Kenji Mizoguchi

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ltfontaine
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#76 Post by ltfontaine » Wed May 23, 2007 5:17 pm

the dancing kid wrote:But his long-standing project seems to be to remove Japanese film studies from the discourse of ethnographic subject (the west) looking down at the ethnographic object (Japan), which I think is valid, and presented far more clearly in his book on Kurosawa.
Based solely on my reading of Yoshimoto's excellent Kurosawa book, I would agree that he intends to reclaim interpretation of the Japanese cinema for Japanese commentators, a most welcome effort. In that book, Yoshimoto is especially critical of dominant analytical models that construe Japanese modernism (and by extension, cinema) as an inverted reflection of that in the West, and do so without ever acknowledging that Japan contains multiple dimensions of modernism shaped by history, geography, culture, international relations and other indigenous factors. Yoshimoto states his orientation according to the question, “How does a person coming from the Japanese tradition see a Japanese film for what it is?â€

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Steven H
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#77 Post by Steven H » Wed May 23, 2007 5:18 pm

the dancing kid wrote:But his long-standing project seems to be to remove Japanese film studies from the discourse of ethnographic subject (the west) looking down at the ethnographic object (Japan), which I think is valid, and presented far more clearly in his book on Kurosawa.
I can certainly agree with that. His book on Kurosawa is extremely enlightening, though I've only read it sporadically (after watching specific films).
the dancing kid wrote:
But if you understand modern warfare as a major part of social modernization, then he falls right into play. I would agree that his films are contradictory, but I still see them as a player within modernity (perhaps struggling against it) not outside of it.
I definitely agree that Mizoguchi is still involved in that discourse. I think one of the ideological projects of wartime cinema in Japan was to create an alternative form of modernity, so at the very least there's always a dialectical relationship between what they were doing (repression of the subject) and what we typically think of as western modernity (emergence of the modern subject).
This reminds me of the chapters on wartime film contained in both Isolde Standish's books. Very interesting time period, but an attempt to control modernity (the non-colonial sort) is still an advancing modernity. I think every government at that point was trying very hard to control social discourse in as many ways possible, to retain power (which the horizontal rather than vertical modern world would siphon.) Maybe Japan stands out the most because of their spectacular loss (in almost every way, after WWII) and then equally spectacular rejuvenation, economically. That neo-confucian ideals survived isn't odd, and I'm actually surprised those thoughts didn't become more entrenched. The power of modern propaganda is intensely powerful, but it's still modern.

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ltfontaine
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#78 Post by ltfontaine » Wed May 23, 2007 5:56 pm

Steven H wrote:I think every government at that point was trying very hard to control social discourse in as many ways possible, to retain power (which the horizontal rather than vertical modern world would siphon.) Maybe Japan stands out the most because of their spectacular loss (in almost every way, after WWII) and then equally spectacular rejuvenation, economically. That neo-confucian ideals survived isn't odd, and I'm actually surprised those thoughts didn't become more entrenched. The power of modern propaganda is intensely powerful, but it's still modern.
Yoshimoto, in the Kurosawa book, proposes that modernization theory, as fashioned by Cold War Westerners intent on fast-tracking post-war Japan into the capitalist mainstream, found the Japanese system of traditional values a convenient means of accounting for, codifying and conflating a vast array of Japanese social, economic and political problems. He suggests that, as a result, Westerners have overestimated what he calls “the ideal of a Japanese consensus society.â€

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david hare
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#79 Post by david hare » Wed May 23, 2007 10:39 pm

A few thoughts:

rather than "histrionic" might it not be preferable to call Mizos style -if you mean by this, long takes, expressive camera movements, plans sequences, decorative embellishment which deepens the texture of the image, and encouragement of both internal and "externally" expressed performances - as Gestural.

In this light Mizos thrities movies are the key. And of course how many of us have seen any of them in recent memory, not to mention an army of potential fans who've NEVER seen them. Ive only seen, and can remember three - Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion and Zangiku Monogatari. I only own Osaka Elegy (and Tokyo March which I largely discount as fragmentary for the moment) but my clear impression is that Mizo was energized by contemporary narratives in the prewar period, and was eating up stylistic influences from Hollywood. In particular Sternberg, whose Blonde Venus sequence Ive mentioned often times as a notable source for hommage in Osaka Elegy.

