Japanese Divas: The Great Actresses of Japanese Cinema's Golden Age

Japanese Divas: The Great Actresses of Japanese Cinema's Golden Age

Japanese Divas: The Great Actresses of Japanese Cinema's Golden Age

Japanese Divas: The Great Actresses of Japanese Cinema's Golden Age

Japanese Divas: The Great Actresses of Japanese Cinema's Golden Age

Japanese Divas: The Great Actresses of Japanese Cinema's Golden Age

Japanese Divas: The Great Actresses of Japanese Cinema's Golden Age

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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This dazzlingly deluxe, thirty-film salute to the legendary leading ladies of classic Japanese cinema features masterworks by Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu, Naruse, Ichikawa and more.

Films in Japanese Divas: The Great Actresses of Japanese Cinema's Golden Age

    • Dragnet Girl
    • Hijosen no onna
    • Yasujiro Ozu
    • A stunning early film from the great Yasujiro Ozu, this stylized underworld drama evokes American crime thrillers and the baroque visual design of Josef von Sternberg in its tale of a Dietrich-style vamp (Kinuyo Tanaka) who will do anything to hold on to her two-bit gangster boyfriend.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • A Wife Confesses
    • Tsuma wa kokuhaku suru
    • Yasuzo Masumura
    • Yasuzo Masumura evokes the modernist European cinema of Antonioni and Resnais in this dark, complex portrait of a young widow (Ayako Wakao) accused of murdering her brutal husband.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Early Summer
    • Bakushu
    • Yasujiro Ozu
    • This leisurely and poignant drama about a family quietly disintegrating in the wake of their daughter's unexpected decision to marry is ranked with Late Spring and Tokyo Story as one of Yasujiro Ozu's three greatest films.

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    • Late Spring
    • Banshun
    • Yasujiro Ozu
    • An aging father (Chishu Ryu) tries to compel his devoted daughter (Setsuko Hara) to marry in Yasujiro Ozu's heartbreaking masterpiece.

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    • Twenty-Four Eyes
    • Nijushi no hitomi
    • Keisuke Kinoshita
    • In pre-WWII Japan, a progressive schoolteacher (Hideko Takamine) tries to free her students from their country's militaristic values in Keisuke Kinoshita's beautifully moving melodrama, which remains one of the most beloved films of all time in Japan.

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    • Sisters of the Gion
    • Gion no shimai
    • Kenji Mizoguchi
    • Two sisters — the elder conservative and traditional, the younger modernized and rebellious — endure humiliation and tragedy as geisha in a Kyoto teahouse in this early masterpiece by Kenji Mizoguchi.

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    • Ten Dark Women
    • Kuroi junin no onna
    • Kon Ichikawa
    • The wife and nine mistresses of a feckless television executive conspire to murder their mutual paramour in Kon Ichikawa's pitch-black comedy.

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    • Carmen Comes Home
    • Karumen kokiyo ni kaeru
    • Keisuke Kinoshita
    • A brassy girly-show "entertainer" (Hideko Takamine) causes a scandal when she returns to her straitlaced hometown in Keisuke Kinoshita's delightful, smashingly successful comedy.

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    • The Face of Another
    • Tanin no kao
    • Hiroshi Teshigahara
    • A disfigured man given a new face by plastic surgery becomes alienated from his previous identity in this chilling existential horror fable from the director of Woman in the Dunes.

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    • Seisaku's Wife
    • Seisaku no tsuma
    • Yasuzo Masumura
    • An outcast peasant woman (an astonishing Ayako Wakao) at the turn of the century falls into a passionate love affair with the town's prodigal son in Yasuzo Masumura's powerful portrait of erotic obsession.

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    • Street of Shame
    • Akasen chitai
    • Kenji Mizoguchi
    • Kenji Mizoguchi's powerful account of a group of streetwalkers struggling to survive in the red-light district of contemporary Tokyo led to the outlawing of prostitution in Japan.

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    • Miss Oyu
    • Oyu-sama
    • Kenji Mizoguchi
    • A young widow (Kinuyo Tanaka) becomes embroiled in a devastating scandal in Kenji Mizoguchi's tale of passion, tragedy and transcendence.

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    • Repast
    • Meshi
    • Mikio Naruse
    • The great Setsuko Hara stars as an unhappy wife who considers walking out of her stagnant marriage in this moving, masterful drama by Mikio Naruse.

