Although the violent youth films of the late fifties had been smothered by public outrage, between 1960 and 1965 the film industry would be radically transformed. The main reason was the appearance of a new, younger generation of directors as Imamura Shohei, Oshima Nagisa, Shinoda Masahiro, Yoshida Yoshishige, Teshigahara Hiroshi and Hani Susumu, who after their French colleagues as Truffaut and Godard, together are called the 'Japanese New Wave.' (Other directors as Masumura Yasuzo, Suzuki Seijun and Wakamatsu Koji are also closely allied to the New Wave). Although some of them started within the studio system (thanks to the opportunity afforded by Shochiku's president Kido Shiro), this was only for a few years and by the mid-sixties most were able to obtain funds for independent productions. Others such as Teshigahara and Hani were from the start independent film makers, although that was a rare situation in Japan where the distribution system was monopolized by the big studios (compared to, for example, France, where the Nouvelle Vague directors could from the start be independents).
In contrast to the Taiyozoku films which were meant as commercial entertainment, these New Wave directors were not aiming at box office success, and therefore could not be silenced by the moral majority of consumers, although often their films were much more violent and amoral. The Japanese New Wave was characterized by the same stylistic modernism as the French Nouvelle Vague. The themes of these young directors were the uncomfortable realities of Japanese society and the fact that in their view Japan failed to deal with the modern world in a democratic manner. They had none of the restraint of the previous generation of film makers, whom they actively rejected. Politically, they were often engaged with the left.
For independent film makers, ATG, the Art Theater Guild, played an important role. ATG had been founded in 1961 by husband and wife team Kawakita Nagamasa and Kashiko, with additional funding from Toho. It functioned as a distributor of foreign films and Japanese films produced outside the studio system; in the late 1960s ATG also began to fund the production of independent films. ATG encouraged innovation in form and content.
In the 1960s, the audience for the cinema steadily declined due to television, with a sort of watershed in the year of the Tokyo Olympic, 1964, when television density reached a critical mass. The period film, a stable money maker, was taken over by television; chambara specialist Toei turned to more violent yakuza movies instead. The content of the films made by the studios became more and more dictated by commercial priorities (increasingly violent genre films) and from around the middle of the sixties they had no room anymore for auteurist directors. There also was a natural generational change as the classical auteurist directors such as Naruse and Kinoshita gradually retired, and Ozu died in 1963. Talented directors who stayed with the studios were forced to turn out mostly genre films.
The studios in the 1960s (in alphabetical order):
Daiei: Daiei concentrated on well-crafted chanbara, with directors as Misumi Kenji, stars as Ichikawa Raizo and Katsu Shintaro, and hot series as Nemuri Kyoshiro and Zatoichi. Prestige directors Ichikawa Kon and Masumura Yasuzo continued the satirical and bungei traditions.
Nikkatsu: In this period mainly known for "Nikkatsu action" films. Best director was Suzuki Seijun (until 1967); star actors were Ishihara Yujiro and Shishido Jo; there was also a series of romantic youth films with Yoshinaga Sayuri. Nikkatsu also produced Imamura Shohei's artistic films.
Shintoho: bankrupted in 1961.
Shochiku: Responsible for the birth of the Japanese New Wave, giving the young directors Oshima Nagisa, Shinoda Masahiro and Yoshida Yoshishige the chance for experimentation. Although the commercial failure of these films made it impossible for Shochiku to continue sponsoring them, it had at least given these new directors a good start. During the early 1960s, Shochiku also made some interesting period films, for example by Kobayashi Masaki and Gosha Hideo.
Toei: Continued its production of chanbara films in the early sixties, but from 1964-1965 it shifted to ninkyo eiga (films about noble yakuza) set in the late Edo to early Showa periods. Directors were Makino Masahiro and Kato Tai.
Toho: Okamoto Kihachi directed stylish action pictures. For the rest, Toho leaned on its twin pillars of monster movies and salaryman comedies, plus in the first half of the decade prestige films by directors as Kurosawa and Naruse.
In The Japanese Film: Art and Industry, Anderson and Richie bewail the demise at the end of the 1950s of the classical Japanese film with its sentimental humanism, with "ordinary people doing ordinary things." But the 1960s were in fact a very exciting period in which many magnificent films were made - for me this period of creative ferment is the true golden age of Japanese film!
This year, Japan's studios are still going strong: 547 films are released. Attendance is also massive at 1,014,364,000 and there are 7,457 cinemas.
It was an important year for the launch of Shochiku's brand of 'Nuberu Bagu' (Nouvelle Vague, New Wave). Oshima made three films in a row, Yoshida Yoshishige two, and Shinoda Masahiro also two. The three directors were still under the age of 30. The Japanese New Wave was not a movement, by the way, in the sense that these directors often met and exchanged ideas. In fact, they hardly knew each other and had very different ideas and personalities. 'Japanese New Wave' is not more than a convenient label that was affixed by others.
At the Cannes Film Festival, Kagi by Ichikawa Kon receives the Jury Prize. At the Venice Film Festival, Ningen no Joken (parts I and II) by Kobayashi Masaki receives the San Giorgio Prize.