The Sternberg connection is fascinating insofar as the Von's thrities narratives are largely NON contemporary - notable exceptions Blonde Venus and American Tragedy - (and of course his great silent pictures.) Sternberg's "pasts" or "domains" of the imagination like his imaginary Spain, Morocco, Russia, Austria are served by a highly developed mise en scene which still maintains such "old fashioned" techniques as dissolves and wipes - Sternberg's dissolves in Dishonored must be among the longest in the history of movies. Anyhow, Sternberg's mise en scene, rather than reflecting some sort of accumulation of existing technique and style actually synthesizes all these elements of visual construction into the service of single mindedly poetic visualizations of a state of mind. That's putting it oversimply but I hope the drift is clear.

I think Im beginning to feel Mizos mise en scene, and his narrative preferences and perormance styles are a very similar synthesis of what was current cinema language up to that time, to service conetmporarily located narratives like Osaka Elegy in which an ongoing central thematic concern is the role and status of women in Japanese society.

Perhaps the adoption of a Japanese mode like "Fallen Rebellious Daughter bringing shame on the family" is close enough to Hollywood "Women's picture" formulas to give him the freedom to pursue an otherwise unwelcome or even taboo subject in 30s popular Japanese culture, for example.

Then the war changed everything, and IMO at least segues into Mizo's least rewarding period, from 47 Ronin through to 1950. The constraints of the military propganda format, elegant as Ronin is, doesn't move me in any way, as is also the case with post war Occuaption propoganda nonsense like Lady Musashino, with the final, intrinsically comic VO of the now dead matriarch to invoke the reconstruction of Tokyo while Mizo performs one his celebrated crane shots. (I now find the scene risible.)

But everything hots up again with the fifties. And it's this period getting the bulk of attention here. How marvellous the third French boxset in July will basically round up Mizos post war work on DVD.

MichaelK I wish I could comment on Mizo's responses to Western Opera. I haven't a clue, but is there anything in the voluminous interviews and recollections of Toda?

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the dancing kid
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#80 Post by the dancing kid » Wed May 23, 2007 11:22 pm

ltfontaine wrote: Based solely on my reading of Yoshimoto's excellent Kurosawa book, I would agree that he intends to reclaim interpretation of the Japanese cinema for Japanese commentators, a most welcome effort.

I don't have a copy handy, but is he really arguing for Japanese commentators, or just non-essentialist/Orientalist analysis? I don't think a Japanese scholar necessarily has any more insight than a non-Japanese one by simple virtue of his or her nationality.

From what I recall, he takes people like Stephen Prince to task for reducing pretty much everything to "warrior codes" and things like that.
Steven H wrote: This reminds me of the chapters on wartime film contained in both Isolde Standish's books.

I really enjoy her "New History" book, which I think is the best general survey out there (aside from possibly Masumura's, which is sadly unavailable in English). Her next book is apparently all about wartime cinema, which should be interesting. There seem to be a few people working in that area right now, which I think is great.
Very interesting time period, but an attempt to control modernity (the non-colonial sort) is still an advancing modernity.

I'm not sure. In a general sense, I think modernity is defined by the expansion of social horizons through the leveling of class, gender, etc. Those things were made possible by new technologies and capitalism*, which allowed for the individual subject to function as the basic unit of society rather than the family. Wartime Japan is clearly interested in preserving the family as the foundation of society, and went to great length to repress the individual subject (or at least represent that in the cinema).

Although we often discuss modernity in terms of a historical time period, it doesn't unfold everywhere at the same time and in the same manner, which complicates things. This is part of what Yoshimoto and Russell at looking into.

*to clarify this, I think that we can also say that capitalism gives the illusion of autonomy by removing the individual from a system of dependencies organized around the family and placing him or her in a larger, invisible network of capital, which creates another set of dependencies that are essentially hidden.
Maybe Japan stands out the most because of their spectacular loss (in almost every way, after WWII) and then equally spectacular rejuvenation, economically.

I think Germany is just as significant. Walter Benjamin all but predicted the concentration camp as the "end game" of modernization, in which physical life became an extension of political life; the human body was in the domain of the state, and the camp was the realization of the biopolitical system of management. Giorgio Agamben also has some interesting thoughts on that in his book 'Homo Sacer'.

Also, Masumura called Mizoguchi a "caricaturist" which I think is accurate. He doesn't mean it as an insult or as a way of dismissing Mizoguchi's work, but rather as a way of trying to explain his mode of representation (particularly acting I think), which tends to drift toward exaggeration.

