Saturday, June 22, 2024

Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström: Kozaburo Yoshimura, Undercurrents of Modernity (2024 Bologna introduction)

Kozaburo Yoshimura: Chijo / On This Earth (JP 1957). Photo © Kadokawa

Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna 2024.
Curated by Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström

Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström (2024 Bologna Catalogue):  " Kozaburo Yoshimura (1911-2000) is one of the neglected masters of classical Japanese film. An almost exact contemporary of Akira Kurosawa and Keisuke Kinoshita, he was responsible for some of the postwar Japanese cinema’s most compelling dramas, which bear eloquent witness to social change in a rapidly modernising country. This programme concentrates on the decade from 1951 to 1960, when his art was at its height. "

" This was only part of a long directorial career, which began at Shochiku in the 1930s and continued until the 1970s. Yoshimura had scooped both commercial success and critical acclaim with the hospital melodrama, Danryu (Warm Current, 1939), and initiated a fruitful collaboration with screenwriter Kaneto Shindo (1912-2012) with Anjo-ke no butokai (The Ball at the Anjo House, 1947), a Chekhovian study of the decline of the aristocracy in the face of postwar modernity, which came top in the critics’ poll conducted that year by the leading Japanese film magazine, “Kinema Junpo”. "

" Finding their creativity inhibited at Shochiku, the two men established their own independent production company, Kindai Eiga Kyokai, where with Yoshimura often serving as his producer Shindo directed a sequence of politically conscious films. Meanwhile at another major studio, Daiei, Yoshimura achieved a new reputation directing a series of outstanding films about women in postwar Japan. Gems such as Itsuwareru seiso (Clothes of Deception, 1951), Nishijin no shimai (Sisters of Nishijin, 1952) and Yoru no kawa (Undercurrent, 1956) earned him comparison with Mizoguchi for his sensitive exploration of female experience. Working mainly from Shindo’s carefully constructed screenplays (although Yoru no kawa was scripted by Japan’s leading female screenwriter, Sumie Tanaka), he focused on women working in traditional professions (geisha, kimono designer, confectioner) in the old capital of Kyoto, and dramatised the social and political transformation of Japan in the wake of defeat and occupation. His films, Donald Richie notes, are “filled with new interpretations of the old”. "

" Yoshimura’s output was diverse, but, as Tadao Sato observes, “his greatest strength is realist films, which are based on a detailed understanding of social structure, […] not mere social criticism, but films that flesh out the human element of the story”. He was a skilled craftsman, an enquiring dramatist and (as outstanding performances by Machiko Kyo, Fujiko Yamamoto and Mariko Okada amongst others testify) a sympathetic director of actresses. Facilitated by the support of Kadokawa, Shochiku and the National Film Archive of Japan, and featuring a new 4K digital restoration as well as vintage 35 mm prints, this retrospective will highlight the beauty, power and relevance of Yoshimura’s cinema.  " Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström (2024 Bologna Catalogue)


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