Oshima Nagisa creates a stir with Seishun Zankoku Monogatari ("Cruel Story of Youth" aka "Naked Youth"), a nihilistic account of adolescent criminals, the Japanese Rebel Without a Cause. Makoto excepts rides from middle-aged men, after which her boyfriend Kiyoshi suddenly appears to extort money from them. Makes extensive use of handheld cameras in true Nouvelle Vague fashion. Although an extension of the revolt of the Taiyozoku, Oshima's much harsher films are interesting for their narrative innovations and social concerns (this film is set against the backdrop of the demonstrations against the Security Treaty with the U.S.). Oshima uses crime to suggest the underlying rottenness of society. At a time that Ozu and Kinoshita's humanistic films were still the norm, Oshima shocks by the amount of venom he directs at Japanese society and the social taboos he tramples on. The film became a sensation. (Shochiku)
This same year also saw Oshima's Taiyo no hakaba ("The Sun's Burial"), a sordid story of sex and violence among a gang of juvenile delinquents, set in a poor slum, Kamagasaki, in Osaka. The title is also highly symbolical, as Japan is after all the Land of the Rising Sun; at the same time it could refer to the burial of the Sun Tribe, the Taiyozoku - youth is destroyed by the commercial-materialistic society that Japan has become. The narrative is about the lucrative sale of blood (of people who are forced to sell it to survive economically) to cosmetics companies, and switches from pimps and hookers to thieves and extortionists - all of them in some way lunatic. In this cut-throat universe, everyone is devoted to vice, and only the strong and ruthless survive. Typically, the petty thieves are under the control of a militaristic fanatic who dreams of resurrecting the Imperial Army. Visually spectacular with widescreen compositions of Osaka's garish neon signs. Also this film did very well at the box office. (Shochiku)
A third film by Oshima in this prolific year was Nihon no Yoru to Kiri ("Night and Fog in Japan"), about the disunity of the radical left and its failure to end the United States-Japan Security Treaty during the 1960 demonstrations (Oshima himself was once a student protester). The film is set in October 1960 at a wedding party of two student protesters who met during the big demonstration of June that year, where a heated political discussion ensues. As it was taboo in Japan to make such strongly anti-government and provocative films (and that at a major studio!), Kido of Shochiku after a only few days pulled the film from distribution, upon which Oshima left the company. Interestingly, at this time Oshima married the actress Koyama Akiko and at the reception he gave a speech like the one in his film, but now denouncing Shochiku, making the rift irreparable. This highly ideological film formed a true watershed and audiences now realized that an alternate cinema had been born. (Shochiku)
Oshima Nagisa (1932-2013) studied political history at Kyoto University and made his first film for Shochiku in 1959. After the above-mentioned conflict with the studio, he started his own production company. In the sixties his films were highly political, from a leftist, revolutionary stance. He always questioned social constraints and received political doctrines. In the 1970s he challenged Japanese censorship with his films about sexual obsession. In the 1980s, in a milder style, he also enjoyed much critical success outside of Japan. Oshima was also a prolific and highly interesting writer on film.
Yoshida Yoshishige makes Rokudenashi ("Good-for-Nothing"), in which a bored and alienated student, one of four idle, wealthy youths, starts a sadomasochistic sexual relationship with the secretary of his rich friend's father, after first robbing her with his friends just for kicks. He is killed when he tries to stop a second robbery of his girlfriend by the other three, claiming that it was all merely for fun. A bitter follow-up of the Taiyozoku wave. Yoshida also made Chi wa kawaiteru ("Blood is Dry"), in which an assurance company employee threatens suicide after a massive layoff is announced by the management. This film contains a surprisingly high number of images of a man holding a gun to his head, but is in fact more a backward looking social melodrama. Yoshida would come back in 1962 with Akitsu Onsen, his most important early film. (Shochiku)
Yoshida Yoshishige (aka Yoshishige Kiju, born 1933) was active both as director and screenwriter. In 1964 he left Shochiku to start his own production company. He also writes about film, including a thorough study about Ozu Yasujiro (whom he admired). He is more a philosophical type (he graduated in French literature from the prestigious Tokyo University) and not the iconoclast that the young Oshima was; he disliked the violence in the latter's films. Yoshida is married to the actress Okada Mariko, who often appeared in his films.
Shinoda Masahiro's contributions were Koi no katamichi kippu ("One-Way Ticket for Love") about a rock 'n' roll singer and an indictment of false promotional activities in the music world, a film capitalizing on the youth film boom, which was however a commercial failure, and more importantly Kawaita Mizuumi ("Dry Lake"), which contrasts three young people: a frustrated student revolutionary who wants to take justice in his own hands; a disaffected young man with wealthy parents who (miss-)uses his money for power; and Yoko (Iwashita Shima), a young woman whose father has committed suicide because of pressure by a corrupt politician but who refuses to be victimized and breaks away from her corrupt friends to join the Security Treaty demonstrations, which give her new hope. This film, which showed the options open to Japanese youth, was Shinoda's first partnership with Terayama Shuji as scenario writer. In the next two years, Shinoda would make several more youth films for Shochiku. (Shochiku)
Shinoda Masahiro (born 1931) studied theater at Waseda University and joined Shochiku already in 1953 as assistant-director. He directed his first films in 1960 and left Shochiku in 1965 to start his own production company, Hyogensha. He often worked together with avant-garde artists as Terayama Shuji and Takemitsu Toru. He particularly became known for his focus on socially marginal characters and for an interest in traditional Japanese theater, which found its greatest expression in Double Suicide, in which actors are manipulated like Bunraku puppets. Since 1967, he is married to the actress Iwashita Shima, who often appeared in his films. From the 1970s on, he gave up experimentation and moved towards academic adaptations of classic literature. He retired from film making in 2003.
Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemuru ("The Bad Sleep Well") by Kurosawa Akira was an attack on the collusion between Big Business and government, a great social problem film (shakai-mono) with noir overtones and a very dark conclusion. This was after all 1960 (the year of big demonstrations against the renewal of the Security Treaty with the U.S.) and rebellion against the authorities was everywhere in the air. A man (Mifune Toshiro) hides his identity in order to expose the corruption in a construction company with government ties and avenge the forced suicide of his father. Some elements from Hamlet have been worked into the story - there is even a sort of ghost. Mori Masayuki plays the boss and Kagawa Kyoko his crippled daughter. Very tense drama. Marks the debut of Kurosawa's own production company - Kurosawa's films were more expensive than those of other directors at Toho and the studio asked him to step in as co-producer. Entered into the 11th Berlin International Film Festival. This film may be less known, but it certainly is not lesser Kurosawa. (Toho)
Karakkaze Yaro ("A Man Blown by the Wind" aka "Afraid to Die") by Masumura Yasuzo is not only interesting because it has writer Mishima Yukio in the title role of gangster, but also for its stylish noir character (very different from the later ninkyo/yakuza films). It was the acting debut of the dandy-like author who liked to play violent death scenes until finally starring in a real one. (Daiei)
Hadaka no Shima ("The Naked Island") by Shindo Kaneto shows the harsh conditions under which people on a tiny island in the Inland Sea have to labor. The family of five suffers several devastating blows, for example when the eldest son dies. It was entirely made without dialogue, like a documentary, but is also full of visual poetry - it was wholly shot on location. Won the Grand Prix at the 2nd Moscow International Film Festival. This production becomes the model for small, autonomous film production companies. (Kindai Eiga Kyokai)
Onna ga Kaidan wo Agaru Toki ("When a Woman Ascends the Stairs") by Naruse Mikio is set in the Ginza bar world. Takamine Hideko plays a strong and dignified widow who runs a bar and encounters nothing but exploitation by men and her greedy family. She struggles to maintain her independence in a male-dominated society and every evening again ascends the stairs to her second floor bar, trying hard to put on a happy face for the customers. Shows the impossibility of escape. A most beautiful film, in which Takamine Hideko gives an magnificent performance - with great depth, nuance and delicacy - as a woman much superior to her surroundings. Has Nakadai Tatsuya as a comical bar tender. (Toho)
Also other established directors are very active this year. Kinoshita Keisuke directed Fuefukigawa ("The River Fuefuki"), about medieval wars seen through five generations of farmer's eyes. A very theatrical film, monochrome but with some fierce colors added like a woodblock print. The action is now and then halted by the insertion of still photos. (Shochiku)
Ichikawa Kon makes Ototo ("Her Brother"), which was entered into the 1961 Cannes Film Festival. Based on a novel by Koda Aya. In a very un-Ozu-like fashion, it shows the fierce discord in a family consisting of a husband and wife (he, always shut up in his study, she ailing and passive) and son and daughter (he, the black sheep causing trouble, she, the only one who keeps things going). Interesting is that Kishi Keiko as the outspoken daughter and Tanaka Kinuyo as the complaining mother seem to be acting against character. To achieve a desaturated look for the film, Ichikawa used a special technique (bleach bypass). Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film of the Year in 1961. The same story was filmed again in 2010 by Yamada Yoji as an homage to Ichikawa Kon. (Daiei)
Bonchi, also by Ichikawa Kon, is about matriarchy - mother and grandmother work together to control the life of Kikuji, the scion of an Osaka merchant family ("bonchi" is Osaka dialect for "pampered young master"). He stands helplessly by even when his wife is thrown out of the house for producing a son instead of a daughter. Foreshadows Ichikawa's later The Makioka Sisters in its nostalgia and visual sophistication. Based on a popular novel by Yamazaki Toyoko. (Daiei)
Akibiyori ("Late Autumn") by Ozu Yasujiro shows a mother-daughter instead of a father-daughter relationship as in Late Spring, but the story is similar. Three older men try to help the widow of a late friend to marry off her daughter. The daughter is less than happy at the proposals, mainly because of her reluctance to leave her mother alone. After a novel by Satomi Ton. Hara Setsuko now plays the mother, Tsukasa Yoko the daughter. "Akibiyori" literally means "a clear autumn day," in Japan more an "Indian summer" than the dark and stormy impression that the term "late autumn" makes on my Northwest European sensibility. (Shochiku)
Gosho Heinosuke makes Ryoju ("Hunting Rifle") based on a novel by Inoue Yasushi, an example of bungei eiga. Describes the complex relations of a man with his wife, mistress and the daughter of the mistress. Situated in the Kobe-Ashiya area. (Shochiku)
Jigoku ("Hell") by Nobuo Nakagawa becomes the last film made by ailing Shintoho. A student has a friend who is pure evil, and who - like Mephisto - pulls him along, so that his life disintegrates and ends literally at the gate of Buddhist Hell. Made with scarce means and in a hurry, it is amazing that Nakagawa manages to evoke such an expert surrealist atmosphere. (Shintoho)
Shintoho is declared bankrupt after making its last film, Jigoku.
ATG (Art Theater Guild) is founded by Kawakita Nagamasa and Kashiko, with some funding from Toho. It will function as a distributor of foreign art films (French New Wave) as well as Japanese films produced outside the studio system (the studios all had their cinema chains to which they only distributed their own films).
The five studios cease to offer films for television, and restrict television performances of films with company-exclusive actors. This leads to an increase in foreign films on TV and the promotion of new actors solely for TV.
Akagi Keiichiro, one of the three box office hitters of Nikkatsu alongside Ishihara Yujiro and Kobayashi Akira, dies at age 21 in a go-cart accident.
Toei celebrates its 10th anniversary by making Ako Roshi, an "all-star" film about the 47 Ronin directed by Matsuda Sadatsugu. It is based on the novel written by Osaragi Jiro.
Manga artist Tezuka Osamu sets up Mushi Production as a competitor to Toei Animation. The company will mainly produce anime films for TV of Tezuka's manga, such as Astro Boy (starting on the small screen in 1963). Later also productions not based on work by Tezuka are made.