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Steven H
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#81 Post by Steven H » Thu May 24, 2007 12:51 am

the dancing kid wrote:
Very interesting time period, but an attempt to control modernity (the non-colonial sort) is still an advancing modernity.

I'm not sure. In a general sense, I think modernity is defined by the expansion of social horizons through the leveling of class, gender, etc. Those things were made possible by new technologies and capitalism*, which allowed for the individual subject to function as the basic unit of society rather than the family. Wartime Japan is clearly interested in preserving the family as the foundation of society, and went to great length to repress the individual subject (or at least represent that in the cinema).
To me, the ideas of equality were relatively new, but as you said the real engines of modernity were industrialization and technological innovations which altered our mobility and communications (car/train, phone, it's funny I just bought the book "Guns, Germs, and Steel" today, which seems to follow this type of reasoning) and saying modernity only levels out society ignores it's downside. I see modern warfare as an extension of this, and any repression of the individual also seemed an *appeal to* the individual, therefore reflecting modern ideals, whereas in the past fighting spirit kokutai (I believe) was the overbearing reality itself, with a feudal connotation that might seem unfathomable to a modern, early 20th century, Japanese. Even someone like Ikki Kita, who conspired to overthrow the government out of "filial piety", was acting on modern impulses, that his individual acts could change the world for the better. As for the father/emperor link, how many governments adopted a similar paternal ethos (Uncle Sam or Mother Russia... I'm half kidding)? Maybe we've deluded ourselves that good vs. evil is all that different from giri vs. ninjo?

In my eyes, modernity has more to do with trade than internal politics. Perhaps the militarists (or the feudal lords during the isolation period) saw this as an immediate threat when they banned foreign films, and placed an emphasis on a half understood past, and paternal repression. All of these activities were struggling against modernity, in my eyes, while feuling its tanks (which Mizoguchi seemed to have proudly helped drive). I hope I'm not contradicting myself too much, I'm still learning my way around a lot of these ideas which I'm sure many learned people here find old hat.
I think Germany is just as significant. Walter Benjamin all but predicted the concentration camp as the "end game" of modernization, in which physical life became an extension of political life; the human body was in the domain of the state, and the camp was the realization of the biopolitical system of management. Giorgio Agamben also has some interesting thoughts on that in his book 'Homo Sacer'.
That sounds fascinating. Thanks for the recommendation.
Also, Masumura called Mizoguchi a "caricaturist" which I think is accurate. He doesn't mean it as an insult or as a way of dismissing Mizoguchi's work, but rather as a way of trying to explain his mode of representation (particularly acting I think), which tends to drift toward exaggeration.
Maybe this is one of the better (worst?) functions of the culture gap, that we're deprived of contempt through familiarity with such things and just plain ignorant of exaggerated uses of language.

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ltfontaine
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#82 Post by ltfontaine » Thu May 24, 2007 1:27 pm

the dancing kid wrote:I don't have a copy handy, but is he really arguing for Japanese commentators, or just non-essentialist/Orientalist analysis? I don't think a Japanese scholar necessarily has any more insight than a non-Japanese one by simple virtue of his or her nationality.
Yoshimoto's argument suggests that cross-cultural critique of Japanese cinema is most often implicitly, or even explicitly (Burch, Richie, etc.), articulated from the point of view of a blinkered "outsider." If he exempts any Western commentators from this judgment, he does not name them. Given his bottom line--“How does a person coming from the Japanese tradition see a Japanese film for what it is?â€
Last edited by ltfontaine on Mon Jun 25, 2007 1:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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HerrSchreck
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#83 Post by HerrSchreck » Sat May 26, 2007 4:46 pm

Steven H wrote:Actually, I've been so busy with work lately I've been falling asleep before I hit the bed, nevertheless watching obscure, run of the mill, domestic melodramas (invalid or not). I'm sure both of your hearts are in the right place. Dove, olive branch, etc.

What I really want is a discussion of whether or not Mizoguchi was "modern". That seems really interesting to me, especially after reading some of Catherine Russell's very interesting takes on modernity in early Japanese films (the films themselves being a representation and engine of modernity). You have Ozu and Naruse (as early as 1935) showing women in suits, choosing their own suitors, showing varying personalities, whereas Mizoguchi seems drenched in Meiji shimpa style melodrama, even when discussing prostitutes in a contemporary setting. He seems far more interested in society treating women better (paternal, conservative), than women demanding better treatment (suffrage, progressive).