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    • Throne of Blood
    • Kumonosu-jo
    • Akira Kurosawa
    • A sixteenth-century warlord (Toshiro Mifune) is spurred on in his murderous ambition by his fearsome wife (Machiko Kyo) in Akira Kurosawa's acclaimed adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Equinox Flower
    • Higanbana
    • Yasujiro Ozu
    • An imperious patriarch is defied by his modernized daughter and deceptively compliant wife (Kinuyo Tanaka) in Yasujiro Ozu's lovely domestic comedy-drama.

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    • When a Woman Ascends the Stairs
    • Onna ga kaidan wo agaru toki
    • Mikio Naruse
    • An aging bar hostess (Hideko Takamine) in Tokyo's Ginza district attempts to open her own business without compromising her principles in Mikio Naruse's sleekly stylish contemporary classic.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Flowing
    • Nagareru
    • Mikio Naruse
    • Three of Japan's greatest actresses — Kinuyo Tanaka, Isuzu Yamada and Hideko Takamine — star in Mikio Naruse's tale of a traditional geisha house struggling to survive in the modern era.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Odd Obsession
    • Kagi
    • Kon Ichikawa
    • A perverse patriarch embroils his entire family in a web of sexual manipulation in Kon Ichikawa's elegantly wicked comedy about pornography, voyeurism and murder.

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    • Late Autumn
    • Akibiyori
    • Yasujiro Ozu
    • Three bumbling matchmakers attempt to marry off an aging widow (Setsuko Hara) and her devoted daughter in this serenely heartbreaking late masterpiece by Yasujiro Ozu.

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    • Mother
    • Okasan
    • Mikio Naruse
    • Kinuyo Tanaka is towering as an indomitable matriarch who tries to steer her family through postwar poverty, struggle and tragedy in this masterpiece by the great Mikio Naruse.

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    • Rashomon
    • Akira Kurosawa
    • Akira Kurosawa's dazzlingly stylized eleventh-century tale of a rape and murder that is recounted from four equally unreliable perspectives was the film that introduced Japanese cinema to the West.

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    • The Makioka Sisters
    • Sasame-yuki
    • Kon Ichikawa
    • This late classic from the great Kon Ichikawa — about a prosperous Osaka shipbuilding family whose traditional world perches on the brink of cataclysm as World War II approaches — became a major art-house hit in North America.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Tokyo Story
    • Tokyo monogatari
    • Yasujiro Ozu
    • Frequently named as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema, Yasujiro Ozu's story of an elderly couple's heartrending visit to their ungrateful grown children is an ineffably moving meditation on mortality.

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    • Floating Clouds
    • Ukigumo
    • Mikio Naruse
    • In the ruins of postwar Japan, a self-sacrificing woman (Hideko Takamine) rekindles her affair with her philandering ex-lover in this supreme masterpiece of celebrated auteur Mikio Naruse.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Woman in the Dunes
    • Suna no onna
    • Hiroshi Teshigahara
    • Hiroshi Teshigahara became the first Asian filmmaker to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Director for his mesmerizing and erotic allegory about a man and a woman trapped at the bottom of a deadly sandpit.

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    • Sansho the Bailiff
    • Sansho dayu
    • Kenji Mizoguchi
    • Kenji Mizoguchi expertly balances formal beauty, barbaric violence and heartwrenching emotion in this masterwork about an exiled family in medieval Japan that is brutally torn apart.

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    • The Wife of Seishu Hanaoka
    • Hanaoka Seishu no tsuma
    • Yasuzo Masumura
    • The wife (Ayako Wakao) and mother (Hideko Takamine) of a nineteenth-century physician battle for his love in this extraordinary drama from the perennially underrated Yasuzo Masumura.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Yearning
    • Midareru
    • Mikio Naruse
    • Mikio Naruse intertwines a fated love story with a portrait of postwar Japan's changing society and mores in this account of a headstrong war widow (Hideko Takamine) battling to support her family with the dwindling earnings of her small store.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • The Life of Oharu
    • Saikaku ichidai onna
    • Kenji Mizoguchi
    • A seventeenth-century noblewoman (Kinuyo Tanaka) is reduced to penury and prostitution in this tragic masterpiece by Kenji Mizoguchi.

    • No events playing at this time.
    • Ugetsu
    • Ugetsu monogatari
    • Kenji Mizoguchi
    • Kenji Mizoguchi's masterful ghost story about a sixteenth-century potter who abandons his faithful wife (Kinuyo Tanaka) for a spectral seductress (Machiko Kyo) has been acclaimed as one of the greatest films of all time.

    • No events playing at this time.

The definition of sublime, this vast, classic-packed survey of the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema (and after) includes films by an octet of Japan's greatest directors: Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Akira Kurosawa, Mikio Naruse, Kon Ichikawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Yasuzo Masumura, all of whom (save Kinoshita) have been the subject of previous retrospectives at TIFF Cinematheque. A richer introduction to this most important period of Japanese cinema is unimaginable.

