Kenji Mizoguchi

Kenji Mizoguchi
Kenji Mizoguchi

Kenji Mizoguchi
Born 16 May 1898(1898-05-16)
Hongo, Tokyo, Japan
Died 24 August 1956(1956-08-24) (aged 58)
Kyoto, Japan
Other names Goteken
Occupation film director, screenwriter, editor
Years active 1923 - 1956
Influenced Kaneto Shindō

Kenji Mizoguchi (溝口 健二 Mizoguchi Kenji; May 16, 1898 – August 24, 1956) was a Japanese film director and screenwriter. His film Ugetsu (1953) won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and appeared in the Sight & Sound Critics' Top Ten Poll in 1962 and 1972. Mizoguchi is renowned for his mastery of the long take and mise-en-scène.[1] According to author Mark Le Fanu, "His films have an extraordinary force and purity. They shake and move the viewer by the power, refinement and compassion with which they confront human suffering." [2]



Early years

Mizoguchi was born in Hongo, Tokyo,[3] one of three children. His father was a roofing carpenter. The family was modestly middle-class until his father tried to make a living selling raincoats to soldiers during the Russo-Japanese war. The war ended too quickly for the investment to succeed; his family circumstances turned abject and they had to give his older sister 'up for adoption' and moved from Hongo to Asakusa, near to the theatre and brothel quarter.[4] In effect his sister Susomo, or Suzu, was sold into geishadom - an event which profoundly affected Mizoguchi's outlook on life. Between this and his father's brutal treatment of his mother and sister, he maintained a fierce resistance against his father throughout his life.

In 1911 the Mizoguchi parents, too poor to continue paying for their sons primary school training, sent him to stay with an uncle in Morioka, (northern Japan) for a year - a period that saw the onset of crippling rheumatoid arthritis that was to afflict him during adolescence and leave him with a lop-sided walking gait for the rest of his life.[5] The year 1912, back with his parents, was spent almost entirely in bed. In 1913 Mizoguchi's sister Suzu secured him work as an apprentice, designing patterns for kimonos and yukatas. In 1915 his mother died, and Suzu brought her younger brothers into her own house and looked after them. In 1916 he enrolled for a course at the Aoibashi Yoga Kenkyuko art school in Tokyo, which taught Western painting techniques. At this time too he pursued a new interest in opera, particularly at the Royal Theatre at Akasaka where he began, in due course, to help the set decorators. In 1917 his sister again helped him to find work, this time a post on the Yuishin Nippo newspaper in Kobe, as a designer of advertising. The writer Tadao Sato has pointed out a coincidence between Mizoguchi's life in his early years and the plots of shimpa dramas. Such works characteristically documented the sacrifices made by geishas on behalf of the young men they were involved with. Though Suzu was his sister and not a lover, "the subject of women's suffering is fundamental in all his work; while the sacrifice a sister makes for a brother - makes a key showing in a number of his films - Sansho Dayu for example." [5] After less than a year in Kobe however he returned, 'to the bohemian delights of Tokyo.' [5] Mizoguchi entered the Tokyo film industry as an actor in 1920; three years later he would become a full-fledged director, at the Nikkatsu studio, directing Ai-ni yomigaeru hi (The Resurrection of Love), his first movie, during a workers' strike.

Film career

Mizoguchi's early works had been exploratory, mainly genre works, remakes of German Expressionism and adaptions of Eugene O'Neill and Leo Tolstoy. In these early years Mizoguchi worked quickly, sometimes churning out a film in weeks. These would account for over fifty films from the 1920s and 1930s, the majority of which are now lost.

After the Great Kantō earthquake on September 1, 1923, Mizoguchi moved to Nikkatsu’s Kyoto studios and was working there until a scandal caused him to be temporarily suspended: Yuriko Ichijo, a call girl whom he was co-habiting with, attacked and wounded Mizoguchi's back with a razor-blade.