In his formal style, it's a little harder to ascribe. I don't believe modernity can be discounted or ascribed in Mizoguchi since film was a modern invention to begin with, which makes it a moot point. If you say that Mizoguchi is modern, as in "modern art", or an "emphasis on representing emotions, themes, and various abstractions" (as wikipedia defines it), then I would say he definitely *was* modern, though he probably wouldn't say it himself. A person who lived in the past while being ahead of his time, maybe (what other directors can we say this about?).
Steve, I'm glad you got the thrust of my point which was not a negative one by any means: your's and Mike's passion for Japanese films is such that much of it simply goes right by me and all I can do is sit and listen and hope to leap onto whiffs I get concerning consensus, and the right kind of language about a film which-- if I havent seen it already-- might prompt me to go out and grab something obscure that I may not have seen. Absorbing the mundane along with the sublime is the hallmark of any investigation, be it aesthetic or otherwise. Men sit for years in a lab performing research waiting for the occasional breakthrough or epiphany.

It's the same with film--- treasure hunting. You walk around with your metal detector on the beach waiting for the right kind of beep, you dig in the dirt and come up with something other than a bottlecap. I have so many DVDs & vhs's of pre-1960's film that my room is a complete disaster. I have so many silent films on video that (it really is ridiculous) I fucking SLEEP with them (when my girlfriend isn't over prompting me to clean off my mattress... the only problem is when SADIE THOMPSON yawns while under me and honks "Is it in?"-- cant tell you how many times my feelings have been hurt by the callous bitch). But the serious point is much of the material I have-- or have seen-- via my investigations are extremely mundane, complete w melodramatic gesticulating etc (in the zone of silents)... you have to weed through the crap to get to those unexpected surprises.

Michael-- there is no need to worry about buildups or bringdowns in cases of newbies coming to these films. Nothing I could say could build them up any higher than the fact than Janus has decided to slip SANSHO (which I don't rate as Mizo's best, though definitely instructive as to the magic that is his style and the relentless depth of his fabric) into the CCollection. Or same with MoC. This is going to raise their expectations higher than anything you or I or anyone else here on this forum possibly could-- not to say that we are without influence. I know folks on this forum have bought films they would have blooped over were it not for a rave by me.

And so the fact remains-- that's the point here on this forum. People have their own visions of what they like. They listen to the times your opinion has steered them into something that was a revelation to them. Folks who share your tastes will say "Well if Kerpan is jumping up & down in his dry goods for this then its probably going to be my barrell of moonshine." There may be others out there who have learned that their tastes are closer to mine, and might even say "If Schreck is creaming in his polyester for this artwork, there's a good shot I'll do the same... and if Schreck is getting all dewey eyed for this AND Kerpan hates it well then there's a good chance that this film is going to be one of those epiphanies that change my life." And vice versa for those who may say "If H.S. hates it-- well it's got to be good!"

It's one thing to stick up for a film if someone's tearing it down and defaming it... and it's something that means so much to you that you want to come out and say something positive. God knows I've done that around here from anything from directors, to films, to film distributors/labels. But to come out doing the reverse-- trying to isolate another person's profound love for a film or director as "incorrect"--it's a negative behavior, and guaranteed to get a rresponse. And it almost begs for reversal, like-- "Okay.. so let's take a look at what you've been watching." Mike, you've clearly stated in response to Dave & Michael that you have a bit of an agenda with Mizo, that there are responses to his work which bother you, and which you feel obliged to "handle".

There is no proper emotional reponse to Mizo. There should be no consensus label. These are artworks, and responses will be as varied and infinite as one human being for another.

And I still don't know what it was in my first (long) response to you where I talked about The Personal Lives of Filmmakers, that was so nasty, or a long personal "vicious attack" on you. But it's not important anymore.

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Steven H
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#84 Post by Steven H » Sat May 26, 2007 7:29 pm

It seems that with silents and Japanese films (and more) where you have a massive amount of output and relatively little exposure. I greatly enjoy reading about a silent film I haven't seen, and then going after it, and hopefully later this year a few Mizoguchi's silents will be available through Digital Meme with english subs, so the rest of the world can make up their minds about that era of his work.

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#85 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sun May 27, 2007 3:24 pm

I have (many times) made the point that, while I do not like Mizoguchi "as a person", I do my best to set this attitude aside when looking at his work (as I do with even more problematic artistic figures -- like Richard Wagner). In this particular case, I made it clear that my (rather mild) criticism of "Sansho" was based strictly on artistic principles.