Furyo Shonen ("Bad Boys") by Hani Susumu, a film about juvenile delinquents, one of the best films of the New Wave. Hani shot Bad Boys in a documentary style, using nonprofessional actors, with hand-held cameras and location shooting (all elements in true Nouvelle Vague style) - mostly in a reformatory that doesn't seem to do the boys any good. Received Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film of the Year in 1962. (Iwanami Productions)
Hani Susumu (born 1928) first worked as a journalist. His father was a famous leftist historian. Half of his 18 films are documentaries. He was mostly active in the 1960s and stopped in the early 1980s with making feature films - since then has mainly made wildlife documentaries in Africa for TV. He was for a time married to the actress Hidari Sachiko.
Buta to Gunkan ("Pigs and Battleships") by Imamura Shohei is set at the Yokosuka naval base, where the American military comes into contact with the dregs of Japanese society. Sardonic drama about a young hoodlum, whose greed draws him into drug dealing, pimping, and racketeering (and tending the pigs of his boss), criticizes both the American treatment of Japan as well as Japan's own moral corruption. (Nikkatsu)
Yojimbo by Kurosawa Akira is a hard-boiled Western in samurai guise, that would inspire countless Westerns in its turn, such as Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars. A thoroughly amoral ronin (Mifune) arrives in a small town where competing crime lords vie for supremacy. The two bosses each try to hire the newcomer as a bodyguard and the ronin sardonically plays both sides, encouraging the bad guys to clean out each other. Full of brutal and subversive humor, for example in the grotesque opening shot of a dog holding a severed human hand in his mouth. The dynamic energy of the film explodes in the finale, a duel with a gun-toting thug (Nakadai Tatsuya). A very deserved Venice Film Festival Best Actor for Mifune Toshiro. Yojimbo did what Seven Samurai had not yet been able to do: it gave the deathblow to Toei's soft-hearted, warm, family-type period films (a style which now moved to TV). (Toho)
Ichikawa Kon makes Kuroi Junin no Onna ("Ten Dark Women"), a black comedy and thriller that satirizes male chauvinism in Japan. A womanizing TV producer (Funakoshi Eiji) has nine mistresses in addition to his legal wife (Kishi Keiko, Kishida Kyoko, Yamamoto Fujiko, etc.). All are equally fed up with his arrogance and selfishness, and together devise a plan to kill him (although each would be happy to let him live if she could be the only woman in his life). (Daiei)
Kinoshita Keisuke makes Eien no Hito ("Immortal Love"). The son of a landowner (Nakadai Tatsuya) returns from the war a semi-cripple and falls in love with the daughter of a tenant-farmer (Takamine Hideko). He lies that her fiance has died in the war and forces himself on her. Pregnant, she has no choice but to marry him. But then her fiance returns. The marriage based on a lie becomes hell for both partners and their children. So this is not a love story! Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. (Shochiku)
Toho starts its Wakadaisho ("Young Captain," the leader of a sports team) series with Kayama Yuzo. Wakadaisho ran from 1961 to 1971 and was one of the four comedy series and money cows of Toho. In every film a different sport is introduced, to make the Japanese ripe for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics of 1964. Tanaka Kunie plays a rich kid as Kayama's comical counterpart. (Toho)
Miyamoto Musashi (Part 1) by Uchida Tomu - series in five parts will run until 1965. Uchida's Musashi (Nakamura Kinnosuke) is a savage megalomaniac, who distorts Zen into self-worship. Same story (based on the Yoshikawa Eiji novel) as Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy. Although this five part series from Toei is little known in the West, I prefer it because of the fierce and realistic acting. Part 1, for example, is better than Inagaki's first film, if only because Nakamura Kinnosuke is more convincing as the young Musashi. Part 4 and 5 are really fabulous. The last shot is of Musashi looking at his bloody hands after killing Sasaki Kojiro (played by Takakura Ken). Like other films by Uchida, Miyamoto Musashi has none of the softness of the usual Toei products, on the contrary even. That Uchida is a great action director was already clear from the masterful Chiyari Fuji. Nakamura Kinnosuke would grow into a big star whose popularity was second only to that of Ishihara Yujiro. (Toei)
Nomura Yoshitaro films Zero no Shoten ("Focus Zero"), a popular thriller by Matsumoto Seicho, set in snowy Kanazawa and on the Noto Peninsula. Only one week after Teiko (Kuga Yoshiko) has married Kenichi, her husband disappears while on a business trip to Kanazawa. Teiko travels across Japan to find him and discovers that he has been leading a strange double life... A very interesting noir film. (Shochiku)
Start of the Daiei yakuza series Akumyo ("Tough Guy") with Katsu Shintaro (running till 1974). Katsu Shintaro plays a rough and ready young thug with a peasant background who easily gets into fist fights, but who is basically very chivalrous at heart. In Japan this was a very popular series, but it seems totally unknown abroad. (Daiei)
Daiei tries to attract viewers with a super spectacle film in 70 mm format based on the life of the Buddha, Shaka ("Buddha"), made by Misumi Kenji, with every star of the studio in it. The result is rather weak (like Toho's mythological spectacle Nippon no Tanjo of 1959). (Daiei)
Mosura ("Mothra") is an installment in the Godzilla franchise (director Honda Ishiro, with special effects man Tsuburaya Eiji). On a southern island, a larva jealously guarded by twin sisters who stand only a few inches high, is transformed into a giant female moth which then heads for Tokyo (and is destructive due to sheer size) in order to save the island culture. A cautionary tale about tampering with nature. Set the softer tone for the series in the sixties. With Frankie Sakai and Kagawa Kyoko. (Toho)
Shochiku stops making Nouvelle Vague films and returns to its staple, romantic films for women.
This year Okochi Denjiro dies.