Several of Mizoguchi's later films were keikō-eiga or "tendency films," in which Mizoguchi first explored his socialist tendencies and moulded his famous signature preoccupations. Later in his life Mizoguchi maintained that his career as a serious director did not begin until Sisters of the Gion and Naniwa Elegy, both dating from 1936.

In his middle films, Mizoguchi began to be hailed as a director of 'new realism': social documents of a Japan that was making its transition from feudalism into modernism. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939) won a prize with the Education Department; like the two abovementioned films, it explores the deprecatory role of women in an unfairly male-centered society. During this time, Mizoguchi also developed his signature "one-scene-one-shot" approach to cinema. The meticulousness and authenticity of his set designer Hiroshi Mizutani would contribute to Mizoguchi's frequent use of wide-angled lensing.

Kenji Mizoguchi travelling through Europe, 1953

During the war, Mizoguchi was forced to make compromises for the military government as propaganda; the most famous is a retelling of the Samurai bushido classic The 47 Ronin (1941), an epic jidai geki ("historical drama"). [1]

Notable directors who have admired his work include Akira Kurosawa,[6] Orson Welles,[7] Jean-Luc Godard,[8] Andrei Tarkovsky,[9] Kaneto Shindō and Jacques Rivette.

He once served as president of the Directors Guild of Japan.[10]

Post-war recognition

Although regarded, like his contemporary Yasujirō Ozu, as outdated and old-fashioned by Japanese audience immediately after the war, Mizoguchi was rediscovered, particularly by Cahiers du cinéma critics like Jacques Rivette, in the West. After a phase inspired by Japanese women's suffrage, which produced radical films like Victory of the Women (1946) and My Love Has Been Burning (1949), Mizoguchi took a turn to the jidai-geki — or period drama, re-made from stories from Japanese folklore or period history — together with long-time screenwriter and collaborator Yoshikata Yoda. It was to be his most celebrated series of works, including The Life of Oharu (1952), which won him international recognition and which he considered his best film, and Ugetsu (1953), which won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Sansho the Bailiff (1954) takes a premise from feudal Japan (and the short story by Mori Ōgai) and reworks it as a Confucian morality tale. Of his nearly 100 films, only two — Tales of the Taira Clan (1955) and Princess Yang Kwei-Fei (1955) — were made in colour.[citation needed]

Mizoguchi died in Kyoto of leukemia at the age of 58, by which time he had become recognized as one of the three masters of Japanese cinema, together with Yasujirō Ozu and Akira Kurosawa. At the time of his death, Mizoguchi was working on a film called Osaka Story. In all he made (according to his memory) about 75 films, although most of his early ones were lost. In 1975, Kaneto Shindō filmed a documentary about Mizoguchi, Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director.[citation needed]

Themes and aesthetics

Mizoguchi's films are well known for their championing of women. He has been called the first major feminist director, though modern audiences may find that his themes do not line up with the modern concept of feminism. Typically he revealed women's position in the Japanese society as downtrodden and oppressed, and showed that they may be capable of greater nobility between the sexes. He made many films on the plight of the geisha, but his protagonists could derive from anywhere: prostitutes, workers, street activists, housewives, and feudal princesses.[citation needed]

Screenwriter Yoshikata Yoda, Actress Kinuyo Tanaka, and Kenji Mizoguchi visit Paris, 1953

Mizoguchi's films have an aesthetic that is reminiscent of Japanese art. He favoured long takes and rich, painterly mise-en-scene, seldom with the Western-favoured device of the close-up; a typical shot can take a few minutes, and places emphasis on lighting and placement — much like the works of Josef von Sternberg. He balances formalized beauty with emotional involvement with his main characters; in his finest works the emotionalism can be extraordinarily moving.[citation needed]

Mizoguchi's obsession with rehearsals was infamous, and could become a nightmare for his actresses. His preference for a long take meant there was little room for errors: there are stories of him rehearsing one shot nearly a hundred times. Kinuyo Tanaka, Mizoguchi's regular actress, once recounted that Mizoguchi asked her to read a whole library in preparation for a role.[citation needed]

