famous actress was Kurishima Sumiko. The head of the Tokyo studio was Kido Shiro, a university graduate who had studied English, was interested in American film and literature, and who did his best to set the highest standards, modeled on Hollywood. He also introduced new techniques (such as for lighting) under the guidance of former Hollywood cameraman Henry Kotani. Like the other production companies, Shochiku owned its own theaters, such as the Shochikuza in Osaka and Marunouchi Piccadilly (first called Hogakuza) in Tokyo.

Nikkatsu also gradually begins using actresses, and the onnagata vanish completely from the film world in a few years' time.

Mizoguchi Kenji (1898-1956) joins Nikkatsu as an actor; three years later he would become a full-fledged director.

Tanizaki Junichiro, a strong advocate of film reform, writes the script for a film by former Hollywood actor Thomas Kurihara, "Amateur Club." It is an American-style comedy about a group of amateur Kabuki actors at the seaside. Only the script and stills are extant; they suggest a lively account of the customs of the fashionable rich at play.

Thomas Kurihara (1885-1926) has worked as an actor in Hollywood, before returning to Japan in 1918. The lost "Amateur Club" became his most famous film; another collaboration with Tanizaki resulted in "The Lust of the White Serpent" (1921), based on a story from Ueda Akinari's Ugetsu Monogatari. Unfortunately, these experiments were not very popular with the public and Kurihara concentrated on making documentaries until his early death in 1926.

[Murata Minoru]

November – Prime Minister Hara Takashi is assassinated at Tokyo Station.

Murata Minoru helms Japan's first artistic experimental work for Shochiku, the still extant "Souls on the Road" (Rojo no Reikon), partly based on Gorki's The Lower Depths. It consists of two crosscut stories: a prodigal son who returns penniless, but with wife and son; and two convicts who wander about the country seeking a place to live. The stories are united in mood and atmosphere and the film was shot on location, with endless dark roads - it shows how landscape defines character. Souls on the Road is also one of the few surviving films from the early period. The fevered crosscutting was inspired by Griffith's Intolerance, but went much further than anything in the West. And like Griffith did, the characterizations and events in the film have been put in the service of teaching a moral lesson: that of the need for compassion.

Murata Minoru (1894-1937) is rated as one of the best filmmakers from the 1920s, but unfortunately few of his films survive today. His talent was in blending realism and symbolism, as Alexander Jacoby writes. Seisaku's Wife (1924) borrowed techniques from German expressionism; and The Lady of the Camellias (1927), after Dumas, was a melodrama with the moody atmosphere of Murnau. It is a pity Murata died at a young age in 1937.

Makino Shozo directs Jiraiya with Onoe Matsunosuke, one of the stars' most popular films, and one of the very few that has survived. Onoe plays a ninja and the film contains various examples of nifty trick photography. Jiraya gives a good impression of Onoe's acting: a small man with an enormous Kabuki wig, always keeping a straight back even while jumping around, and every few seconds striking a pose, thereby halting the stylized fighting scenes. The film also highlights Makino's archaic style with his long shots and long takes with a fixed camera.

Later that year, Makino Shozo breaks with Onoe and Nikkatsu and sets up his own production company. He continues making period films, but of a much more modern type, both as regards contents (more geared towards adults) and style (a less fixed camera). Makino would play a defining role in the development of period film as we know it.

Nikkatsu now controls half of all 600 cinemas in Japan.

September – The Great Kanto earthquake devastates Tokyo and Yokohama, killing more than 142,000 people.
September – Amakasu Incident: The feminist Ito
Noe and her partner, the anarchist Osugi Sakae are killed by a police squadron led by Lieutenant Amakasu Masahiko, and their bodies thrown in a well. Following a countrywide outcry, Amakasu is court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
December – Toranomon Incident: A failed assassination attempt is made on crown prince Hirohito.

The Great Kanto Earthquake destroys many old film resources. It also destroys the Nikkatsu production studio in Mukojima in Tokyo. The company concentrates its production facilities in Kyoto (Daishogun, from 1928 Uzumasa).