Seppuku ("Harakiri") by Kobayashi Masaki is a fierce indictment of the emptiness and hypocrisy of the samurai code (and, implicitly, twentieth century militarism). A former samurai (Nakadai Tatsuya) avenges the cruel death (seppuku with a bamboo sword) of his son-in-law. He succeeds but the reigning lord has the swordsman killed with a gun and has his acts erased from the clan's history, to preserve the facade of Bushido. The finest and most powerful film of this director, shot in a rigid composition (by Miyajima Yoshio) that seems to symbolize the inhumanity of the samurai code. Won the Jury Prize at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival. (Shochiku)
Otoshiana ("Pitfall") by Teshigahara Hiroshi. Dense, mysterious and above all surrealistic drama of murder and intrigue. An impoverished miner traveling with his young son, is shocked to notice that a mysterious stranger dressed in white is stalking him. They run away from the haunting vision, only to wander into an almost deserted town where only one woman lives. But the man in white appears again and now murders the miner. The son witnesses the act, but the woman is paid off to identify the victim and his murderer as two rival union leaders. Original scenario by Abe Kobo. (Teshigahara Productions)
Teshigahara Hiroshi (1927-2001) was the son of the founder and grand master of the Sogetsu school of ikebana and would succeed to his father's position in 1980. A graduate of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, he was a man with many artistic interests: painting, sculpture, garden design, the Noh theater, etc. He also was an avant-garde film maker, who made 21 films, most of them documentaries, but also eight feature films, mainly in the 1960s, four of which he based on scripts and novels by Abe Kobo.
Akitsu Onsen ("Akitsu Springs" aka "The Affair at Akitsu") by Yoshida Yoshishige is about a passionate, self-destructive romance between a man with tuberculosis and the innkeeper of an onsen hotel who nurses him back to health, set against the background of war-torn Japan. The film then spans a total of 17 years in which they continue their relationship. The characters of the spirited, selfless woman (Okada Mariko, the director's wife) and the cynical intellectual drawn to her beauty (Nagato Hiroyuki), can be seen as symbols for, respectively, hope and resignation. The male protagonist has been called emblematic of the 1930s generation which saw its dreams first shattered by the war and then by japan's failure to repudiate these years, instead opting for empty materialism. (Shochiku)
Tsubaki Sanjuro ("Sanjuro") by Kurosawa Akira. The same hero as in Kurosawa's previous film here acts as mentor to a group of nine idealistic young samurai trying to root out corruption in the clan administration. Most of the film is a lighthearted black comedy, but the final confrontation ends with an impossible "fountain of blood," which would become the start of over-the-top violence in genre films. From now on, the sluices of blood would be open. Together with Yojimbo, Tsubaki Sanjuro started the genre of "cruel period films" (zankoku jidaigeki). (Toho)
Hakai ("The Outcast" aka "The Broken Commandment") by Ichikawa Kon, based on a novel by Shimazaki Toson. Dark psychological drama about the internal struggle of a young man (Ichikawa Raizo), who is a member of Japan's outcast class, a fact he keeps secret. The denial of his heritage ultimately leads to dramatic consequences. (Daiei)
Sanma no Aji ("An Autumn Afternoon") becomes the last film by great director Ozu Yasujiro. A widower (Ryu Chishu) arranges the marriage of his daughter (Iwashita Shima) and is left with the realization that he is growing old. The greatest performance of Ryu Chishu's career, bringing out the loneliness of old age. The summing up of a great career, full of gently irony. Luminous color photography by Atsuta Yuharu. Ozu died on his 60th birthday. His grave at Engakuji in Kamakura bears no name - just the character mu ("nothingness"). (Shochiku)
Horoki ("A Wanderer's Notebook") by Naruse Mikio is based on the autobiographical novel of the same title by Hayashi Fumiko. A woman tries to become a writer, but has to cope with the fact that she has to support herself by various odd jobs. She has several affairs with a variety of men, most of whom only try to exploit her. (Toho)
Kawashima Yuzo makes two films this year. One is a bungei eiga called Gan no Tera ("The Temple of the Wild Geese"), based on the novelistic masterwork of Mizukami Tsutomu about the destructive love triangle between a lecherous priest, an ex-geisha and a novice. Set in a Kyoto temple and full of atmosphere. The other one is a dark satire, Shitoyakana kedamono ("Elegant Beast"). A family of four (parents and grown-up children) makes a living as fraudsters, turning to crime out of fear that the former years of poverty will return. The deceitful family is a symbol for Japan. Completely filmed inside the family's apartment, with many interesting camera angles (like Rear Window). With Wakao Ayako. The script was written by Shindo Kaneto. (both Nikkatsu)
In Shinobi no Mono ("A Band of Assassins") Yamamoto Satsuo sees feudal times through the eyes of rebels and peasants. Ishikawa Goemon, a young ninja (Ichikawa Raizo) becomes ensnared in a plot to kill the warlord Oda Nobunaga, the most feared man in all of Japan. Death lurks around every corner as enemy ninjas close in. Film started the 'ninja craze,' the last living ninja in fact served as consultant. (Daiei)
Yamamoto Satsuo (1910-1983) dropped out of Waseda University to join Shochiku; in 1935, he followed Naruse to PCL (later Toho). He was a member of the Communist party and a driving force behind the union during the 1948 Toho labor dispute, after which he was fired. As an independent director he then made many socially conscious, rebellious films.
