News Karlovy Vary IFF celebrates the work of Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi

Published: April 25, 2017| 03:05 PM

One of the most highly respected filmmakers in the history of cinema will be presented at the 52nd KVIFF via a collection of ten fundamental pictures from his extensive filmography as selected by renowned British writer, curator and film critic Tony Rayns.

“At a time when film buffs are often forced to watch classic movies on screens that measure diagonally about the length of your forearm, KVIFF will provide big-screen viewing of mainly 35mm prints for another chapter in our series devoted to filmmakers who had an immense influence on the development of film culture,” said festival artistic director Karel Och.​

Undoubtedly, the dispute over which of the three essential Japanese directors is the most important has been an indivisible element of the lighter side of film history for decades. The often cited young French critics associated with Cahiers du cinéma magazine gave precedence to Kenji Mizoguchi (1898-1956) over Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirō Ozu. Their paeans to the rich work of this pioneer of modern realism in Japanese film, which best corresponded to their own proselytized auteur theory, dates to the beginning of the 1950s. At that time, Western Europe and North America discovered Japanese moviemaking not only through Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) but also by encountering Mizoguchi’s three most famous pictures from the end of his career: The Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu (1953), and Sansho the Bailiff (1954).

The Karlovy Vary selection of Mizoguchi movies, and the accompanying documentary portrait Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director (1975) shot by Kaneto Shindô, acquaints audiences with the development of Mizoguchi’s style, which characteristically includes long shots, contemplative camerawork of captivating elegance, and highly specific lighting. Although he plagued actors with his perfectionism, he also provided them a very comfortable environment for establishing an emotional bond with the viewer.

At the center of almost all Mizoguchi films stands a woman, often suffering alongside or abused by weakling men despite her remarkable inner strength to face a tragic fate. The theme of a woman sacrificing herself received exceptionally complex treatment from the maker of subdued melodramas in his prewar creative peak The Tale of the Late Chrysanthemums (1939).

Many renowned filmmakers cite the influence that Mizoguchi’s work had on their perception of film and their creative formation. The words of a few: “He is capable of going beyond the limitations of coherent logic, and conveying the deep complexity and truth of the impalpable connections and hidden phenomena of life“(Andrei Tarkovsky). “He can’t be praised enough, really” (Orson Welles). “On equal terms with Eisenstein, Griffith, and Renoir” (Jean-Luc Godard). “He’s the John Ford of Japanese film” (Viktor Erice).

More information may be found in programme section. 

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