Mizoguchi himself cited Marcel L'Herbier, Josef von Sternberg, William Wyler and John Ford as his influences.[citation needed]

COMPLETE filmography

Resurrection of Love (Ai no Yomigaeru Hi) (1923)

Hometown (Furusato) (1923)

Dreams of Youth (Seishun no Yumeji) (1923)

Harbour of Desire (Joen no Chimata) (1923)

Song of Failure (Haisan no Uta wa Kanashi) 1923)

813 (The Adventures of Arsène Lupin) (1923)

Blood and Soul (Chi to Rei) (1923)

Foggy Harbour (Kiri no Minato) (1923)

The Night (Yoru) (1923)

In the Ruins (Haikyo no Naka) (1923)

Song of the Mountain Pass (Toge no Uta) (1924)

The Sad Idiot (Kanashiki Hakuchi) (1924)

Queen of Modern Times (Gendai no Jo) (1924)

Strong is the Female (Jose wa Tsuyoshi) (1924)

This Dusty World (Jin-Kyo) (1924)

Turkeys in a Row/The Trace of a Turkey (Shichimencho no Yukue) (1924)

Chronicle of the Rainy Season (Samidare Zoshi) (1924)

Woman of Pleasure (Kanraku no Onna) (1924)

Death at Dawn (Aka Tsuki no Shi) (1924)

Queen of the Circus (Kyokubadan no Jo) (1924)

No Money, No Fight (Musen Fusen) (1925)

Out of College (Gakuso o Idete) (1925)

The White Lily Laments (Shirayuki wa Nageku) (1925)

Under the Crimson Sunset (Akai Yuki ni Terasarete) (1925)

The Earth Smiles (Daichi wa Hohoemu) (1925)

Song of Home (Furusato no Uta) (1925)

The Human Being (Ningen) (1925)

A Sketch on the Road/Street Scenes (Gaijo no Sukechi) (1925)

General Nogi and Kuma-San (Nogi Taisho to Kuma-San) (1925)

The Copper Coin King (Doka-O) (1926)

A Paper Doll’s Whisper of Spring (Kami-Ning-Yo Haru No Sasayaki) (1926)

It’s My Fault – New Version (Shin Onoga Tsumi) (1926)

Passion of a Woman Teacher (Kyoren no Onna Shisho) (1926)

The Boy From the Sea (Kaikoku Danji) (1926)

Money/Gold (Kane/Kin) (1926)

A Woman of Rumour(1954)

The Imperial Grace (Ko-On) (1927)

The Cuckoo – New Version (Jihi Shincho) (1927)

A Man’s Life (Hito no Issho) (1928)

My Loving Daughter (Musume Kawaiya) (1928)

Bridge of Japan (Nihonbashi) (1929)

Tokyo March (Tokyo Koshin-kyoku) (1929)

The Morning Sun Shines (Asahi wa Kagayaku) (1929)

Metropolitan Symphony (Tokai Kokyogaku) (1929)

Okichi, Mistress of a Foreigner (Tojin Okichi) (1930)

Hometown (Furusato) (1930)

And Yet They Go On (Shikamo Karera wa Yuku) (1931)

Dawn in Manchuria/The Dawn of the Founding of Manchuko and Mongolia (1932)

The Man of the Moment/Timely Mediator (Toki no Ujigami) (1932)

Cascading White Threads/White Threads of the Waterfall (Taki no Shiraito) (1933)

Gion Festival (Gion Matsuri) (1933)

The Shimpu Group (Shimpu-Ren) (1933)

The Mountain Pass of Love and Hate (Aizo-Toge) (1934)

The Downfall of Osen/Osen of the Paper Cranes (Orizuro Osen) (1934)

Oyuki the Virgin (Maria no Oyuki) (1935)

The Poppy (Gubijin-so) (1935)

Osaka Elegy (Naniwa Ereji) (1936)

Sisters of Gion (Gion no Shimai/Gion no Kyodai) (1936)

The Straits of Love and Hate (Aien Kyo) (1937)