"Diva," with its aura of grandiosity and histrionics, is not a word one normally associates with Japanese actresses, especially when one thinks of the understated delicacy of Setsuko Hara or the interior intensity of Hideko Takamine. Yet as this survey of the work of six eiga superstars proves, "diva" is an entirely appropriate appellation in light of these actresses' formidable ability to command the screen. That an unknown Machiko Kyo could hold her own, and then some, against a rampant Toshiro Mifune in Kurosawa's epochal Rashomon demonstrates how daunting these actresses could be: not to be outdone by Typhoon Mifune, former dancer Kyo combines simpering servility and fierce vengefulness in her portrait of an aristocratic lady who may or may not be telling the truth about what happened to her in the forest. That role landed Kyo on the cover of Life Magazine, and after becoming a pin-up icon and flirting with Hollywood in The Teahouse of the August Moon, she returned home, bestowing her ripe sensuality on such roles as the brash, gum-smacking Mickey in Mizoguchi's Street of Shame and the seemingly meek and obedient wife in Ichikawa's Odd Obsession. The similarly luscious Ayako Wakao was contracted as part of a "New Face" contingent of young actresses, but quickly graduated from ingénue roles to portray streetwalkers and tipsy geishas in films by Mizoguchi, Ichikawa and Ozu, before becoming the unabashed empress of eroticism in her many films for Yasuzo Masumura (our candidate for the most underrated director in Japanese cinema).

Isuzu Yamada's fearsome embodiment of Lady Macbeth in Kurosawa's Throne of Blood readily deserves the "diva" designation, as do her powerful performances as a moga (modern girl) unwilling to accept her unfortunate fate in Mizoguchi's twin masterpieces Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion. And Mizoguchi's cinema is unthinkable without his frequent star and muse Kinuyo Tanaka, who blazed through more than a dozen of his films as suffering concubines, mothers and prostitutes. (One of Mizoguchi's greatest admirers, Andrew Sarris, rather ungallantly commented: "The perennial mystery of Mizoguchi's films is his revelation of Tanaka's iron will and transcendental appeal behind her not very pleasing oval face and weak, receding chin.") Beginning her career in silent films by Ozu (one of which, the deviously titled Dragnet Girl, we include in the retrospective), Tanaka proved equally brilliant in comedy or tragedy, whether as the enterprising okasan of Naruse's Mother or the martyred matriarch in Mizoguchi's Sansho the Bailiff.

Similar only in their inwardness (and in having New Yorker profiles dedicated to them!), Hideko Takamine and Setsuko Hara also became associated with the universe of a particular director — that of Naruse and Ozu, respectively — despite working with other auteurs and in various genres. In a career that spanned more than eight decades, Takamine began as a child actress (when she was known as Japan's Shirley Temple), became the country's top star after starring in Keisuke Kinoshita's Twenty-Four Eyes and Carmen Comes Home, and appeared in a dozen films for Naruse in which she played a series of put-upon women — widow, bar hostess, emotionally deprived daughter — often struggling with familial tradition. If Takamine's open face registered contradictory emotions with unguarded honesty, the expression of Hara as she suffered life's disappointments in the exquisite films of Ozu remained ineffable; her graceful, smiling demeanour seemed to mask a profound sense of disillusionment and regret. (Indeed, the legendarily reclusive "Eternal Virgin" retired at age forty-three shortly after Ozu's death, admitting that she had been forced into her acting career by financial necessity.)

Made two decades apart, Ichikawa's Ten Dark Women and his lavish epic The Makioka Sisters not only reveal the talents of the redoubtable Keiko Kishi, but also suggest in their impressive ensembles that diva-dom comes naturally to many Japanese actresses, even when exerting command through reserve. And not to be overlooked, the homely character actress Haruko Sugimura steals the screen in any scene she appears in, whether as the domineering hairdresser daughter in Ozu's Tokyo Story, the interfering aunt in his Late Spring, or the aging geisha in Naruse's Flowing, where she forms part of an impeccable ensemble that includes Takamine, Tanaka and Yamada. Mistress of the scowl, the unglamorous Sugimura offers wonderful proof that not every Japanese diva was a leading lady.

—James Quandt

This series is an extended and revised version of a series presented by Film Forum, New York and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley. We are most grateful to The Japan Foundation for their support of this programme.

Thanks to Brian Belovarac, Janus Films; Kate Scullin, The Japan Foundation, Toronto; Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum; Kadokawa Pictures; Shochiku Co., Ltd.