Instead of the term "kyuha," the word "jidaigeki" starts being used for costume drama. A new type of period film, realistic and meant for adults, starts being made. In fact, we could say that the birth of period film was in 1923.

From about this time, a new type of hero also appears in period film. While Onoe Matsunosuke always played a good guy winning from the bad ones (a moralistic stance called kanzen choaku, "promoting good and punishing evil," based on kabuki and kodan stories), now we get the "nihilistic hero" or "anti-hero," whose (first wave of) popularity would last until the early 1930s. The first nihilistic hero appears in Makino Shozo's Ukiyoe Murasaki Zukin ("The Woodcut Artist") of 1923. This type of hero (although also based on the tateyaku type) is an outsider and lowly samurai or even a ronin, a masterless samurai; he is not accepted by the world and therefore lives by the sword; he is rebellious; and at the end he usually is killed in a great sword-fight. One therefore also speaks of the "rebel sub-genre." This type of film remained popular from 1923 to 1931.

This rebellious trend was borrowed from Nakazato Kaizan's voluminous historical novel Daibosatsu Toge ("The Great Bodhisattva Pass"), with its nihilistic and anarchistic hero Tsukue Ryunosuke, who in turn was partly based on Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. The book was made into a play and also many times filmed. Nakazato Kazan (1885-1944) was a pacifist and follower of Tolstoy, who became the father of popular literature in modern Japan. In general, period films from now on are based in the first place on popular historical novels rather than on Kabuki or Kodan stories, leading to a more mature content and greater complexity.

A new generation of period drama actors appears to play this type of hero: Bando Tsumasaburo (1901-1953), Okochi Denjiro (1898-1962), Arashi Kanjuro (1903-1980), Tsukigata Ryunosuke (1902-1970), and Kataoka Chiezo (1903-1980).  In other words, the star system took form in Japan. All these actors played tateyaku roles. Some of these stars were inspired by the example of Makino Productions and set up their own production companies.

Directors of this new type of realistic period film are Makino Masaharu (1908-1993, the son of Makino Shozo), Ito Daisuke (1898-1981), Inagaki Hiroshi (1905-1980) and Itami Mansaku (1900-1946).

In this period, sword-fights also become somewhat more realistic. Taking their cue from the realistic Shingeki drama (plays as Daibosatsu Toge), they become faster, fiercer and the (fake) weapons really touch the opponent (in Kabuki styled fights, that is not the case). There was also a certain influence from the fast acrobatics in American films, as those with Fairbanks.

"Seisaku's Wife" (Seisaku no Tsuma) by Murata Minoru (1894-1937) is a masterpiece of early contemporary drama. It tells about the love of Okane, a woman with an unfortunate past, for the earnest youth Seisaku. They marry, to the consternation of the villagers who think she is taking advantage of him. When the war with Russia breaks out, Seisaku is sent to the front, but returns wounded to recuperate at home. When his wounds are healed and he is ready for the war again, Okane blinds him with a hairpin as she is unable to stand the thought that he will leave her again. Technically, the film was influenced by German Expressionism. The strong-willed heroine was played by one of Japan's first screen actresses, Urabe Kumeko; Seisaku was played by a ninaime type actor.

There are now 800 theaters in Japan.

Orochi, with popular new star Bando Tsumasaburo, and director Futagawa Buntaro
, is known for its masterful sword-fighting scenes and melancholy mood. The film - the first great jidaigeki film - fits squarely in the "rebel sub-genre" and was made at Makino Productions. The hero, Heizaburo, has been unjustly expelled from his clan, and as a ronin, he experiences further misunderstandings which bring him in involuntary opposition to the authorities. When the reputedly noble oyabun he serves in the last part of the film turns out to be a lecherous kidnapper, Heizaburo frees the victims, but also goes berserk in a ferocious fight against both yakuza and authorities. The violence is not gratuitous, but its function is to show that our daily world can become hell. The film is ferociously rebellious descrying differences in status and wealth. The only negative point still  is that the faces of both male and female characters have the white faces of Kabuki make-up.

