A GEISHA (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)

Kenji Mizoguchi’s Gion bayashi—literally, Gion Festival Music—is captivating and (pardon) biting. This time, the “period” is contemporary, that is, postwar Japan; the location, the Gion district of Kyoto. Through two geishas, who both chafe at the restrictive tradition male-biased society expects them to uphold, Mizoguchi suggests a budding impulse toward female autonomy and self-determination. As […]

UTAMARO AND HIS FIVE WOMEN (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1946)

Based on Kanji Kunieda’s 1931 novel Utamaro o meguru onnatachi, Kenji Mizoguchi’s Utamaro o meguru gonin no onna is delicately “split,” a fiction about an actual person: Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), the Tokugawa Era woodblock portraitist. Mizoguchi, who trained as a painter, himself identified with Utamaro’s dedication to his art. From the outset, however, Mizoguchi posits […]

WHITE THREADS OF WATERFALL (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1933)

A rare extant silent film by Japan’s great Kenji Mizoguchi, Taki no shiraito, a.k.a. The Water Magician and White Threads of Waterfall, opens on an image inside the performance tent of a traveling carnival troupe: on top of a table, two small monkeys—symbolically, humanity—each of which is tied on a short leash that’s in the […]

MY LOVE HAS BEEN BURNING (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1949)

Dark, visually bold, sometimes borderline delirious, more often, I am afraid, plodding, Kenji Mizoguchi’s Waga koi wa moenu draws upon turbulent late nineteenth-century Japanese history and a novel by Kôgo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu’s writing partner. The story begins in Okayama in 1884 during the Meiji period, which is meticulously detailed. Kinuyo Tanaka plays Eiko, whose […]