At the Harvard Film Archive
May 23 – 26, 2014
Sansho the Bailiff (Sansho Dayu)
Friday May 23 at 7pm
Sunday May 25 at 4pm
Sansho the Bailiff is both one of Mizoguchi’s most accessible works and one of his most sublime, a highpoint among postwar Japan’s jidai-geki films set in the medieval past. The narrative impassively follows two families caught up in sweeping cycles of rise and fall, betrayal and resignation, as Mizoguchi’s tracking shots both entrance with their majesty and shock with surprise. “Perhaps more than anything, this is a film about memory, and a film in which forgetting is the original sin. Working with master cameraman Kazuo Miyagawa (who also shot Rashomon and Floating Weeds), Mizoguchi creates an aestheticized world and a cosmic order which exists beyond the characters (and often in opposition to the suffering they undergo).”—Tom Gunning
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. With Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiaki Hanayagi, Kyoko Kagawa
Japan 1954, 35mm, b/w, 124 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Hometown (Fujiwara Yoshie no Furusato)
Friday May 23 at 9:30pm
Mizoguchi’s first foray into sound was a first as well for the Japanese cinema, comparable to The Jazz Singer as a historic and technological milestone while similarly compensating for its part-talkie limitations by offering a series of over-determined song numbers which emerge as the emotional heart of the film. Hometown justified its technological gambit with a melodramatic story of a singer’s Mephistophean pact with fame, tested by the devotion of a loyal woman standing by his side. Casting popular tenor Yoshie Fujiwara in the main role was a costly gamble by Nikkatsu studio which offered clear evidence of Mizoguchi’s privileged stature within the Japanese film industry.
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. With Yoshie Fujiwara, Fujiko Hamaguchi, Shizue Natsukawa
Japan 1930, 35mm, b/w, 75 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Live Musical Accompaniment
The Matinee Idol
Saturday May 24 at 7pm
In quick succession, six weeks for each picture (two weeks for writing, two for shooting, two for editing), I made two more films: So This Is Love […] and Matinee Idol, a tent-show comedy with Johnny Walker [sic] and Bessie Love. In them I tried mixing in another so-called sure-fire ingredient with comedy—a little love story. It seemed to work. Besides which, I ‘discovered’ another directing trick: Don’t let the ponderous behind-the-scenes machinery distract from the heroine’s fluttering eyelid. People pay to hear Heifetz’s violin, not to marvel at his fingers.
Directed by Frank Capra. With Bessie Love, Johnnie Walker, Lionel Belmore
US 1928, 35mm, b/w, silent, 165 min
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Saturday May 24 at 9pm
And what was the great ‘message’ of Mr. Deeds? Nothing earth-shaking. Just this: A simple honest man, driven into a corner by predatory sophisticates, can, if he will, reach deep down into his God-given resources and come up with the necessary handfuls of courage, wit, and love to triumph over his environment. That theme prevailed in all—except two—of my future films. It was the rebellious cry of the individual against being trampled to an ort by massiveness—mass production, mass thought, mass education, mass politics, mass wealth, mass conformity. [….]
Longfellow Deeds was not just a funny man cavorting in frothy situations. He was the living symbol of the deep rebellion in every human heart—a growing resentment against being compartmentalized. And when Mr. Deeds routed the mass predators, using only his simple weapons of honesty, wit, and courage—audiences not only laughed, they cheered!
Directed by Frank Capra. With Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, George Bancroft
US 1936, 35mm, b/w, 115 min
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Zangiku Monogatari)
Sunday May 25 at 7pm
Mizoguchi’s fabled about the doomed love between a Kabuki actor and a young servant girl willing to sacrifice everything for the young man’s career is often cited as a milestone in his career, the work in which his mature style finds its first full flowering. One of the great films about the stage, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums painstakingly renders the grinding schedule and hardships endured by the actor while lyrically paralleling them with the roles the ennobled maid is forced to play. A luminous theatricality is cast on both on- and off-stage scenes by the film’s beautifully rendered Von Sternberg-style chiaroscuro lighting and painterly shadows.
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. With Shotaro Hanayagi, Kokichi Takada, Gonjuro Kawarazaki
Japan 1939, 35mm, b/w, 143 min. Japanese with English subtitles
White Threads of the Waterfall (Taki no Shiraito)
Monday May 26 at 7pm
Considered by many as the most accomplished of Mizoguchi’s extant silent films, White Threads of the Waterfall offers his earliest exploration of the suffering heroine as emblem of tragic fatalism, here in the figure of a talented and ravishingly beautiful “water artist” who sacrifices her youth and career for the man she loves. Based on the stage version of a popular shinpa novel by Kyoka Izumi whose melodramatic imagination and frequently cutting depiction of Meiji-era Japan exerted a huge influence on Mizoguchi, White Threads of the Waterfall was the favorite film of the legendary benshi Midori Sawato (1925-87) who used the film to pass her art on to a new generation of katsuben.
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. With Takako Irie, Tokihiko Okada
Japan 1933, 16mm, b/w, silent, 75 min. Benshi soundtrack with English subtitles