Furagawa Buntaro (1899-1966) was a specialist in period films and is mainly remembered for his work with Tsumasaburo Bando at Makino Productions in the 1920s. Orochi (1925) was a seminal film in establishing the character of the nihilist hero. He also made several experimental films. In the 1930s he worked at Shochiku, but was much less successful; at the end of the decade he stopped making films.

The makers of such rebellious films, Futagawa Buntaro, Ito Daisuke and Makino Masahiro, were all part of a broader leftist movement, from which also the Tendency Film (keiko eiga) rose. In the 1920s, especially after the Tokyo Earthquake of 1923, Japan found itself in an increasingly difficult economic and political situation and there was much poverty. Nihilism and rebelliousness were ways of protesting the existing social order. Marxism was very popular among intellectuals - the complete works of Marx and Engels were published earlier in Japan than in the Soviet Union or Germany.

[Kurutta Ippeji]

December 25 – Emperor Taisho dies and is succeeded by his son Hirohito who becomes Emperor Showa.

Deaths in the film world:
Thomas Kurihara (41), actor and film director who was trained in the United States. His first work at the Taisho studio in Japan was Amateur Club (1920), with Tanizaki
Junichiro as a film writer.
Matsunosuke (50), the first Japanese film star, dies and is given a solemn corporate funeral.

The film magazine Kinema Junpo starts its annual rankings. The best film for 1926 is the comedy The Woman Who Touched The Legs, followed in fourth place by Kurutta Ichipeiji.

"The Woman Who Touched the Legs" (Ashi ni Sawatta Onna) by Abe Yutaka, is a - now lost - ironic comedy about  a writer's encounter with a female thief, modeled on American film - Abe had trained in Hollywood. This film was twice remade, most notably by Masumura Yasuzo in 1960.

Abe Yutaka (1895-1977) - who had trained in Hollywood, where he also worked as an actor next to Hayakawa Sesshu - was known in the 1920s for his witty social satires, but these have all been lost. During the war years, he turned out militaristic blockbusters, and even continued doing that after the war had ended. He also made undistinguished genre films. The only exception is his adaptation of Tanizaki Junichiro's The Makioka Sisters of 1950. It is regrettable that his satirical films of the silent era have not been preserved.

"A Page of Madness" (Kurutta Ichipeiji) by Kinugasa Teinosuke is an avant-garde film about a janitor trying to free his wife from the mental hospital where she is kept. The first consciously art film made in Japan, it shows great visual brilliance and an ambiguous melding of fantasy and reality. It was lost for 50 years, but rediscovered by the director in his storehouse. The film is highly original, one of the great avant-garde silent films. Kinugasa had spent several years as an actor of female roles (oyama), and when real actresses took over, he had become director. He made his first film in 1922, the start of a long career that would last until 1966. After WWII, he won praise abroad with The Gate of Hell (Jigokumon, 1953). But with the exception of A Page of Madness and Crossroads from 1928, which were inspired by German avant-garde films as Caligari, Kinugasa mainly made mildly traditional chambara films, proving how alien his experiments were in the Japanese context.

Kinugasa Teinosuke (1896-1982) started out in film as onnagata, before becoming director. Although he also made many classical drama films and conventional period films, he is in the first place known for his three experimental films: A Page of Madness (1926), Crossroads (1928) and the colorful Gate of Hell (1953) which won the Golden Palm at Cannes. Another experimental work, The Sun (1925), has been lost. According to Alexander Jacoby, "much of his output was second-rate, but the individuality and imagination of his best work suggests a first-rate talent."

[Chuji Tabi Nikki]

December – Japan's first subway line starts running between Asakusa station and Ueno station, Tokyo. The line was called Ginza Line in 1953.

"The Diary of Chuji's Travels" (Chuji Tabi Nikki) by Ito Daisuke, the master of silent jidaigeki who was noted for his violent realismfeatures Okochi Denjiro as outlaw hero, a gambler, who faced with the conflicting demands of his own moral code and that of society, fights the authorities. It was a big hit with the public. Film made in 3 parts - only fragments survive.