I have no "agenda" as to Mizoguchi -- I simply reject deification of artistic figures (even those I most admire) and sanctification of their work.

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HerrSchreck
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#86 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue May 29, 2007 2:00 pm

With hatchet fully buried I'd like to return to the essence of Mizo's aesthetic when realized at it's best, and a surmisal as to it's influences, and what it is that's there-- for those who feel this "profound otherworldiness" (for want of a less lipglossy term)-- that strikes so deeply.

Certainly Mizo & Ozu were operating in similar spiritual and psychological terrain in thieir continual revisitation of the role of women (Naruse as well, and many others of course, but I momentarily choose these two for a very specific and instructive reason) and, more importantly, the essence of mono no aware... the state of spiritual equanimity. Enlightenment, swallowing the bitter with the sweet, facing the difficult sum of the life experience-- suffering-- straight on.

Instructive comparison because of course stylistically the two men leading up to and through the fifties couldn't have exhibited a less similar mise en scene, although the psycholical result in the viewer is often the same: profound manifestation in the viewer of That Which Is Unspoken Onscreen. Both men did not fear dipping into blatant pathos or melodrama, and yet the effect is always (in their finest examples) entirely unique and without ever leaving one feeling subject to a "weepie" or "cheap"/"easy shot" on behalf of the director moving his subjects around the chessboard of the screen. In terms of melodramatic "obviousness" certainly Mizo would be the clear winner: unlike Ozu, nobody can walk away from his best works and be unclear as to "what the fuss is all about"... a phenom which goes on in Ozu's work to this day. Many viewers--particularly Occidental-- come out of some of Ozu's most monstrously affecting works including all the obvious Noriko masterpieces and the better silents having no idea why this man and his work are so heavily lionized. I hesitate to apply the cornball old label "most Japanese" to Ozu, as there was only one Ozu-- and only one who dared to attempt such an extreme minimalism (which would be so dangerous in less personal/skilled hands), but he definitely was the less "western" of the two, that is, vs Mizo.

I too see hard influence of not only Sternberg, but all the best of the poetic mise en scene of the late silent cinema on display in Mizo: Murnau, Stroeheim in particular, the sublime flickering of light and gorgeous melancholic pools of shadow in the best of the french impressionists-- that is to say the masterpieces of Kirsanoff (eat your heart out david... headed to the Anthology in a week or so to finally catch the full cut of RAPT) and Jean Epstein. But I'd have to agree with David in his identification of early-to-mid-30's von Sternberg in these Mizoguchi masterworks.

Pure directorial dominance and vision thru meticlous mise en scene, ramming his internal vision-- the look of the inside of the humming, throbbing dream-state of the mans mind-- with fanaticism thru cast and crew and embellishing celluloid. Many many lessons of von Stern's work are on display here, what Sterberg calls "Illusion". Like a mentalist or goldbricking confidence-man revealiinghis "secret", von revealed in an interview w the BBC/K Brownlow (in which he was asked to create a classic Sternbergian "shot" to reveal a smidgeon of his technique) his assertion about the peak moments of his directorial fabric: "It's all just an illusion." SOunds obvious, in that all cinema is illusion, but he meant something quite different and extremely distinct and very specific-- attaching through audio-visual-editorial (cutting) means an importance, a hugeness & significance, to mundane moments... an almost religious aura created around the opening & closing of a door vs a jealous female opponent, or breathing nervously behind a lace wedding veil foregrounded by flickering candles... a simple knowing gaze during silence and in a pool of light in high contrast, surrounded by smaller swirling, flickering pools of light and dancing candle shadows, an eyebrow barely lifting in the suspended moment that is drawn out and potentiated using the full power of the cinema. No one (of course) in real life can stare at another person with such drama, can have the light in the room so fully and symphonically provide counterpoint and support to your own (non)verbal or physical expression. It's the practice (pumped muscularly up or down in relation to character) of mythologizing-- in von Sternberg's case (particularly w Dietrich)-- not only the character in the film but the actor or actress themselves. Genuine mythologizing is very rare in that, when manufactured to a suitable stripe, the subject inherits it like a gift and does his or her best to make sure it follows them around for the rest of their life, which it usually does. They walk out onto a NYC or Parisian concert hall and the crowd goes wild because a great movie just walked in on two legs, not an actress. Dietrich's immortality is of a very very rare stripe, owing less to what she did, and more to what she was told to do, and the OTHERWORLDLINESS OF HER (purely atrificial or illusory) DIRECTORIALY CREATED SURROUNDINGS, brought to her gratis by the person of Josef von Sternberg and absolutely positively nobody else. It sounds like simple cinematic ABC's, but it's not: very few directors have a muscular enough mise en scene to create the otherworldly myth around an actress as von did for Marlene... a woman who, let's face it, had almost no "singing" voice and almost no acting chops: the woman was pure attitude and presence, and without von's seeing in her a supreme Ornament of Female Power in the unfolding of his superatomically powerful cinematic image-mythmaking, she might have had to shift to typing or god knows what else to survive. She was a VERY lucky woman to have encountered that kind of artistic power, with that sort of farsighted vision of integration of a woman into a tapestry, who not only sculpted her for herself, but created around her the eternal museum that will keep her on perfect display forever.