Zatoichi Monogatari ("The Tale of Zatoichi") by Mizumi Kenji and with Katsu Shintaro. Zatoichi is a gambler and blind masseur (and therefore not a samurai or ronin but a yakuza) but also a sensational swordsman, who has a blade hidden in his bamboo cane - he was not allowed to carry one openly as he was a commoner. The first installment (of twenty-six) is rather gloomy, but as the series developed, touches of earthy humor were added to his image, and this became an extremely popular series. The six Zatoichi films that were directed by Misumi are among the best. (Daiei)
Nippon Musekinin Jidai ("The Age of Irresponsibility in Japan"), played by the comedian Ueki Hitoshi, who also sings and dances his way through the cheerful and optimistic story. The hero is a shrewd opportunist, the opposite of the ideal of company loyalty. He doesn't care for rules and procedures, sets his own time, jumps the hierarchy and uses very unusual methods to be successful. He brazenly says what he thinks. A good way to let off steam in Japan's workaholic years - anyone really behaving like Ueki would have been out on the street in seconds. But as these films give a good picture of Japanese business culture (apart from Ueki's antics), it is a pity they are completely unknown outside Japan. (Toho)
Chushingura ("The Loyal 47 Ronin") by Inagaki Hiroshi. A lavish screen adaptation of the classical story of the revenge of the Forty-seven ronin famous from the theater. As the Japanese knew this often repeated story by heart, Inagaki takes a certain familiarity with the story-line for granted, although he cuts none of the famous scenes. Gorgeous sets and scenery. The film pays much attention to the detailed political dealings between the very large group of characters, sometimes dropping the pace to a crawl, but ends with a riveting, climactic battle scene. One of the best adaptations among the countless ones made of this subject. (Toho)
Kato Tai made beautifully crafted genre films, based on scripts by Hasegawa Shin, such as Mabuta no Haha ("Long-Sought Mother") with Nakamura Kinnosuke. The protagonist has been abandoned by his mother as a child, but he grows up determined to reunite with her. Worried that she might be living in misery, he saves his money to help, only to find that she has married into wealth and status and has no intention of recognizing her son, who is a yakuza, an outcast of society. (Toei)
Kyupora no aru machi ("Foundry Town") was the debut of Urayama Kiriro. Set in Kawaguchi, an industrial town next to Tokyo, this simple story chronicles the lives of poor foundry workers and their families, and one girl's (Yoshinaga Sayuri) dreams of self-improvement and escape from her social prison by going on to higher education. Co-scripted by Imamura Shohei. Entered into the 1962 Cannes Film Festival. (Nikkatsu)
Nikui an-chikusho ("I Hate But Love") by Kurahara Kureyoshi, is an unorthodox romance with Ishihara Yujiro and Asaoka Ruriko. A celebrity is dissatisfied with his life controlled into the smallest details by his secretary/manager, and escapes from Tokyo to deliver a jeep to a remote mountain village. When the secretary - with whom he is in fact in love - follows him, they get busy dodging snooping reporters. (Nikkatsu)
Harakiri by Kobayashi Masaki wins the Jury Special prize at the Cannes Film festival.
This year sees the deaths of directors Ozu Yasujiro and Kawashima Yuzo.
The fad for modern yakuza movies starts around this time. Yakuza also figured prominently in period drama (the matatabi-mono about itinerant gamblers), but these yakuza movies have modern (post 1868) settings, a formalized Kabuki-like aesthetic intensified by use of color and very cruel killings. Their popularity lasts about ten years and traditional period drama (especially of the "soft" Toei type) vanished from cinemas; the only period drama that survived were the realistic, cruel films for which the tone had been set by Kurosawa in Yojimbo and Tsubaki Sanjuro (called zankoku jidaigeki).
The film that starts the ninkyo eiga boom is Toei's Jinsei Gekijo: Hishakaku ("Theater of Life: Hishakaku") by director Sawashima Tadashi, based on a novel by Ozaki Koyo. The film features Tsuruta Koji and Takakura Ken and was a great box office success, with not only a story about a wandering gambler who because of "one night's lodging" gets involved in a vicious gang warfare, but also the love Hishakaku and a rival swordsman both develop for the geisha Otoyo. (Toei)
Daiei's superstar, ninaime Hasegawa Kazuo, retires after making his final film, An Actor's Revenge by Ichikawa Kon. It was the 300th film of the celebrated actor and a remake of an old favorite story (filmed in 1935 with Hasegawa by Kinoshita), but this time done as a breathtaking avant-garde experiment. The story is about a Kabuki onnagata (female impersonator) who plots revenge for the death of his father. He has discovered three ruthless merchants were responsible for driving his father to suicide and follows them with a mysterious bandit who befriends him (also played by Hasegawa). He succeeds in his revenge, even though that means the death of the innocent daughter of one of the merchants (Wakao Ayako), a woman who has fallen in love with him. Color and composition surprise throughout the film, which is full of visual fancy. In fact, it is as theatrical as the theater that forms its subject: mise-en-scène becomes a conduit for pure expression rather than a means to represent reality. Ichikawa's trademark irony makes that we see everything at an ironic distance. (Daiei)
Taiheiyo Hitoribotchi ("Alone on the Pacific"), also by Ichikawa Kon, is based on the true story of a young man who crosses the Pacific alone in a small sailboat, realizing his dream by sailing from Osaka Bay to the Golden Gate Bridge. With Ishihara Yujiro. (Ishihara / Nikkatsu)