Ito Daisuke (1898-1981) started his career as a master of silent period films. Unfortunately, most of these early films have been lost. Highlights are the (preserved) Jirokichi the Rat (1931) and The Diary of Chuji's Travels (1927), of which only a fragmentary copy remains. Th quality of his films declined in the late 1930s, but he made a comeback after the war with such films as Benten Boy (1958, with Ichikawa Raizo) and The Conspirator (1961), about Ieyasu's son Nobuyasu who committed suicide on his father's orders. His last film was Bakumatsu (1970) about the assassinated reformer Sakamoto Ryoma.    

[Kurama Tengu]

Makino Productions makes "Strange Tale of Kurama Tengu" (Kurama Tengu Ibun), the first of many films about the popular fictional Restoration hero Kurama Tengu, who, with his black mask, white horse and pistols, was clearly based on Zorro; he rather rescued little boys than damsels in distress. The character was played and made famous by Arashi Kanjuro.


November 10 – Enthronement of Hirohito as Emperor of Japan in the Imperial Palace in Kyoto.

Pro Kino ("Japan Proletarian Motion Picture League") gains support from progressive intellectuals, students and film makers.

"Crossroads" (Jujiro) is another modernistic film by Kinugasa Teinosuke, about a young ronin's psychological sufferings after he has been temporarily blinded in a quarrel at the Yoshiwara over the geisha he loves. He has feverish visions of her and of the gaudy revelry at the entertainment quarter. Like A Page Out of Order, this film is also filled with hallucinations and past and present have been deliberately mixed up. It was one of the first Japanese films to be be exported and win praise abroad.

"Oka's Trial" ( Shinban Ooka Seidan) was made by Ito Daisuke, with Okochi Denjiro as Tange Sazen. Tange Sazen is a staple in jidaigeki, a one-eyed, one-armed nihilistic super-samurai, who is bent on revenge for the injuries inflicted on him by his clan. Both mentally and physically deformed, he becomes a grotesque parody of a loyalty-centered Bushido. Like in Chuji Tabi Nikki of the previous year, Ito exalted the nihilist hero who was in full revolt against the social system.


Deaths in the film world:
Makino Shozo (50), pioneering film director, producer and businessman. All four of his sons, including Makino Masahiro and Matsuda Sadatsugu, went into the film business as either directors or producers, and his grandchildren include the actors Tsugawa Masahiko and Nagato Hiroyuki.

At the Shochiku Studio in Kamata, on the outskirts of Tokyo, under studio head Kido Shiro, directors as Ozu Yasujiro (1903-1963), Mizoguchi Kenji (1898-1956), Shimizu Hiroshi (1903-1966), Shimazu Yasujiro (1897-1945) and Gosho Heinosuke (1902-1981) create the new film genre of "everyday realism" (shoshimin-eiga). They portray the lives of ordinary people with humor and pathos. Shoshimin-eiga would become the trademark of Shochiku and form a lasting contribution to Japanese culture. Shochiku is also called the "actress kingdom," because of the large number of actresses working there, such as Tanaka Kinuyo. Tanaka Kinuyo was active from 1929 to 1976 and appeared in 259 films. She was also one of the first Japanese women to work as a film director, debuting in 1953.

Shochiku, by the way, had been involved since 1895 in kabuki as a theatrical promoter and owner of theaters before it became a film company, something which had continued and grown along its cinematic activities. This year, all kabuki actors became affiliated with Shochiku, which also managed the two most important permanent kabuki theaters in Japan, the Kabukiza in Tokyo and the Minamiza in Kyoto.

"Street of Masterless Samurai" (Roningai) by Makino Masahiro was an account of a group of unemployed samurai in Edo, focusing on the tedium of daily life. About one hour of the long film survives.