Ah, my Hometown (A, a, Furusato)(1938)

Song of the Camp (Roei no Uta) (1938)

Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (Zangiku Monogatari) (1939)

A Woman of Osaka (Naniwa Onna) (1940)

The Life of an Actor (Geido Ichidai Otoko) (1941)

The Loyal 47 Ronin of the Genroku Era (Genroku Chushingura) (1941-2, two parts)

Three Generations of Danjuro (Danjuro Sandai) (1944)

The Swordsman (Miyamoto Musashi) (1944)

The Famous Sword (Bijomaru Meito) (1945)

Victory Song (Hisshoka) (1945) Dir: Masahiro Makino and Hiroshi Shimizu (Mizoguchi directed opening sequence only)

Victory of Women (Josei no Shori) (1946)

Five Women Around Utamaro (Utamaro o Meguro Gonin no Onna) (1946)

The Loves of Actress Sumako (Joyu Sumako no Koi) (1947)

Women of the Night (Yoru no Onna Tachi)(1948)

My Love Has Been Burning (Waga Koi wa Moenu) (1949)

Portrait of Madame Yuki (Yuki Fujin Ezu) (1950)

Miss Oyu (Oyusama) (1951)

The Lady From Musashino (Musashino Fujin) (1952)

The Life of Oharu/The Life of a Woman, by Saikaku (Saikaku Ichidai Onna) (1952)

Tales of the Pale and Silvery Moon After the Rain (Ugetsu Monogatari) (1953)

Gion Festival Music (Gion Bayashi) (1953)

Sansho the Bailiff (Sansho Dayu) (1954)

A Woman of Rumour/The Crucified Woman (1954)

Crucified Lovers/A Story From Chikamatsu (Chikamatsu Monogatari) (1955)

The Empress Yang Kwei Fei (Yokihi) (1955)

Tales of the Taira Clan (Shin Heike Monogatari) (1955)

Street of Shame (Akasen Chitai) (1956)

selected filmography

  • 1929 The Morning Sun Shines (朝日は輝く Asahi wa kagayaku)
  • 1929 Tokyo March (東京行進曲 Tōkyō kōshin-kyoku)
  • 1930 Tojin Okichi (唐人お吉 Tōjin Okichi)
  • 1933 The Water Magician (滝の白糸 Taki no Shiraito)
  • 1935 The Downfall of Osen (折鶴お千 Orizuru Osen)
  • 1934 The Mountain Pass of Love and Hate (愛憎峠 Aizō tōge)
  • 1936 Sisters of the Gion (祇園の姉妹 Gion no shimai)
  • 1936 Naniwa Elegy aka Osaka Elegy (浪華悲歌 Naniwa hika or Naniwa erejī)
  • 1937 Straits of Love and Hate (愛怨峡 Aien kyō)
  • 1939 The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (残菊物語 Zangiku monogatari)
  • 1941 The 47 Ronin aka The Loyal 47 Ronin of the Genroku Era (元禄忠臣蔵 Genroku chūshingura)
  • 1944 Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵)
  • 1945 The Famous Sword Bijomaru (名刀美女丸 Meitō Bijomaru)
  • 1946 Utamaro and His Five Women aka Five Women Around Utamaro (歌麿をめぐる五人の女 Utamaro o meguru gonin no onna)
  • 1947 The Love of the Actress Sumako (女優須磨子の恋 Joyū Sumako no koi)
  • 1948 Women of the Night (夜の女たち Yoru no onnatachi)
  • 1949 My Love Burns (わが恋は燃えぬ Waga koi wa moenu)
  • 1950 Portrait of Madame Yuki aka A Picture of Madame Yuki (雪夫人絵図 Yuki fujin ezu)
  • 1951 Miss Oyu (お遊さま Oyū-sama)
  • 1951 The Lady of Musashino aka Lady Musashino (武蔵野夫人 Musashino fujin)
  • 1952 The Life of Oharu (西鶴一代女 Saikaku ichidai onna)
  • 1953 A Geisha aka Gion Music Festival (祇園囃子 Gion bayashi)
  • 1953 Ugetsu aka Tales of Moonlight and Rain (雨月物語 Ugetsu monogatari)
  • 1954 The Woman in the Rumor aka The Crucified Woman (噂の女 Uwasa no onna)
  • 1954 Sansho the Bailiff (山椒大夫 Sanshō dayū)
  • 1954 The Crucified Lovers aka A Story by Chikamatsu (近松物語 Chikamatsu monogatari)
  • 1955 Tales of the Taira Clan aka Taira Clan Saga (新平家物語 Shin Heike monogatari)
  • 1955 Princess Yang Kwei-Fei aka The Empress Yang Kuei-Fei (楊貴妃 Yōkihi)
  • 1956 Street of Shame (赤線地帯 Akasen chitai)

