The BFI Southbank, London will celebrate the work of golden age actress and director Kinuyo Tanaka throughout August and September 2022 beginning with a retrospective of her six directorial features before moving on to showcase some of her most iconic roles from the 1930s to her final major screen appearance in Kei Kumai’s Sandakan No. 8.

Love Letter

Scripted by Keisuke Kinoshita, Love Letter is an examination of the changing society of post-war Japan as an embittered veteran (Masayuki Mori) forced into making a living by writing letters for Japanese women left behind by American servicemen re-encounters his first love (Yoshiko Kuga) but firstly rejects her on realising she too had been the mistress of a US soldier. Review.

The Moon Has Risen

Tanaka’s second film was co-scripted by Yasujiro Ozu and features several homages to his visual style including the use of pillow shots but otherwise has a sensuality and sensitivity not common in his filmmaking. The comic melodrama follows the attempts of a young woman (Mie Kitamura) to set her lovelorn sister up with a sensitive visitor while falling for her childhood friend. Look out for Tanaka’s brief cameo as a ditsy maid. Review.

Forever a Woman

The first film Tanaka began independently, Forever a Woman (previously known as The Eternal Breasts) draws inspiration from current events to interrogate contemporary notions of womanhood through the story of a female poet suffering from terminal breast cancer who eventually rediscovers her femininity through the embrace of her sexual desire. Review.

Wandering Princess

Again based on very recent events, The Wandering Princess is a sumptuous romantic melodrama in which a Japanese noblewoman (Machiko Kyo) agrees to marry the brother of the former emperor of China now a puppet king of the Japanese colony of Manchuria but is eventually separated from him by the fall of the Japanese empire. Review.

Girls of the Night

Recalling Tanaka’s role in 1948’s Women of the Night, Girls of the Night follows a young woman who is sent to a reformatory for former sex workers following the anti-prostitution legislation of the mid-1950s but discovers that no matter how well intentioned the program may be it nevertheless fails to account for the socio-economic realities of the contemporary society. Review.

Love Under the Crucifix

Juxtaposing the use of the crucifix as a method of execution for sexual transgression with the growing influence of Christianity in late 16th century Japan, Takana’s final film as a director stars Ineko Arima as a young woman in love with a reticent lord (Tatsuya Nakadai) who is already married and among the growing class of merchant samurai who have converted to Christianity through trading links with European nations. Review.

Shunkinsho: Okoto to Sasuke

Yasujiro Shimazu’s adaptation of a Junichiro Tanizaki novel in which Tanaka stars as a haughty maid blind since childhood and in an accidentally sadomasochistic relationship with her servant, Sasuke, which only deepens when she suffers a facial disfigurement at the hands of a rejected suitor. Review.

Army

Keisuke Kinoshita’s 1944 melodrama saw him temporarily banned from filmmaking thanks to its subversive conclusion in which Tanaka is cast in the role of a self-sacrificing mother dutifully sending her son off to die for the emperor but desperately searching for him amid the faceless masses of other boys in uniform. Review.

A Hen in the Wind

An atypically dark drama from Yasujiro Ozu, A Hen in the Wind stars Tanaka as a young woman who is forced into a single night as a sex worker in order to pay for medical treatment for her sickly baby only to face domestic violence when her embittered husband finally returns from the war.

The Life of Oharu

Tanaka stars as a noblewoman who falls to the level of a homeless sex worker after being thrown out of the court for falling in love with a man of lower status (Toshiro Mifune) in Kenji Mizoguchi’s melancholy life study.

Mother

In one of Mikio Naruse’s most cheerful films, Tanaka plays a self-sacrificing mother who stoically faces increasing hardships but tries to keep her family together after her husband dies while her self-centred daughter (Kyoko Kagawa) becomes convinced she is romantically involved with a family friend and does everything she can to put a stop to it. Review.

Sandakan No. 8

In this characteristically controversial film from Kei Kumai, Tanaka stars as a now elderly woman who was once of the “karayuki” or young girls from poor families who were sold into sex work and trafficked abroad but then often rejected on their return by those their money had helped to support. Review.

Kinuyo Tanaka: A Life in Film runs at BFI Southbank in August and September.

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