Makino Masahiro (1908-1993) was the son of Makino Shozo and started directing at age 18 for his father's company. His career spanned the years 1926-1972. Makino mostly worked as a period film director, although he also made same socially conscious films after the war when jidaigeki were forbidden. In the 1960s, he also became associated with the ninkyo-eiga genre, films about chivalrous yakuza. Makino was clearly attached to the narrative of Roningai, as he remade the film twice, in 1939 and 1957; he was also "supervising director" of the version made in 1990 by Kuroki Kazuo.

Another important period film was Kutsukake Tokijiro (dir. Tsuji Kichiro), based on a play by the popular writer Hasegawa Shin (1884-1963). It established the genre of matatabi-mono, about poor wandering gamblers (yakuza), who have to pay for their stay with a local gang by doing the dirty work. But Tokijiro escapes gang life by refusing to kill the wife and child of a man he has already murdered; instead, he redeems himself by fleeing and taking care of them. The story was remade several times, most notably by Kato Tai in 1966. 

Ozu Yasujiro made "Days of Youth" (Wakaki Hi), his 8th film, a comedy about student life and skiing, which is the earliest Ozu film to have survived intact. It expresses his admiration for Borzage, Lubitsch and Lloyd.

Ozu Yasujiro (1903-1963) was born in downtown Tokyo, but educated in Matsuzaka in Mie Prefecture and in Nagoya. He was a fiercely independent character, who never submitted to authority (unless they wanted him to do what he already wanted to do) and who found various ingenious ways to skip school and the military. When his family returned to Tokyo in 1923, he joined the recently founded Shochiku studios against the opposition of his father. He became assistant director and was, among others, trained in "nonsense" comedies, often not more than strung together gags. (By the way, these nonsense comedies fit in the general spirit of the age, with its "ero-guro-nansensu.") His debut was in 1927 with a period drama, but from 1928 on he became a comedy director.

In the 1930s, Ozu became the acknowledged master of the shomingeki genre (always working at the same studio, Shochiku), focusing on the realities of daily life for the lower middle classes. Ozu gradually refined his style by eliminating fades, dissolves and pans, and by developing his trademark "pillow shots." In contrast, Ozu's postwar work forms a searching examination of the Japanese family in an era of fundamental change. The tone of his later films is one of gentle melancholy, a far cry from the slapstick comedies he made at the beginning of his career. Ozu is justly regarded as one of Japan's greatest directors and a towering figure in world cinema. Several of his films rank among the summits of cinematic art.

[Reference works used: Currents In Japanese Cinema by Tadao Sato (Tokyo, 1987); The Japanese Film: Art and Industry by Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie (reprint Tokyo, 1983); A Hundred Years of Japanese Film by Donald Richie (Tokyo, 2001); Japanese Film Directors by Audrie Bock (Tokyo, 1985); A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors by Alexander Jacoby (Berkeley, 2008); A New History of Japanese Cinema by Isolde Standish (New York, 2005); The Japanese Period Film by S.A. Thornton (Jefferson & London, 2008); Eros plus Massacre, An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema by David Desser (Bloomington and Indianopolis, 1988); Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema by David Bordwell (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1988); Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema by Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto (Duke University Press: Durham, 2000); The Waves at Genji's Door by Joan Mellen (Pantheon Books: New York, 1976); Japanese Classical Theatre in Film by Keiko I. Macdonald (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994); From Book to Screen by Keiko I. Macdonald (M.E. Sharpe: New York and London, 2000); Reading a Japanese Film by Keiko I. Macdonald (University of Hawai'i Press: Honolulu, 2006); Behind the Pink Curtain, A Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema, by Jasper Sharp (Fab Press: Godalming, 2008); Contemporary Japanese Film by Mark Schilling (Weatherhill: New York and Tokyo, 1999); The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film by Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp (Stone Bridge Press: Berkeley, 2005); Kitano Takeshi by Aaron Gerow (British Film Institute: London, 2007); Iron Man: the Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto by Tom Mes (Fab Press: Godalming, 2005); Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike by Jasper Sharp (Fab Press: Godalming, 2003); Nihon Eigashi by Sato Tadao (Iwanami Shoten: Tokyo, 2008, 4 vols.); Nihon Eigashi 110-nen by Yomota Inuhiko (Shueisha; Tokyo, 2014). All images are linked from Wikipedia.]
History of Japanese Film by Year