DVD releases (English subtitled)

UK and US

  • Osaka Elegy (Naniwa erejî, 1936) - The Criterion Collection (region 1 NTSC)
  • Sisters of the Gion (Gion no shimai, 1936) - The Criterion Collection (region 1 NTSC)
  • Women of the Night (Yoru no onnatachi, 1948) - The Criterion Collection (region 1 NTSC)
  • Oyû-sama (1951) - Eureka! Masters of Cinema (region 2 NTSC)
  • The Lady of Musashino (Musashino fujin, 1951) - Artificial Eye (region 2 PAL)
  • The Life of Oharu (Saikaku ichidai onna, 1952) - Artificial Eye (region 2 PAL)
  • Ugetsu monogatari (1953) - Eureka! Masters of Cinema (region 2 NTSC); The Criterion Collection (region 1 NTSC)
  • Gion bayashi (1953) - Eureka! Masters of Cinema (region 2 NTSC)
  • Sansho, the Bailiff (Sanshô dayû, 1954) - Eureka! Masters of Cinema (region 2 NTSC); The Criterion Collection (region 1 NTSC)
  • Uwasa no onna (1954) - Eureka! Masters of Cinema (region 2 NTSC)
  • Chikamatsu monogatari (1954) - Eureka! Masters of Cinema (region 2 NTSC)
  • Yôkihi (1955) - Eureka! Masters of Cinema (region 2 NTSC)
  • Street of Shame (Akasen chitai, 1956) - Eureka! Masters of Cinema (region 2 NTSC); The Criterion Collection (region 1 NTSC)


  • Tokyo Koshinkyoku (1929) - Digital MEME
  • Tojin Okichi (1930, fragment) - Digital MEME
  • Taki no Shiraito (1933) - Digital MEME
  • Orizuru Osen (1935) - Digital MEME


  1. ^ "A Closer Look at a Japanese Master". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-23. 
  2. ^ Mark Le Fanu Mizoguchi and Japan, London: BFI Publishing, 2005, p.1
  3. ^ Mizoguchi and Japan, Mark Le Fanu, p.22
  4. ^ Mizoguchi and Japan, p.22
  5. ^ a b c Mizoguchi and Japan, p.23
  6. ^ Cinematheque Ontario -- Programmes -- Kenji Mizoguchi
  7. ^ Welles, Orson; Peter Bogdanovich (1998). This is Orson Welles. Da Capo Press. p. 146. ISBN 030680834X. 
  8. ^ Kenji Mizoguchi’s Movies Seek Beauty -- New York Times
  9. ^ Tarkovsky's Choice
  10. ^ "Nihon eiga kantoku kyōkai nenpyō" (in Japanese). Nihon eiga kantoku kyōkai. Retrieved 17 August 2010. 

Further reading

  • Andrew, Dudley; Andrew, Paul (1981). Kenji Mizoguchi, a Guide to References and Resources. G.K. Hall. ISBN 0816184690. 
  • LeFanu, Mark (2007). Mizoguchi and Japan. University of California Press. ISBN 978-1844570577. 
  • Tadao Sato (2008). Kenji Mizoguchi and the Art of Japanese Cinema ISBN 9781847882301

External links

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