These same skills of Cinematic Magnification were absorbed and recast, in my view, by Mizoguchi, and put in the service of a very different kind of woman (a type, rather than a specific actress i e Marlene): passive, though not entirely so, in that-- while suffering due to the machinations of others-- she does attempt to steer her path out of destruction when possible... even though this is not always possible, or possible with honor or spirit, and destruction must follow. Mizo's women are agents of timeless goodness instead of raw power (or just Agents haw haw haw), dignity instead of dominance. SO while Ozu may be the more stylistically non-western than Mizo, spiritually and philosophically they are both interested in the same set of concerns, very eastern, of acceptance, operation in the big picture versus concerns of the individual/self, kindness and mercy, seflessness and honor, etc.

And so in this sense Mizo takes the cinematic lessons of incredibly powerful rendering, and instead of mythologizing a person-- and the qualities and effects (on others) of this charismatic, infectuous individual (like von's use of Dietrich)-- he elevates and mythologizes already elevated and mythologized sanctified ideas, spiritual beliefs concerning acceptance, suffering, the sense of being surrounded by the presence and the lessons of the legions of dead.. generations gone by straining to break through the fabric of life itself... and the states of mind these dispositions can trigger in individuals. It's a totally fucking unique use of the power of the cinema, and what grabs me so much is it's deep nobility. There's a sense lying underneath it all (for me) that getting these points across are a major fuckin issue for Mizo... like some of the better of Kurosawas B&W works, there's a sense that all must not be completely hopeless yet... that yes (as is said by the priest in SANSHO) "People don't care much about things that don't directly concern them,"yet Mizoguchi isn't quite ready to throw in the towel yet, and his better films are enormous, basically noble sincere efforts to try and knock on peoples skulls. That to believe it's all totally hopeless, that human betterment through example and works is utterly impossible, would entail a commission to heart a set of facts so personally abhorrent to Mizo that he'd have nothing in life left worth putting all that effort into. The knowledge of his terrible temper, blackhearted disposition and hardhearted working style (where you suspect the dude has the creeping cynical voice in his head saying You're Pissing Into The Wind, Dude) to me is testament to the depth of his sincerity and the result of his genuine attachment to these spiritual ideas... which in the film business probably served him poorly. I don't neccessarily believe he had the strength to apply any of these lessons to his own life, either. It may have in turn made him a complete hypocrite. But that's fascinating to me-- utterly compelling that a man so talented/insightful could be such a disaster (shades of my father). I like brilliant cats who were totally fucked in the head. It's no mystery to me why he was so worshipped by his peers and (to varying degrees) his New Wave inheritors.

I see Mizo as a possible stylistic brother, destinationwise, to Yamanaka had he survived the war (throw in more humor and of course stylistic variants and wildcards). But I do see hints of similarity in foundation.

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Michael
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#87 Post by Michael » Tue May 29, 2007 2:47 pm

Schreck, what's your favorite Mizoguchi film? You hold a very high esteem of Ugetsu and Sansho..have you seen Life of Oharu?

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#88 Post by Mise En Scene » Tue May 29, 2007 5:45 pm

Michael wrote:
But he always moves me more (and Im reminded of two felicitous appreciations of him which are more than fulsome - Robin Wood's superb essay on Ugetsu in Personal Views which is one of the most exemplary and deepest felt pieces of film writing Ive ever read; and David Thompson of all people who nails his mise en scene perfectly as one which physically and visually illustrates profound emotions intelligently through the camera.
Where can I locate those essays?
Wayne State Uni Press has reprinted/reissued Woods' Personal Views: Explorations in Film which contains his Mizoguchi essays on Ugetsu and Sansho Dayu. (They've also reprinted Wood's Howard Hawks monograph.)