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Japanese Film by Year: Development (1910-1919)

During this decade, trends from the previous period are continued and intensified. More film companies are established - most of all Nikkatsu that will dominate the industry this decade. "Shinpa" films on modern subjects come into their own besides the "Kyuha" period pieces - programs typically consist of a double bill containing one of each. But despite attempts at reform, the level of Japanese films remains low, an amusement for children and the lower classes. Intellectuals invariably prefer imported Western films. Almost all Japanese feature films from this period have been lost.

[Makino Shozo]

August: Korea is made a colony of Japan. 
October: The Nippon Columbia record label is founded by Nipponophone Co., Ltd.

Makino Shozo directs his first version of Chushingura ("The Loyal Forty-seven Ronin") with Onoe Matsunosuke. The total (including the sub-stories) consists of 130 film rolls. Makino liked to compare himself to that other pioneer of large-scale films, D.W. Griffiths.

July – Emperor Meiji dies. He is succeeded by his son Yoshihito who becomes Emperor Taisho.
September – Nikkatsu is founded in Kyoto.
September – Burial of Emperor Meiji in Kyoto.

The first major film company, Nikkatsu (Nippon Katsudo Shashin), is established by consolidating the four independent film companies then existing in Japan: Yoshizawa Shoten, Yokota Shokai, M. Pathe (not related to the French company of the same name!) and Fukudo. Prior to the merger, acrimonious negotiations take place, even accompanied by arson attacks on cinemas. The first Nikkatsu studio is in Mukojima, in eastern Tokyo. Period dramas were made in another Nikkatsu studio in Kyoto (the start of the division between both locations, where all period dramas would be made in traditional Kyoto and all contemporary stories in Tokyo). Both Makino Shozo and Onoe Matsunosuke transferred to Nikkatsu, bringing the new company commercial success. The Japanese film industry begins mass production. Note that around this same time in the U.S. the Hollywood studios of Fox and Warner Brothers were established.

In these early years, no copies were made of films. The original was the only copy and it was used up until it was gone. Therefore, there are extremely few early films left. Those that are left, are invariably in a bad condition.

Although intellectuals would see Western films, at this time Japanese films were mostly made with the lower classes and "snotty-nosed kids" as an audience. Gangsters were heavily involved in both the studios and the running of the theaters (until the 1920s).

Takarazuka Revue founded in Hyogo Prefecture.

Makino's The Loyal Forty-seven Ronin is typical of the films made in this period: the cuts are very long, the camera position never shifts, and the star, Onoe Matsunosuke, plays directly into the lens during emotional scenes.

August - In an alliance with the Entente Powers Japan enters World War I, seizing the opportunity to expand its sphere of influence in China and gain recognition as a great power.
December – A large methane gas explosion in the Mitsubishi Hojo coal mine in Fukuoka causes 687 fatalities.
December – Tokyo Station opened with four platforms.

The Japanese film Katusha, based on Tolstoy's Resurrection, draws large audiences. Despite the fact that this film is based on Shingeki, the Japanese version of Western theater (which replaced the Shinpa theater), the heroine was played by the onnagata Tachibana Teijiro. Costumes and settings, however, were made to appear Russian.

Nikkatsu starts making 14 films a month. Individual films now have an average length of 40 minutes. Another studio, Tenkatsu, is formed as a rival to Nikkatsu (but it only survives until 1919). Tenkatsu was more modern, but Nikkatsu continued to control most theaters, as owners were satisfied with its "double bills:" one Kyuha film, and one Shinpa film.

In October, the film magazine Kinema Record is started to support the Pure Film Movement, pleading for reform in Japanese film, such as a broader use of cinematic techniques to tell stories instead of relying on the benshi (the magazine folds in 1917, but its function is taken over by other magazines as Kinema Junpo).