Bushido Zankoku Monogatari ("Bushido") by Imai Tadashi. A salary-man's fiancée attempts suicide, he remembers his gruesome family history, which sees his ancestors sacrificing themselves for the sake of their cruel lords, and realizes that he is about to repeat the same mistake. One of the first "cruel period films." Won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film festival. (Toei)
Tengoku to Jigoku ("High and Low"; lit. "Heaven and Hell") by Kurosawa Akira is a thriller in which a shoe magnate, Gondo (Mifune), is told that his son has been kidnapped. An outrageous ransom that will surely bankrupt the businessman is demanded. Then the son is discovered to be unhurt at home - by mistake the kidnapper has taken the son of the chauffeur. But the ransom remains the same and Gondo faces a moral dilemma: shall he still pay the bank-breaking ransom, even now that it does not concern his own son anymore? This first part is set in "Heaven," Gondo's huge mansion on a hill in Yokohama. The second half of the film is set in "Hell" (Yokohama's poor and wild downtown) and shows the police investigation, as is usual in Japan undertaken by a large group of detectives who work together as a team (the head detective is played by Nakadai Tatsuya). In the finale Gondo confronts the kidnapper (Yamazaki Tsutomu), who has been sentenced to death for killing two of his associates, in jail in a shattering scene. The motivation for the crime was envy - the kidnapper, a poor intern at a hospital, had to look up from his poor hovel at the Gondo mansion standing proudly on the hill top above the city. Loosely based on a novel by Ed McBain. (Toho)
Nippon Konchuki ("The Insect Woman") by Imamura Shohei. A ribald satire of Japanese society shows 45 years in the life of a poor but indomitable country girl (Hidari Sachiko). Forced into prostitution she finally becomes a madam herself pimping other women as a ring of call grils. Shows Imamura's trademark, a thoroughly amoral woman who endures in spite of poverty, rape, and exploitation. A joyous and life affirming film. Can also be read as a metaphor of postwar Japan that has prostituted its spirit for economic gain. Noteworthy is that this film was wholly shot on location, including the indoor scenes, as would also be the case with Imamura's next films. Entered into the 14th Berlin International Film Festival; Hidari Sachiko received a Silver Bear for Best Actress. (Nikkatsu)
Jusannin no Shikyaku ("Thirteen Assassins") by Kudo Eiichi. A feudal lord guilty of rape and murder cannot be officially indicted due to his ties with the house of the shogun. The council of ministers therefore decides to have him assassinated: a group of thirteen avengers (led by Kataoka Chiezo) is brought together to waylay him and his retinue in a mountain village... nobody will survive the ensuing carnage. The 2010 remake by Miike Takashi is a weak pastiche, so go for the original which is very impressive, both thanks to the stark monochrome photography and the violent half-hour long slaughter with which the film ends. (Toei)
Kudo Eiichi (1929-2000) was a genre director at Toei (he had been enticed to film making by his colleague Fukasaku Kinji) who in the 1960s made some of the best period films ever (including the above film). In contrast to 1950s Toei fare, these films were very violent and realistic. Kudo also made yakuza movies for Toei.
In Yaju no Seishun ("Youth of the Beast") by Suzuki Seijun, Shishido Jo plays an ex-cop who takes on rival yakuza gangs to avenge the death of a friend. Lots of cartoonish violence, but also lots of laughs thanks to the absurdity and artifice. The film in which Suzuki Seijun found his own voice. (Nikkatsu)
Nakamura Noboru makes bungei eiga Koto ("Twin Sisters of Kyoto"), based on a novel by Kawabata Yasunari. Set in Kyoto, Chieko (Iwashita Shima) works in her parents' wholesale silk goods store. She was brought up to think her parents stole her as a baby and is shocked to learn - after a chance encounter with a girl who turns out to be her sister - that her real parents had abandoned her. The two sisters begin familiarizing with each other. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. (Shochiku)
Kanojo to kare("She and He") by Hani Susumu, with Hidari Sachiko and Okada Eiji.. About the problems and loniless of "apartment life," and the consequent desolation of human relations. This is contrasted with the closeness of the poor in a rag pickers slum. Entered into the 14th Berlin International Film Festival. (Eizo Sha / Iwanami Productions)
Hitoshi Ueki stars in another salaryman series, of which the first installment is Nippon Ichi no Iro Otoko ("The Most Sexy Man of Japan"). This is followed by such titles as "The Greatest Flatterer of Japan" (1965) and "The Greatest Pusher of Japan" (1966). Again, a spoof of the world of Japanese business in its days of high growth, that is not only fun, but in fact also quite educational. (Toho)
The Godzilla makers (diector Honda Ishiro and special effects or tokusatsu specialist Tsuburaya Eiji) make Matango ("Matango" aka "Curse of the Mushroom People") a bleak SF film about survivors from a shipwreck on an uninhabited island, where the only food are giant mushrooms. As is to be expected, those who partake of these weird fungi change themselves into monstrous mushrooms. Has become a cult film. (Toho)
The number of cinemas falls below 5,000 and attendance has dropped to 38% of the peak year 1958. This year is seen as a watershed, as TV grew exponentially through the Tokyo Olympic of this year. With a TV in most households, there was less incentive to visit the cinema. However, it was a year in which many fabulous films were made.
After stopping its New Wave films, Shochiku not only gradually looses the talents of Oshima, Shinoda and Yoshishige, also Kobayashi and Kinoshita leave the company (and Ozu has already died), so Shochiku is left with very little talent.
Special effects studio Tsuburaya Productions is established.
The actor Sada Keiji dies in an accident.