Take a look at the books contents here.

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#89 Post by Nuno » Wed May 30, 2007 5:12 pm

My favorite's "Chikamatsu Monogatari". I hope a Criterion edition will be available soon...

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#90 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed May 30, 2007 7:02 pm

Nuno wrote:My favorite's "Chikamatsu Monogatari". .
Good pick. ;~}
I hope a Criterion edition will be available soon..
If the MOC version is nice enough, Criterion will be out of luck (insofar as my acquisition funds go).

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Michael
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#91 Post by Michael » Thu May 31, 2007 5:41 pm

Watched Sansho and Ugetsu last week. And Oharu this morning. I couldn't help feeling that Oharu is so much more stunning and engrossing than the other Mizoguchis. Oharu follows me everywhere I go today. I find it very hard to talk to anyone about anything. I know it's only a movie but it really made me feel richer for having seen this masterpiece. Only a very, very few films could do that with this tremendous measure.

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#92 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu May 31, 2007 7:56 pm

Michael wrote:Watched Sansho and Ugetsu last week. And Oharu this morning. I couldn't help feeling that Oharu is so much more stunning and engrossing than the other Mizoguchis. Oharu follows me everywhere I go today. I find it very hard to talk to anyone about anything. I know it's only a movie but it really made me feel richer for having seen this masterpiece. Only a very, very few films could do that with this tremendous measure.
I also like this more than Sansho and Ugetsu. O-Haru is a much more fully developed character -- and Tanaka is simply magnificent in bringing her to (virtual) life.

Are these three the only ones you've seen so far?

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Michael
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#93 Post by Michael » Fri Jun 01, 2007 1:06 pm

I also like this more than Sansho and Ugetsu. O-Haru is a much more fully developed character -- and Tanaka is simply magnificent in bringing her to (virtual) life.
Absolutely. She shatters my heart but strangely soothes me at the same time, guess it's because of her purity delicately expressed by Tanaka. A day after seeing the film, I still feel her holding me. Needless to say, Sansho and Ugetsu are profondly beautiful. But like I said elsewhere, they are uneven. Not as complete and perfect as O-haru. O-haru left me shaking and it still does.
Are these three the only ones you've seen so far?
Somewhat. I saw various Mizoguchi films on scratchy library VHS more than 15 years ago so they are vague memories but Sansho, Ugetsu and O-haru remain very fresh in my mind right now because I saw them so recently.

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Michael Kerpan
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#94 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Jun 01, 2007 3:08 pm

Tanaka is also especially tremendous in "Utamaro" (albeit not in the central role there) and "Love of Sumako the Actress". She covers the most ground as O-Haru, however.

In Naruse's "Flowing", Isuzu Yamada finds Tanaka's character's name too old fashioned -- and so renames her .... "O-Haru". ;~}

(It seems like a deliberate meta-cinematic joke -- but may actually come out of the 1955 novel by Aya Koda -- who would presumably have been familiar with the Mizoguchi film).

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#95 Post by Kenji » Mon Jun 25, 2007 1:58 am

Thanks for the info on the (apparent) meta-cinematic joke, Michael, me old mate. I must say that thought had crossed my mind- so it wasn't Naruse's idea after all.

Of course the Le Fanu book was disappointing and i'd like to know his reasons for the book's unexpected and quite confusing running order. His Tarkovsky book followed the films chronologically. I could also have done with a bit more on Japanese cultural history and specific artistic influences on Mizo. But there was some mitigation as i thought he hit the nail on the head with Loyal 47 Ronin (as a fellow fanboy i certainly prefer his reading to Darrell Davis' in Picturing Japaneseness, though Davis' close examination of camera movements is admirable)- and of course it helps that he ranks Sansho as Mizo's peak.

I appreciate the delicacy and restraint of Ozu and Naruse, including their work with actors- Mizo performances do seem quite histrionic and certainly too "broad" at times in comparison, but then his agenda was very different. Take Tobei in Ugetsu, which brought to mind the 2 bungling buffoons in Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress. Ugetsu is supremely beautiful in the Lady Wakasa mansion section, but somewhat weakened by the Tobei plot i.m.o.