Hayakawa Sesshu (1889-1973) becomes the first Japanese actor to find stardom in the United States (and later also in Europe), under the name of "Sessue Hayakawa." In his American movies, starting with The Typhoon of 1914, he gave a faithful imitation of the tateyaku performance. Hayakawa would play in more than 80 movies and was very popular in the 1910s - his last major role was that of Colonel Saito in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which earned him an Oscar nomination.

November 10 – Enthronement of the Taisho Emperor in the Imperial Palace in Kyoto.

Foreign films start to be imported in large numbers. There are now 300 movie theaters in Japan.

November – Prince Hirohito is formally proclaimed Crown Prince and heir apparent.

Intellectuals prefer foreign to Japanese films. The latter mainly attract the common people. The Italian historical drama Cabiria is a big hit.

Makino Shozo makes another version of The Loyal Forty-Seven Ronin. This time he uses a script, reframing pans and matching cuts. In other words, advanced planning is born and films grow more sophisticated.

The call among critics for a broader use of cinematic techniques (moving camera, rapid editing, realistic set design, narrative autonomy, phasing our of onnagata) continues. The Living Corpse by Tanaka Eizo (1886-1968), another Tolstoy adaptation, for the first time uses close-ups and flash-backs. The same is true of another film made this year, The Captain's Daughter by Inoue Masao. Both films put emphasis on having good scripts. But such films could only be made by pretending they were meant for export, and they were shown in theaters used for foreign films. In other words, they were exceptions.

For the first time, Nikkatsu and Tenkatsu overtake foreign companies as the main source of income for Japanese screens.

February 1918 to April 1920 - Spanish Flu pandemic
July – September – Rice riots throughout Japan over the precipitous rise in the price of rice, the main staple of life.
November – World War I ends with the defeat of Germany and its allies.

Kaeriyama Norimasa (1893-1964) makes two experimental - and now lost - films ("The Glow of Life" and "Maid of the Deep Mountains") in order to try to bring some reform to the custom of using benshi and onnagata. The onnagata would disappear in a few year's time, but the benshi would hold out until the mid 1930s - but they agreed to limit their number to one benshi per film, in order to increase the tempo.

Charlie Chaplin's films become very popular.

January:  Paris Peace Conference in Versailles. The League of the Nations is established.

Griffith's Intolerance and Chaplin's A Dog's Life are hits in Japan. Due to WWI, European films have stopped being produced and their place is taken by American films.

Film magazine Kinema Junpo starts publication in July. Founded by a group of students who support the Pure Film Movement, it pleads for the use of modern cinematic methods in Japanese film making.

[Reference works used: Currents In Japanese Cinema by Tadao Sato (Tokyo, 1987); The Japanese Film: Art and Industry by Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie (reprint Tokyo, 1983); A Hundred Years of Japanese Film by Donald Richie (Tokyo, 2001); Japanese Film Directors by Audrie Bock (Tokyo, 1985); A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors by Alexander Jacoby (Berkeley, 2008); A New History of Japanese Cinema by Isolde Standish (New York, 2005); The Japanese Period Film by S.A. Thornton (Jefferson & London, 2008); Eros plus Massacre, An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema by David Desser (Bloomington and Indianopolis, 1988); Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema by David Bordwell (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1988); Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema by Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto (Duke University Press: Durham, 2000); The Waves at Genji's Door by Joan Mellen (Pantheon Books: New York, 1976); Japanese Classical Theatre in Film by Keiko I. Macdonald (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994); From Book to Screen by Keiko I. Macdonald (M.E. Sharpe: New York and London, 2000); Reading a Japanese Film by Keiko I. Macdonald (University of Hawai'i Press: Honolulu, 2006); Behind the Pink Curtain, A Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema, by Jasper Sharp (Fab Press: Godalming, 2008); Contemporary Japanese Film by Mark Schilling (Weatherhill: New York and Tokyo, 1999); The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film by Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp (Stone Bridge Press: Berkeley, 2005); Kitano Takeshi by Aaron Gerow (British Film Institute: London, 2007); Iron Man: the Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto by Tom Mes (Fab Press: Godalming, 2005); Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike by Jasper Sharp (Fab Press: Godalming, 2003); Nihon Eigashi by Sato Tadao (Iwanami Shoten: Tokyo, 2008, 4 vols.); Nihon Eigashi 110-nen by Yomota Inuhiko (Shueisha; Tokyo, 2014). All images are linked from Wikipedia.]
History of Japanese Film by Year

