Film heritage of the Far East
These days films from the Far East are highly appreciated, especially those originating from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Republic of Korea. The only famous director from Japan is Tadeshi Kitano. Our program of contemporary Japanese films and the later classic films’ program will show the richness of film industry in this Far Eastern country.
In 1951, Japanese cinema achieved international fame. At this time, Japan was still overcoming the “Bad Guy” image it earned during WW II. That year, Akira Kurosawa won the Golden lion in Venice for his film Rashomon. Krvavo prijestolje (1957) - the Croatian title for this film is a translation of the English title The Throne of Blood, however its Japanese title is Castle of Spider’s Web - is a very loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Set in feudal Japan and based on stylistic characteristics and tradition of nô theatre, it is one of the best film adaptations of this British classic. The Bodyguard (1961) is Kurosawa’s most popular samurai film. He introduced a lot more action scenes and further strengthened the samurai myth in this film. It had a direct influence on the borrowing of western elements in eastern films (in the so-called easterns), on spaghetti westerns, (most notably in Fistful of Dollars by Sergio Leone), as well as Sam Peckinpah’s style. The hero of The Bodyguard, Toshiro Mifune, won an award at the Venice film festival, which at the time favored Japanese films. One of the winners of several awards was another great Japanese director, Kenji Mizoguchi (1898 - 1956), who won the Silver lion for the film Tales of Ugetsu (1953). Several different surveys proclaimed it one of the best films of all time, thanks to its refined, visually poetic directing, dream-like atmosphere, as well as the author’s very personal standpoint that covered topics such as honor, responsibility, love and family. It is interesting that Japanese classic authors made many films with contemporary themes, but they usually won international awards for films that dealt with historical ones. These films fascinated Western audiences with their unusual and exotic viewpoints and different perceptions of the world, exposing an unfamiliar and rich cultural tradition. During the time before the Asian film repertoire became slightly more Americanized, these films attracted avid film lovers and ordinary people alike.
Certain exceptions to this rule include Golden Lion-winner - The Rickshaw Man (1958), by Hiroshi Inagaki (1905 - 1980), a remake of his own earlier film from 1943, along with award winning films by Masaki Kobayashi: the visually fascinating horror Ghost Stories (1964) - the first color Japanese film shown in this part of the world -- and Rebellion (1967), a highly critical story about the samurai tradition.
As for the two remaining films, their time and place is not hugely important: Devil Woman (1966) by Kaneto Shindo (1912) is a dark story with fantastic elements about the horrors of war. It soon became a cult film due to its innovative and expressive directing style. The other, With Beauty and Sorrow (1965) by Masahiro Shinoda (1931), is the film adaptation of the Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata’s novel. This film is characterized by impressive pictures of pathological emotions and visions of death, and stylistically has certain similarities with one of the leading European filmmakers of that time, Michelangelo Antonioni.
These films, although thematically and stylistically very different, are the representative examples of Japanese cinema in 1950s and 1960s. This program shows why these films exhilarated both film critics and audiences. (Tomislav Kurelec)