Kenji Mizoguchi and the Art of Japanese Cinema by Tadao Sato,Latika Padgaonkar,Aruna Vasudev,Brij Tankha

Kenji Mizoguchi and the Art of Japanese Cinema
ISBN 1847882307
  • Author:
    Tadao Sato,Latika Padgaonkar,Aruna Vasudev,Brij Tankha
  • Title:
    Kenji Mizoguchi and the Art of Japanese Cinema
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  • Subcategory:
    History & Criticism
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  • Publisher:
    Berg Publishers; 1 edition (June 1, 2008)
  • Pages:
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Kenji Mizoguchi is one of the three acclaimed masters - together with Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa - of Japanese cinema. Kenji Mizoguchi and the Art of Japanese Cinema is the definitive guide to the life and work of one of the greatest film-makers of the twentieth century.Born at the end of the nineteenth century into a wealthy family, Mizoguchi's early life influenced the themes he would take up in his work. His father's ambitious business ventures failed and the family fell into poverty. His mother died and his elder sister was obliged to enter a geisha house to support the family. Her earnings paid for Mizoguchi's education. Weak and deluded men and strong, self-sacrificing women - these were to become the obsessive motifs of Mizoguchi's films.Mizoguchi's apprenticeship in cinema was peculiarly Japanese. His concerns - the role of women and the realist representation of the inequities of Japanese society - were not. Through two World Wars, Japan's culture changed. Though censored, Mizoguchi continued to produce films. It was only in the 1950s that Mizoguchi's astonishing cinematic vision became widely known outside Japan.Kenji Mizoguchi and the Art of Japanese Cinema tells the full story of this famously perfectionist, even tyrannical, director. Mizoguchi's key films, cinematographic techniques and his social and aesthetic concerns are all discussed and set in the context of Japan's changing popular and political culture.

Sato's book is slim, too heavy on thematics at the expense of discussing and delving into the grace, expression and evolution of Mizoguchi's camera and sound style, and shortshrifts the major accomplishment "The 47 Ronin," mostly retreading the tired disputes over its loyalty to Japan's military regime at the time of production. Nonetheless, you can feel Sato tussling with the enormity and finesse of a major film artist, as Robin Wood did with Howard Hawks and Freddy Buache did with Luis Bunuel on similar scales before him. It would be WONDERFUL for an English translation to be published of Sato's 476-page study of Nagisa Oshima. The book on Mizoguchi we have here is 196 pages. Keiko McDonald's survey is probably the most precise in artistic style among the three Mizoguchi monographs published in English (the other, by Mark Le Fanu, is also worthwhile). At this point, we need 200-page books devoted to each Mizoguchi film. Boredom could arise only from a lack of engagement by authors. Mizoguchi's films, even the relatively less ambitious ones, are worth close scrutiny.
This is a sloppy production, sad to say both for the memory of the sublime Mizoguchi and also for the reputation of Sato Tadao, perhaps the most brilliant film critic alive. The translation is klutzy English and contains highly inaccurate information inserted by the translator. Eg, p.59, on which it is stated that the term "tachiyaku" in Japanese stage drama means a "standing pose" as opposed to "poses where the actor is sitting"!! (That tachiyaku does not mean a "pose" at all, which is gobbledygook in the context, but actually means "leading man" is revealed in the simplest, non-specialized Japanese dictionary, which the translator apparently found it too troublesome to consult.) But worst of all in a book of this sort is the fact that so many fine illustrations are IDIOTICALLY MISLABELLED and neither editor seems to have noticed that, for example, it is very odd to label a photo of only one person as "Yamada Isuzu (left)" [p.62], even if one does not know the film or actors by sight, as the editors might possibly be expected to do. That these cannot be mere typos is proven by the fact that the same mistakes appear also in the Illustration List, p.181, suggesting that someone must actually have looked at them. To set the record straight, photo captions should be corrected as follows: Caption to Fig.6 actually belongs to Fig.10; caption to Fig.7 belongs to Fig.6; caption to Fig.8 belongs to Fig.7; caption to Fig. 9 belongs to Fig.8; caption to Fig.10 belongs to Fig.9; and captions for Figs. 16 & 17 are reversed.
Maybe I'm just being too picky, expecting simple accuracy from editors who claim to have been producing film magazines for 20 years; but a grant from the Japan Foundation really does deserve better than this. I had to stop reading halfway through from disgust. Maybe it gets better.
Japanese art critic Tadao Sato's study of Kenji Mizoguci, Kenji Mizoguchi And The Art Of Japanese Cinema (1982), was my next foray into understanding the films and legacy of Mizoguchi after reading Mark Le Fanu's study, Mizoguchi And Japan. Sato's book is a good companion, because he brings an understanding of traditional Japanese culture (i.e. Noh, shimpa dramas, bunraku puppet shows,etc.) and values that inform much of Mizoguchi's work. Furthermore, since he is working in his own native tongue he is able to draw from a variety of primary sources to give insights about Mizoguchi and his film making techniques. There was an interesting revelation he made in the chapter entitled "Encountering the New School of Theater," in which he discusses how in the past crimes against women (rape, incest, etc.) were heard in court the judgements were quite severe and the victims were also punished for bringing the men to trial. Sato also makes clear his judgements about Mizoguchi works; identifying those that he feels are classics (he adds A Story From Chikamatsu (1954) as one his best films along with those that are universally praised-The Life Of Ohara, Ugetsu, and Sansho The Baliff) and those that he feels are flawed or minor works in Mizoguchi's oeuvre. His chapters that analyze the camera techniques used by Mizoguchi are also illuminating: ("The Dialectic of Camera and Performance" and "Looking Up, Looking Down"). This is a useful and informative book for anyone interested in Mizoguchi or Japanese cinema. I was somewhat apprehensive about the English translation that was completed in India before reading it, but had no qualms about it while reading, however, two stills were mislabeled, however I encountered few other errors.