Running at BFI Southbank through October and November, Tears and Laughter: Women in Japanese Melodrama aims to showcase the changing roles of women in Japanese cinema in the pre-war and post-war eras through a series of films starring some of the best known actresses of the time including Ayako Wakao (who features on the poster in her first role working with director Yasuzo Masumura in Blue Sky Maiden), ’30s megastar and later director Kinuyo Tanaka, Ozu’s muse Setsuko Hara, Rashomon’s Machiko Kiyo, wife and muse of Kiju (Yoshishige) Yoshida Mariko Okada, and the iconic Hideko Takamine who began as a child star and went on to work with most of the age’s finest directors.
The season will kick off with an introductory lecture on 17th October featuring contributions from Alexander Jacoby and Alejandra Armendáriz-Hernandez who will discuss some of the actresses featured in the season.
Starring Mizoguchi’s frequent leading lady Isuzu Yamada, Osaka Elegy centres on a switchboard operator who finds herself trapped in a ruinous relationship with her boss in an effort to save her father who has ruined himself through gambling debts.
16mm. Now screening on blu-ray due to poor quality of 16mm print.
Women of the Night, completed in 1948, will screen along side Osaka Elegy (1936) and stars Kinuyo Tanaka in a tale of two sisters trying to survive in the ruined Osaka one of whom is a war widow and the other dangerously involved with a drugs smuggler. 35mm.
Kinuyo Tanaka also stars in Keisuke Kinoshita’s 1950 melodrama Wedding Ring. Starring opposite Toshiro Mifune, Tanaka plays a housewife who travels back and fore from the seaside, where her sickly husband convalesces, to Tokyo where she runs her family’s jewellery store. A chance encounter with a strapping doctor (Mifune) on a train has unforeseen consequences as the pair grow closer and the husband begins to realise that he cannot provide the happiness his wife is seeking. 35mm.
Clothes of Deception is directed by Kozaburo Yoshimura who was the subject (along with Kaneto Shindo) of the BFI’s previous Japanese director retrospective in 2012 in which the film was also screened. Rashomon’s Machiko Kyo stars opposite Yasuko Fujita as a geisha in Kyoto’s historic Gion district whose life contrasts strongly with that of her sister who works for the tourist board. 35mm.
Shiro Toyoda’s melodrama stars Hideko Takamine as a divorced woman who becomes the mistress of an elderly money lender to support her father but dares to dream of a happier future after falling for a young student. 35mm.
Tadashi Imai’s adaptation of a number of stories by 19th century writer Ichiyo Higuchi came top in Kinema Junpo’s best of list for 1953 and features three stories of women suffering at the hands of men. 35mm.
Kinuyo Tanaka, one of Japan’s great actresses, was not the nation’s first female director as she is sometimes described, but she was the first to have a career as a film director. The Eternal Breasts is Tanaka’s third directorial effort (following Love Letter and The Moon has Risen) and tells the story of tanka poet Fumiko Nakajo who passed away from breast cancer in 1954 at only 31 years old. 35mm.
Hideko Takamine and Masayuki Mori play two former lovers cast adrift in the new post-war world world where their love is both impossible and impossible to escape. Naruse’s melancholy melodrama is the story of a woman who strives for self-determination while chasing a man who craves only respectability, as trapped and confused as her still divided nation. 35mm.
Masayuki Mori stars again in another romantic melodrama this time for Heinosuke Gosho (Where Chimneys are Seen), opposite Yoshiko Kuga who falls for Mori’s conflicted architect as an escape from her moribund marriage while Mori’s wife, played by Mieko Takamine, is having an affair with a young student. 16mm.
Among the darkest of Ozu’s post-war movies, Tokyo Twilight is a less forgiving family drama in which Setsuko Hara plays the older of two sisters who has returned home from a failing marriage with her little girl in tow only to find out that her unmarried student younger sister is facing an unwanted pregnancy. 35mm.
Blue Sky Maiden, Masumura’s second film, is his first in colour and his first to star the radiant Ayako Wakao who would later become something like his muse. Light and bright and youthful, Blue Sky Maiden is not without the Masumura bite in its tale of an illegitimate child deposited in her cowardly father’s home and among his unpleasant family but bearing all of her sorrows with a cheerful determination which resolutely refuses to allow them to rob her of her happiness. 35mm.
Soon after An Affair at Akitsu, also known as Akitsu Springs, Mariko Okada would marry the film’s director, Kiju (Yoshishige) Yoshida, and the pair would go on create a series of “anti-melodramas” which adopted typical melodrama storylines but shot them in a deliberately detached manner. An Affair at Akitsu is Yoshida’s attempt at Shochiku’s most representative genre but, aided by the astonishing performance of Okada, he conjures a deeply felt meditation on post-war malaise as its lovers find themselves unable to escape the false paradise of Akitsu Springs. 35mm.
Recently restored, Noburu Nakamura’s The Shape of Night stars Miyuki Kuwano as a young woman forced into prostitution by a no good boyfriend. 35mm.
Tears and Laughter: Women in Japanese Melodrama runs at BFI Southbank from 17th October to 29th November and tickets are already on general sale.