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Key Grip

Joined: 11 Dec 2004
Posts: 29

PostPosted: 12.11.2004 6:12 pm    Post subject: Mizoguchi Reply with quote

MIZOGUCHI: "the eye of a painter and the soul of a poet".

Mizoguchi Kenji was born in 1898, the middle child of a Tokyo family. The abrupt ending of the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese war, dashing his father's attempts to sell raincoats to the army, precipitated a desperate financial crisis which forced his older sister Suzu to be given up for adoption then sold to a geisha house. Though she was fortunately "rescued" and later married by a wealthy patron, the event, along with the death when he was 17 of the mother he idolised, had a huge impact on Mizoguchi's life and future career as a director- a principal theme of his films being the oppression and suffering of women.

Having left school at 13 for a pharmacy apprenticeship, Mizoguchi was found work designing kimonos and began to study art and western painting, before in turn becoming a newspaper illustrator at Kobe. In 1922, after a period of unemployment and rather inconsiderate dependence on Suzu (despite his films' feminist credentials, he was often self-centred in his relationships with women, including his regular actress Tanaka Kinuyo), he was hired as an assistant director at the Nikkatsu company. The next year, he directed the first of over eighty films, the majority of which, from the 1920's and 30's, are now lost.

Long established, through pre-war masterpieces such as "Sisters of the Gion", "Osaka Elegy" (both 1936) and the dazzling spatial exporation "Story of the Late Chrysanthemums" (1939), as Japan's leading director along with Ozu, Mizoguchi's films first found international acclaim in 1952. Following on from the huge unexpected success of Kurosawa's "Rashomon" at Venice the previous year, "The Life of Oharu", a harrowing but typically beautiful film concerning a court lady's downfall to ageing prostitute, was awarded the festival's Silver Lion, a feat emulated by his next three entries.

From "Oharu" onwards, his career and enthusiasm now revitalised, Mizoguchi achieved in the space of just four years an unequalled succession of sublime masterpieces, including "Ugetsu Monogatari" (1953), "Sansho the Bailiff", "Chikamatsu Monogatari" (both 1954), "Yang Kwei Fei" and "Tales of the Taira Clan" (both 1955). The last two, with their shimmering jewel-like costumes, are remarkable ventures into colour.

By the time of his early death from leukemia in 1956, Mizoguchi's films were widely revered, in particular by young French critics like Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer and Jean-Luc Godard, for their superlative mise-en-scene; lovely painterly compositions, elegant long takes and serene, fluid camerawork (most notably that of Miyagawa Kazuo) projecting a political stance- albeit often within "jidai-geki" period dramas- on behalf of downtrodden women.

While the disdainfully imperious Samurai epic "The Loyal 47 Ronin" (1941), the neglected little gem "Miss Oyu" (with unlikely moment of ticklish humour) and the gorgeously vivid "Tales of the Taira Clan" are all sorely underrated, the ghostly drama "Ugetsu", an engrossing admonition against vain male ambition and erotic temptation- replete with rapturous idyll at the mansion of eerie Lady Wakasa- is perhaps still his most renowned work.

Yet Mizoguchi's qualities and themes are fused at an exquisite, poignant peak in "Sansho the Bailiff", whose refined yet detailed narrative concerns the cruel misfortune befalling an exiled feudal governor's wife and children. Here, the director's ideal of self-sacrificing womanhood, as represented by his mother and sister, is clearly apparent in the characters of Anju and Tamaki.

Within a contemplative Zen-like frame of delicately nuanced lighting and lyrical, translucent silvery cinematography, water and ravishing landscapes are imbued with a sense of aching longing and overwhelming emotional resonance. In one scene, a few ripples are charged with fathomless depths of feeling. The immensely touching ending, its final crane and panning shots a model of unobtrusive technique, is rightly famed for conveying a universe beyond the confines of its story.

In "Sansho the Bailiff", the director's demanding perfectionism- he would repeatedly return the scripts of loyal screenwriter Yoda Yoshikata with the words "no good"- reaps its richest rewards. Though Mizoguchi is still to receive due recognition in Britain and America, it was voted (along with Chrysanthemums, Ugetsu and Oharu), among the top 100 in Sight and Sound's latest poll of international critics. It is, alone, enough to mark him as one of the very greatest masters and justify his proclaimed status as "the Shakespeare" of cinema.
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Key Grip

Joined: 11 Dec 2004
Posts: 29

PostPosted: 03.22.2005 1:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here are some quotes i've collected on the subject.