Monday, March 9, 2015

"All About Eve" (1950) by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Film review)

All About Eve is an award-studded film, with an excellent script and superb performances, especially by Bette Davis and George Sanders, but it is also a wordy film with lots of snob-appeal where everyone talks in perfect lines. It is a film that celebrates the theater, but that ends up looking like a theatrical play itself, although it was based on an original script by its director, Mankiewicz (1909-1993), and is not the film version of a pre-existing play. Mankiewicz seems not to have been very interested in camera movement, composition or cutting - but he wrote such sparkling, memorable lines that you would like to frame them and hang them on the wall, and when these lines are spoken by a set of fine actors as here, the result is a great film, period. And the story, about the battle between the generations, that is always lost by the older one, possesses universal relevance.

It goes as follows. Out of admiration for actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis) a young woman (the "Eve" of the title, played by Anne Baxter)  every night watches the same play. Afterwards she hangs around in front of the theater. One night, she is accosted by Karen (Celeste Holm), the wife of the writer of the play in question and friend of Margo Channing, and taken to the star's dressing room. The admiring and self-effacing fan tells a sad life story. Nobody (except Birdie, played by Thelma Ritter, Margo's dour assistant) notices she is only acting the breathless fan, her eyes brimming with phony sincerity and fake humility. She is warmly welcomed into the circle of Margo Channing, which consists of her boyfriend Bill (Gary Merrill), playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), his wife Karen, and sarcastic theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders). She starts living with Margo and helps her as a secretary. But it soon becomes clear that this seemingly so innocent young woman is a sharp character: she copies everything Margo Channing does, eats or wears, and then slowly but surely insinuates her way into the theater as her understudy, and finally her rival...

She is helped on the way to success by Addison DeWitt, an extreme cynic who likes to play puppet-master behind the scenes, and whose authoritative newspaper reviews help Eve to fame when as understudy she has to step in for the absent Margo (kept away on purpose by Karen and Lloyd, to help the seemingly so helpless Eve). But when Eve wants to go further and further, even trying to steal Karen's playwright husband (after an earlier, unsuccessful attempt to steal Margo's fiancé, Bill), Addison steps in and makes it very clear to Eve that she is his creature.

From her side, being forty, Margo understands she is too old to continue playing starry-eyed young women who are half her age, and gracefully relinquishes such roles to Eve. The film ends with a joke: when Eve, now famous - we have seen her receive an important theater award -, returns to her hotel she finds a sweet girl in her room who admires her acting and would love to be her assistant... History repeats itself over and over again.

In real life, Bette Davis didn't need to worry about being replaced by Anne Baxter. Her Margo Manning is a real character, despite her sizable ego and sharp tongue (she can be deliciously bitchy) in love with her work. She is a professional, the real thing. Even her excesses are realistic, but she also has her softer moments when she can be quite touching. Anne Baxter only succeeds in playing a type, that of the outwardly docile, inwardly scheming ingenue. When her role changes to that of established actress, she is less convincing.

While all actors are fine, there is one more outstanding performance besides that of Bette Davis: George Sanders as the powerful critic Addison DeWitt, who is full of manipulative charm and sardonic humor. Together with Margo Channing's character, he has the best and sharpest lines. He also fulfills another useful function: at a party that Margo gives, he brings along a real beginning actress, whom he introduces humorously as "a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art:" Marilyn Monroe in one of her first small roles. Even for the brief periods she is on screen, her shining figure already attracts all eyes.

[This is a wholly new version of a previous post, as my appreciation and understanding of this film have deepened]