Introduction and Schedule
I will use this inaugural post as an opportunity to explain the genesis of the series. The title of the series is Japan 1960: Classic Cinema Meets the New Wave. In contrast to earlier series, which were organized around an individual director or star, this new series highlights films released in a single year. I have chosen to focus on the year 1960 for a number of reasons.
First, the year has special significance in the history of Japanese film, since it marks a high point in terms of film production for the industry. More films were produced in Japan in 1960 than in any other year.
Second, 1960 coincides with a peak of creativity among Japanese filmmakers. Established prewar directors, like Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse, continued to exhibit their remarkable talents, each releasing a major film. Akira Kurosawa, the most celebrated Japanese director to emerge in the 1940s, also created a masterpiece. At the same time, two of the most promising directors of the 1950s, Kon Ichikawa and Kaneto Shindo, achieved new levels of artistic maturity with their 1960 releases. Further adding to the excitement of the year was the emergence of two young directors, Nagisa Oshima and Shohei Imamura. 1960 thus marks a rare confluence of talent, ranging from the so-called old masters of classic Japanese cinema to the young Turks who would revolutionize the style and content of Japanese film.
A third reason for focusing on 1960 is the historical significance of the moment. In many respects 1960 denotes an important transition point in postwar Japanese history. The year marked a significant consolidation of the economic gains made during the second half of the 1950s and the solidification of a new era of prosperity, noteworthy for heightened consumerism and the exponential growth of the middle class. The year also saw considerable civil turmoil as students and activists demonstrated against the US-Japan Security Alliance. Related to both these developments was the emergence of a vigorous youth culture, which began to occupy an increasingly prominent position in mainstream culture. All of these economic, political, and cultural trends exerted an influence on the films released in 1960. Indeed, the sense that Japanese society was entering into a period of profound change contributed to the creative ferment that resulted in this exceptional body of work.
The program I have organized emphasizes the variety and richness of the film culture that flourished in this remarkable year.
All films will be shown in Cubberley Auditorium on the Stanford Campus. All screenings begin at 7:30 PM. All films are 35mm prints with English subtitles.
April 13: When a Woman Ascends the Stairs
Director: Mikio Naruse. Cast: Hideko Takamine, Masayuki Mori, Reiko Dan, Tatsuya Nakadai, Ganjiro Nakamura. Toho Studios. B/W. 111 minutes.
Naruse's moving portrait of the trials and tribulations of a bar hostess named Keiko. Unlucky in both business and love, Keiko struggles to maintain her dignity as she contends with amorous clients, callous family members, and relentless creditors. Surrounded by a cast of some of Toho's brightest stars, Hideko Takamine gives a superlative performance in this exemplary woman's film.
April 20: No screening this evening.
April 27: Cruel Story of Youth
Director: Nagisa Oshima. Cast: Yusuke Kawazu, Miyuki Kuwano, Yoshiko Kuga, Fumio Watanabe. Shochiku Studios. Color. 96 minutes.
Oshima's groundbreaking entry into the burgeoning genre of youth films. Eschewing the idealistic optimism previously associated with this form, Oshima created a film that highlights the anger and cynicism of Japan's postwar youth. The film paints a stark portrait of disillusioned youngsters who recklessly engage in the badger game to extort money from middle-aged men. Matching the chaotic, unfocused energy exhibited by his young protagonists, Oshima utilized a film style that exudes kinetic force. Largely shot on location in neighborhoods like Shinjuku and Shibuya, the film offers a glimpse of the shifting topography of Tokyo in the early 1960s.
May 4: The Bad Sleep Well
Director: Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Kyoko Kagawa, Tatsuya Mihashi. Toho Studios. B/W. 150 minutes.
Kurosawa's brilliant reworking of the tale of Hamlet, set in the corridors of power in the Japanese corporate world. Kurosawa intensifies the atmosphere of this tale of revenge by employing the moody lighting, deep-focus black and white photography, and oppressive camera angles associated with the classic Hollywood film noire. As the brooding hero, Mifune adds another striking performance to his list of legendary collaborations with Kurosawa.
May 11: Her Brother
Director: Kon Ichikawa. Cast: Keiko Kishi, Masayuki Mori, Kinuyo Tanaka, Hiroshi Kawaguchi. Daiei Studios. Color. 98 minutes.
Among the many memorable films produced during 1960, Ichikawa's stark depiction of a dysfunctional prewar family emerged as the work most praised by critics, awarded the coveted Kinema Junpo Best Film award for the year. Oddly, though, the film is rarely revived either in Japan or abroad. This is a shame, since the film is so distinctive visually and thematically. Resisting the temptation to sentimentalize his material, Ichikawa offers a moving, yet never cloying, story of a sister who cares for her dying brother. Heightening this tone is the muted color palette achieved by the renowned cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa.
May 18: The Island
Director: Kaneto Shindo. Cast: Nobuko Otowa, Taiji Tonoyama, Shinji Tanaka, Masanori Horimoto. Kindai Eiga Kyokai. B/W. 96 minutes.
Pursuing an artistic dream, Shindo produced this unique cinematic poem with his own money. Without dialogue, the film depicts the endless struggles of a farming family to subsist on a small island in the Inland Sea. Hikaru Hayashi's lyrical score plays a crucial role in establishing the tone of the film, which runs the gamut from light-hearted to poignant.
May 25: Late Autumn
Director: Yasujiro Ozu. Cast: Setsuko Hara, Yoko Tsukasa, Mariko Okada, Keiji Sada, Shin Saburi. Shochiku Studios. Color. 128 minutes.
One of Ozu's last masterpieces, this film revisits the familiar theme of a widowed parent trying to convince a sheltered daughter the leave the nest and marry. Exhibiting a lighter touch than his earlier treatments of this issue, Ozu enlivens the scenario with a trio of meddling middle-aged men who all carry a torch for the widowed mother. The choice of Hara to play the mother underscores the cyclical nature of life, since just 11 years before she had excelled in the role of the reluctant daughter in an earlier Ozu film.
June 1: Hogs and Battleships
Director: Shohei Imamura. Cast: Hiroyuki Nagato, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Tetsuro Tanba. Nikkatsu Studios. B/W. 108 minutes.
Perhaps the most striking contrast in the entire film series is between Ozu's Late Autumn and Imamura's Hogs and Battleships. The difference is especially noteworthy given that Imamura toiled for years as Ozu's assistant director at Shochiku. With this film, Imamura finally had the opportunity to display his signature style, which could not depart more radically from Ozu's. Known for his appreciation of the messy side of life, Imamura explores the underbelly of Japanese postwar society in this film. Specifically, he considers at the corrupting effects of the US-Japanese relationship from the perspective of the gangsters and prostitutes who cater to the needs of US sailors stationed in Japan. The film climaxes with a bravura scene in which Imamura has a pack of pigs rampage through the streets of Yokosuka.