"The eye of a painter and the soul of a poet" (Macmillan Encyclopedia).

"The Japanese director i admire the most" (Akira Kurosawa)

"Now that Mizoguchi is gone, there are very few directors who can see the past clearly and realistically" (Akira Kurosawa)

"You can compare only what is comparable and that which aims high enough. Mizoguchi, alone, imposes a feeling of a unique world and language, is answerable only to himself..." (Jacques Rivette)

"To prefer Kurosawa to Mizoguchi is to be totally blind, but to love Mizoguchi alone and not Kurosawa is to have only one eye." (Andr? Bazin)

"One of cinema's very greatest masters" (Geoff Andrew, Directors A-Z)

"For some he became the supreme filmmaker, the cinematic Shakespeare, realising to its fullest the potential of film as an art form" (Robin Wood)

"The greatest movie i have ever seen" (Robin Wood on Sansho the Bailiff)

"No praise is too high for him" (Orson Welles)

"In Mizoguchi's cinema, everything is beautiful: the landscapes are breathtaking; the faces are photogenically eloquent; the camera movements are fluid and complex; the black and white (more precisely, black and silver) cinematography is subtle and dense of texture; the compositions are so precise it's as if space itself were being cut along a dotted line... One of the greatest practitioners of pure mise-en-scene the cinema has ever known and the master of the heroically sustained long take." (Gilbert Adair)

"This Mizoguchi fellow was really something special" (1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

"A director for all seasons, whom Kurosawa, much better known in the West, freely acknowledged was his master. I cannot tell you how important Mizoguchi was to my film-going experience. He made me realise what the art of cinema could achieve. And his films will live with vibrant life for as long as anyone watches other than Hollywood movies." (Derek Malcolm, A Century of Films)

One of the "exalted figures who soar above the earth... such an artist can convey the lines of the poetic design of being. He is capable of going beyond the limitations of coherent logic, and conveying the deep complexity and truth of the impalpable connections and hidden phenomena of life" (Andrei Tarkovsky)

"One of the director's most awesome achievements" (Bloomsbury Foreign Film Guide, on Sansho the Bailiff)

"An emotional impact that has seldom been equalled" (Bloomsbury Foreign film Guide on Ugetsu Monogatari)

"He has no superior at the unfolding of narrative by way of camera movement and he was a great director of actresses... he is supreme in the realisation of internal states in external views" (David Thomson, Biographical Dictionary of Film)"

"Mizoguchi's cinema is dynamic and obsessively fluid: his tracking and crane shots have a naturalism that one rarely encounters elsewhere... Form and content are indivisible" (Adrian Turner, quoted in John Kobal's Top 100 Movies)

" He loads the air with sumptuousness. Every image adds to the richness. His flowing camera continually finds unexpected levels and perspectives." (Eric Rhode, A History of the Cinema)

"His absolute mastery of decor, the long take, and the moving camera make Mizoguchi one of the great mise-en-scene directors of the international cinema" (David Cook, A History of Narrative Film)

"He omits a note so pure that the slightest variation becomes expressive" (Philippe Demonsablon)

"Kenji Mizoguchi is to the cinema what Bach is to music, Cervantes is to literature, Shakespeare is to the theatre, Titian is to painting: the very greatest" (Jean Douchet)

"With Mizoguchi, form and idea, atmosphere and feeling are indivisible... his films are assembled out of images of breathtaking exactness...a world which irresistibly captures and enfolds the spectator" (David Robinson, The Times)

"What he conserves becomes in his hands an inexhaustible resource. ...Let every young filmmaker take any late Mizoguchi film and watch... we could do worse than to treat this oeuvre as an Academy for the Study of Staging" (David Bordwell, Figures Traced in Light, 2005)

"The master among masters in the Japanese film world...to talk about this man is at the same time to talk about the path upon which the Japanese film has progressed" (Tadao Sato)

"The three-clawed fiend" (faithful scriptwriter Yoshikata Yoda)

"This man they call Mizoguchi is an idiot" (Mizoguchi himself)
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