July 5, 2019


The following text by critic and filmmaker Jean-André Fieschi (1942-2009) is one of the greatest ever written on the films of Straub and Huillet, yet it has fallen into pitiful disuse (for entirely political reasons, it seems to me) despite its availability in English since 1980, and despite the increase in books, articles, exhibitions, and screenings of Straub and Huillet's work the last few years. It was written in 1976, first published in Ça: cinéma – no. 9, then in English translation by Michael Graham in Richard Roud’s Cinema: A Critical Dictionary (1980). It is reproduced here by permission of Marthe and Simon Fieschi, with great thanks to them and Ricardo Matos Cabo.


By Jean-André Fieschi

Films could be imagined in which real violence would, for once, speak. The white cloth stretched across the back of a black tunnel is usually open to the soporific, the complaisant, to misrepresentations and the circulation of the small change of fantasies. Once more cinema might become surprising, once more necessary.

     Films could be imagined in which, at last, real Desire would speak. Francis Ponge in Le Carnet du Bois des Pins writes that during the war he lived in the south of France. He missed his library. So he undertook to write what he wished to read: to make writing the compensation for a simple but demanding desire.


     One ought to be able to think that there is no other kind of writing, nor any other kind of pictures, or music, or films. In any event the nature of the mass of films is predictable: if they are indeed, like any social product, more or less diversified responses to a specific demand, the demand in question is a perverted one. In capitalist countries, cinema is indissolubly linked to Capital and to Ideology. Cinema sells dreams, the real disguised; fantasy, imaginary satisfaction; nostalgia, regression; sometimes it sells Utopia, always the Elsewhere.

     A kind of cinema could be imagined which would sell nothing, just as Stravinsky said that music expresses nothing; a kind of r cinema which would not consider the spectator as a customer, which would not lure him, nor t seduce him, nor flatter nor despise him, would not rape him nor put him to sleep; a kind of cinema that would be the exact opposite of advertising. In 1974 on the walls of Paris could be seen a surprising series of posters. A man with a vague smile and a meaningful look addresses the passer-by, a possible customer, in the name of a well-known bank. And he speaks the truth: "I'm interested in your money."

     A kind of cinema could be imagined which sells nothing; but which would not hold itself aloof. On the contrary, it would militate, and would neither ape anything nor exhibit itself, neither bargain nor repress. The viewer would at last be placed at a proper distance, neither ensnared in conniving proximity nor crushed by the exercise of an art which proclaims itself inaccessible.

     This is only a dream. What free and alert spectator is being thought of, here and now, in Germany, Italy, France or the United States? Certainly not the bourgeois spectator. The bourgeoisie which by now is incapable of assuming its cultural past and whatever was or remains revolutionary in its culture, and all the more incapable of assuming the culture which lies ahead, incapable of thinking of it without fear; for the culture to come is its own tomb.

     So then, what spectator? The man of the people, the worker, the peasant. But these people are excluded from culture by the reigning bourgeoisie, its State and its institutions. Yet it is to them that the culture of the past belongs. It is they who made it: they created wealth. It is to them that the culture of the future will belong. So this cinema could speak today to the man of tomorrow.

     This is a dream, but a necessary dream, that of reappropriation. "When one wishes to speak to the people, one must make oneself understood. But this is not a problem of form. The people do not understand only old forms. In making social causality clear Marx, Engels, Lenin continually employed new forms. Lenin not only said something different from Bismarck, he said it in a different way. In fact he did not bother himself about whether a form was old or new; he spoke in the form that was appropriate," to quote from Brecht.

     It could thus be imagined that beauty, violence and desire might be offered again, intact, to be discovered anew—the beauty, violence and desire present in the work which transforms music and texts; for instance, the music of Bach or the plays of Pierre Corneille, now the hunting reserves of specialists, professors and pedants. And might be offered in such a way as to be an insult to specialists and bad professors. In such a way that the music makes clear that it has not yet been heard, that these texts have not yet been read. What would music and texts already heard and read be if not dust, cultural dust, museum pieces, savings bonds . . . What would music and texts be that did not resist, that would let themselves be tamed? And films?

     This would be the stake: to speak to those who have neither heard nor read rather than to those who do it out of duty, through routine or idleness, and to say to them: "Here, this too belongs to you, and is worth being read, heard or looked at; this violence is yours, and this desire."

     Why would this new cinema bother about the past? Why should revolutions, cultural or political, pose as guardians of a heritage?

     "To guard a heritage in no way means remaining confined to that heritage" (Lenin). When resorting to the forms of the past, whether of Bach and Corneille, or Brecht or Schoenberg, the only nostalgia which can be read will be that—and it too will be violent—for a future for which these forms are still a summons.

     Everything leads one to believe that in this different kind of cinema modesty will be taken for arrogance, purity for obsession, austerity for poverty, wealth for insolence.

     Cinema designated as deviant, perverse, proud, perhaps even a little Jewish, and as such destined to the ghettos. It will be censured, or praised excessively, removed to a pedestal, if not to the corridor . . . in any case, it will not be accepted. Nor is there any need of a trial: the entire weight of dominant cinema by its mere existence condemns it to exile.

     But if it were the other way round?

     If instead it were this cinema, marginal and exiled which, by its very existence, won at great risk, questioned the existence of the entire mass of the dominant cinema?

