Japanese Cinema

The Pornographers, 1966

A film crew hikes to the outskirts of town in order to surreptitiously shoot a pornographic film. Flouting the law, a pornographer named Ogata (Shoichi Ozawa) rationalizes his disreputable livelihood as a necessary commodity and public service for the continued well-being of society. The enterprising men screen their latest project, and the film opens with… read more »

The Insect Woman, 1963

The Insect Woman opens to the spare and indelible magnified shot of an ant crawling awkwardly, but persistently, through the rough terrain of its microcosmic environment. The image of the tenacious insect is then repeated through the shot of a harried, simple-minded man named Chuji (Kazuo Kitamura) as he trudges through the treacherous winter fields… read more »

Pigs and Battleships, 1961

A rousing Star Spangled Banner-themed overture accompanies the impressive sight of modern buildings lining the industrial landscape of a postwar Japanese port town in a seeming celebration of the scale of reconstruction achieved under American occupation. The idyllic image of progress through cooperative international unity would, however, be immediately subverted with a perspective shift to… read more »

The Makioka Sisters, 1983

In the spring of 1938, the proud Makioka sisters, daughters of a prominent merchant family, have gathered in Kyoto for their customary annual viewing of cherry blossoms (hanami). The film opens to the serene and idyllic image of rainfall against the picturesque natural landscape, and is unexpectedly truncated by the spoken word okane (money) as… read more »

An Actor’s Revenge, 1963

As a punitive assignment for a string of commercially unsuccessful films, Kon Ichikawa was tasked with a re-adaptation of a mediocre serialized story entitled An Actor’s Revenge, and consequently turned the banal pulp melodrama into an dazzling, idiosyncratic spectacle. Originally adapted to film by Teinosuke Kinugasa (who himself had a career as an onnagata –… read more »

Kagi/Odd Obsession, 1959

An impassive medical intern named Kimura (Tatsuya Nakadai) speaks directly to the camera and describes a scientific theory on the systematic degradation of a man’s physical faculties – the start of his irreversible senility – from the age of ten, directing the attention of the audience to an middle-aged scholar on classical art objects named… read more »

Fires on the Plain, 1959

Fires on the Plain opens to a harsh and unexpectedly cruel act, as Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi) is struck in the face by his commanding officer for returning to his under-provisioned and demoralized regiment. Suffering from tuberculosis, Tamura had been sent to a field hospital in Leyte in order to avoid taxing their limited supplies. Tamura… read more »

Enjo/Conflagration, 1958

A quiet, asocial young man named Goichi Mizoguchi (Raizo Ichikawa) arrives at the idyllic Soenji Temple that houses the renowned Shukaku Pavilion with a letter of introduction from his late father, a humble, provincial monk and trusted friend of the Chief Priest, Tayama (Ganjiro Nakamura). Unmarried and without an heir to the temple, Tayama quickly… read more »

The Burmese Harp, 1956

During the final days of the Second World War, a weary Japanese regiment is sent on a military campaign to Burma. Far from zealous, determined career soldiers, the troop consists of ordinary, dutiful civilians led by a thoughtful music teacher named Captain Inouye (Rentaro Mikune). In order to improve morale and build camaraderie, Captain Inouye… read more »

Tokyo Sonata, 2008

After a retreat to the atmospheric and spectral Loft and Retribution that reinforce Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s reputation as a horror filmmaker, Tokyo Sonata continues in the vein of his idiosyncratically personal (and arguably, more interesting), yet equally unsettling films that began with Bright Future. As the film begins, the family patriarch, middle-aged senior administrative manager, Ryuhei… read more »