I don't really like all the competitive and (almost inevitably) derogatory comparisons between Mizo, Ozu and Kurosawa- in spite of my own comparison above-, as they tend to get people's noses up/ antagonise, and so are often counter-productive, when the more helpful comparison would be between Japanese cinema and Hollywood: we Japanophiles should be working together to spread the word. Yet it seems virtually every Mizo discussion includes some sort of debate on the 3 big (famous) Japanese directors' respective merits and flaws.

In a world obsessed with celebrity and shallow self-promotion in various art forms (David Beckham, Tracy Emin, anyone?), the neglect of Mizoguchi is particularly galling.

As for Anthony Lane not watching Sansho again; well, i tend to be wary of repeat viewings of films that make a huge impact on me. I would prefer to study Mizoguchi closely through films that i feel less emotionally attached to, e.g Life of Oharu (in which i agree Oharu's misfortune seems almost too relentless). For instance, I haven't seen Wenders' Alice in the Cities, a film i adore, for many years, and i'm careful with Sansho.

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Michael Kerpan
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#96 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Jun 25, 2007 9:15 am

It is utterly silly to set Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu and Naruse up in some sort of "competition" -- as each brings his own (considerable) strengths (many) and (arguable) weaknesses (few) to the screen. The same could be set about the other even less well known greats -- like Yamanaka and Shimizu and Uchida (and more we scarecely know of). Cinematic greatness is not a zewro sum game.

When I criticize Mizoguchi's work, I try to do so (primarily) with reference to his own body of work. The fact that a Mizoguchi film is radically different from an Ozu one does not make it bad (or, conversely, good) -- just different.

I don't think many of the best performances in Mizoguchi are particularly histrionic. In any event, almost all my favorite Mizoguchi performances are relatively restrained. ;~}

WhileLeFanu's book has a number of interesting bits and pieces, its disorganization -- and overall lack of real analysis -- makes it a better candidiate for library borrowing than ownership.

On a different topic -- I don't believe the book "Flowing" is available in English -- so I can't confirm the whether it uses O-Haru -- or whether Naruse and company interjected this.

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#97 Post by Kenji » Mon Jun 25, 2007 9:53 am

Yeah, of course my comment on avoiding unnecessary derogatory competition when championing any of the Japanese greats was aimed generally, not at MK!

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#98 Post by malcolm1980 » Mon Jun 25, 2007 1:39 pm

I've seen two Mizoguchi films so far: Ugetsu and The 47 Ronin

I loved Ugetsu (I own the Criterion) but I feel mixed about 47 Ronin. I find it extraordinary that a 4 hour movie about samurais managed to avoid virtually all scenes of action and violence. It's both interesting and, I must say, a bit maddening.

What Mizoguchi film should I seek next?

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#99 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Jun 25, 2007 1:46 pm

malcolm1980 wrote:I've seen two Mizoguchi films so far: Ugetsu and The 47 Ronin

I loved Ugetsu (I own the Criterion) but I feel mixed about 47 Ronin. I find it extraordinary that a 4 hour movie about samurais managed to avoid virtually all scenes of action and violence. It's both interesting and, I must say, a bit maddening.

What Mizoguchi film should I seek next?
Unless you live near a library or video store that owns lots of out-of-print videos, you have limited options. Sansho the Bailiff (Criterion -- excellent DVD) -- and in the UK, mediocre DVDs of "Life of O-Haru" (a great film) and "Lady of Musashino" (relatively minor Mizoguchi). If you can read French, rhere are a few more films available on DVD now. Otherwise, if you want DVDs, you have to wait for the Masters of Cinema release (in the UK) later this year (I hope).

If you can find videos, I'll offer more suggestions -- otherwise, for now, the Criterion Sansho is your best bet.

FWIW -- I think Mizoguchi's _avoidance_ of action in "47 Ronin" is part of what makes it so brilliant. The women reading the letter describing the attack is far more thrilling than _watching_ yet another samurai battle. (This story has been filmed dozens of times -- so inventiveness and novelty in treating the story is a major virtue).

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#100 Post by Kenji » Mon Jun 25, 2007 1:51 pm

Ah, the avoidance of violence is one of the film's great assets- a Samurai revenge film that concentrates on codes of honour and spatial exploration!. Too slow for most tastes, but for me, a massive masterpiece. Kurosawa criticised the avoidance of the climactic violent struggle, but- whether by design or Mizo's relative "weakness" with action sequences- i think it works wonderfully, enabling us to focus on the women's reaction.

Next film to try? Why not Sansho the Bailiff, probably his most widely loved and admired film (even if more will have seen Ugetsu). It's much more accessible than 47 Ronin, don't worry.

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