Suna no Onna ("Woman in the Dunes") by Teshigahara Hiroshi. Based on Abe Kobo's allegorical novel about a man (Okada Eiji) caught in a sand pit where he has to help a woman (Kishida Kyoko) shoveling sand for the rest of their lives, in order not to be buried under the shifting sands. Spectacular visuals, even though this is a black-and-white film. Teshigahara returns time and again to shots of the shifting sands, and the abstract compositions of sand and dunes become a fearful presence in themselves, the third protagonist of this claustrophobic film. The sand not only symbolizes the human condition (we are all Sisyphus), but the film also has a subtext about Japanese identity in the years of rapid economic growth. This landmark of art-house cinema won the Special Jury Prize at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival. Also Kinema Junpo Best Film of the year. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. (Teshigahara Productions)
The same year Shinoda also made Ansatsu ("Assassination"), a psychological study of an enigmatic sword master (Tanba Tetsuro) caught up in the complicated historical events leading to the Meiji restoration of 1868. The story is so complex, with a large cast, that it is very difficult to follow, but the swordplay is great. (Shochiku)
Nippon Dasshutsu ("Escape from Japan") by Yoshida Yoshishige is a violent and grim gangster story of a young man who with three friends plans a robbery. During the crime, a policeman is killed and the gang quickly disintegrates. The protagonist wants to escape to a foreign country, but is betrayed by a yakuza and ends up in prison. Nihilistic film close in spirit to Oshima, or to the work of French New Wave mentor Pierre Melville. The last film Yoshida made for Shochiku, as the final print was shortened against his wishes. (Shochiku)
Hakujitsumu ("Daydream") by Takechi Tetsuji is a soft-porn film loosely based on a play by Tanizaki Junichiro. The film is set in a dentist's office and starts with unsubtle wet imagery of gurgling, drilling and fingers probing around in wide-open mouths. A young man (Ishihama Akira) and the beautiful patient (Michi Kanako) in the chair next to him are brought under sedation and loose themselves in wildly voluptuous fantasies that gradually turn more threatening when the dentist pursues the woman and ties her up, undresses her with the help of his scalpel, and then wraps her in electric wires for a game of shocks. And that is only the beginning. Hallucinatory, surreal romp that foreshadows the "pink films" of the 1970s, but then in a rather "arty" way. (Daisan Productions / Shochiku)
In fact, Hakujitsumu is often taken as the beginning of the phenomenon of "pink films" in Japan. During the sixties, the trend would remain largely underground, and there were few interesting films (unless one counts Wakamatsu Koji in), but it also could grow quickly, as many of the cinemas that were discarded by the shrinking big studios, started showing pink films, sometimes even on triple bills.
Midareru ("Yearning") by Naruse Mikio is a skillful psychological portrayal of a childless widow who manages the store left by her husband in a provincial town. Her brother-in-law is in love with her, but she keeps refusing him. Then she finally gives in, only to push him away again, in favor of her husband's memory. The jilted lover is so despondent that he commits suicide. Again with Takamine Hideko. (Toho)
Koge ("The Scent of Incense") by Kinoshita Keisuke, in two parts, based on a novel by Ariyoshi Sawako, tells the story of the bitter relations between a mother and daughter in the geisha world. With Okada Mariko, Otowa Nobuko, Tanaka Kinuyo, Sugimura Haruko and Kato Go. One of Kinoshita's last films. (Shochiku)
Kudo Eiichi directs Dai Satsujin ("The Great Melee" aka "The Great Killing"), a cruel period drama resembling a modern yakuza movie. A group of four men and one woman who have become the victim of the machinations of an abusive lord, plot the assassination of the petty tyrant. But the lord has a strong swordsman as his keeper and most of them bite the dust before reaching their target... An allegory for the increasingly violent struggles of the student protest of the day, which shows how also period drama was influenced by the air of dissent of the 1960s and became critical of hierarchy and power. (Toei)
Sanbiki no samurai ("Three Outlaw Samurai") by Gosha Hideo is a well-crafted genre film, a spin-off from a popular TV series. Tanba Tetsuro plays a wandering ronin (in the vein of Kurosawa's Tsubaki Sanjuro) who gets involved with a group of peasants, kidnappers of the daughter of the magistrate, who has imposed cruelly high taxes on the population. (Samurai Productions)
Gosha Hideo (1929-1992) started with a career as TV director and after switching to the cinema with the above production, he would continue making films with strong swordplay elements until the late 1970s. In the 80s he switched from machismo to romanticism, when he started making large-scale films about strong women, often geisha, many of them based on the novels of Miyao Tomiko. He also made the first film in the popular series about yakuza wives, Gokudo no Onnatachi.
Nemuri Kyoshiro: Sappocho ("Sleepy Eyes of Death: The Chinese Jade") is the first installment of a series of 12 eccentric and erotic chambara films (running till 1969). Daiei-star Ichikawa Raizo plays an utterly nihilistic sword hero, half-Japanese half-Portuguese, "the son of a Portuguese priest who assaulted his Japanese mother during Black Mass." Total pulp, sexy and very politically incorrect - in each installment Nemuri Kyoshiro demonstrates his skill in stripping women of their clothes with one swipe of his mighty weapon. Trashy, but also delightful - and Ichikawa Raizo possesses lots of charisma. (Daiei)
Nihon Kyokyakuden ("An Account of the Chivalrous Commoners of Japan") by Makino Masahiro, with Takakura Ken as protagonist. The first installment of Toei's popular series about 'chivalrous yakuza,' unfortunately rather unknown in the West where the more violent jitsuroku yakuza films of the seventies have swept all that went before away. These older films are not so much about what we would call 'yakuza,' as about groups ("kumi") of organized workers in various industries, as transport, lumber, market stalls, etc. Competition has been harmoniously regulated by agreements among the different groups. Then one group embraces a harsh form of capitalism and breaks the agreements, acting violently towards the others. Typically, they wear Western dress against the traditional Japanese garb of the others; they also fight with guns against the swords of the conservatives. Takakura Ken plays the defender of the conservative group, trying to keep the peace as long as humanly possible, but after several murders (often of his elderly boss), he explodes in a violent rage and all alone exterminates the enemy group. These films defended conservative values against modern ones and advocated chivalry (keeping to the rules of giri and ninjo) in an age of unbridled capitalism. For that reason they were popular both among right-leaning young office workers and leftist students. Together with the Abashiri Bangaichi and Showa Zankyokuden series (starting the next year), these films made Takakura Ken (1931-2014) into a super star. (Toei)
[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 Yakuza Movie Book by Mark Schilling; 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); The Films of Oshima Nagisa by Maureen Turim (California U.P., 1998); 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.]