     If such a project could be formulated, would it not be the fruit of a rather comic and excessive ambition, perhaps even mystic or messianic?

     Yet this cinema might not have an auteur (which is to say a person caught up in the fantasy of being a demiurge, referring to a rage for expression which is only personal). Who would speak then? Bach or Pierre Corneille only, or Brecht or Schoenberg?

      One could imagine then that the word would be neither that of the auteur, nor that of his characters, nor that of the primary auteur, Bach or Brecht. Nor only that of the auteur, of his characters, etc.

     That of the film perhaps: what circulates, in the film, between these words. In the film: but the film is not a receptacle or a filter. What circulates, transforms itself, generates itself between these words, their resistance and the resistance of the material—concrete materials: cameras and microphones and—less malleable—faces, bodies, ways of speaking. And more: light, wind, shadows. . .

     And all this would be inscribed; or, as a cabinet-maker would say of his wood, or Freud of a dream, all this would work.

     What would speak then would be a struggle, materially inscribed on this white surface at the end of a black tunnel; a conflict of forms, meaning and material. The film would be a documentary of this struggle.

Martha St Andner in Not Reconciled: "I want to shoot the fat man on the white horse."

     This conflict would not be a spectacle. A side has to be taken, the struggle has to be joined; unless one could be satisfied with the worst, being a spectator—at a film: a shadow among shadows.

     These films then would not be films, nor these spectators spectators? Would someone want to break the old machinery, or forbid the trip? These films would be actions. As Pierre Boulez said of Stravinsky, "He simply acted."

     For instance, a man would be seen struggling with a text, its material nature: meter, scansion, sound and sense. At grips with a language, neither his own nor of his time, but strongly actualized by these distances, their effect of strangeness, at first disquieting and later curiously familiar. Slowly being burned by the sun—not spotlights—his lips cracking, his skin reddening. His voice, his rhythm, the way it carries, all subjected to the rivalry of the wind. This discourse would be caught in a tight network of other discourses, victorious over other resistances: fatigue, the sun, or again, the wind; or the murmur rising up from the town, its crowds or traffic; or yet again, the regular flow of a fountain.

      And these discourses, these resistances, their fusion and clash; their web, tissue and texture would be inscribed in struggles for power, passions, interests, desires. Here could be read other forces, other struggles, other resistances: the fall of an Empire or impossible Love. In any case, history, that is, politics.

     Brecht again (and for a long time to come): "The dramatic aspect (the violence of confrontations) the passions (the degree of warmth), the surface covered by a character—none of this can be envisioned or conveyed separately from the functioning of society."

      A man could also be seen, for example, at grips with music or money. At grips with money and music (reality and desire). In any case with History, that is, again, Politics.

     This cinema would show men at grips with what the cinema itself is at grips with: desire, work, money, politics. It would not show them the way a mirror does: that which already exists. But it would show the process itself: something existing, the trace of the struggle. Not only its lucidity but its spectre.

     These beings at grips with work, with the sun, the wind, the text, desire, money, passions, fatigue, with history, would no longer be actors. But men, amateurs or officials, workers or idlers, peasants or writers, men and women, flesh and desire, confronting texts, materials, resistances and their own history. Struggling too, and naked in sun or rain. Here too the film would be a documentary.

     It would no longer be a matter of telling stories, but of telling history: passion of all passions, narrative of all narratives.

     So there would be History, men and women, and blocks—not scenes. Each film would be a game between blocks—of unequal duration—spaced far apart, where the spacing would play as well; where the spacing, its distance, the blank and the ellipse, the suppression of narrative articulations through which cinema ordinarily displays its infirmity—in short, the interval, as Vertov would have said, would be a figure. Where everything would be a sign: emptiness as well as fullness, words as well as silence, immobility as well as movement. Where the film would say that it was to be read, as reality is to be read so that it can be transformed. And there one would be, facing it as unarmed, or as armed, as in reality. Where what would be given to read, understand and transform would no longer be significations—fixed, arrested, dead—but relationships of material meanings.

     Yet for all this the film would not be a pure metaphor or an aesthetic displacement of social relations: that would be too easy. And it would most vehemently repel the idea of passing for a model or for a giver of lessons.

     But, instead, with its means, its aim, it would be the place of a transformation. Delivering no message but a sign, in its way, that the shock can begin, and here or by others be brought to its term.

      At the most, the indication of this shock, the sign of the fissure, the euphoria of destruction (why not destroy? she says) which knows somewhere that it is the first stone. It is seen, which is already a great deal.

    Cinema without filiation—without origins, one might be tempted to say; but such an affirmation no sooner risked than it would seem deceptive. Here too it is just the opposite: it is the business of works of rupture to reinvent their precursors. Have the films of Dreyer been seen—their violence, their desire, their aleatory and peremptory form?

     These films, these acts, exist, fragile and insistent. They are these blocks of amour fou: Machorka-Muff (1963); Nicht versöhnt Oder es hilft nur Gewalt, wo Gewalt herrscht (Not Reconciled, Or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules, 1965); Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach (Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, 1968); Der Bräutigam, die Komödiantin und der Zuhälter (The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp, 1968); Les Yeux ne veulent pas en tout temps se fermer ou Peut-être qu'un jour Rome se permettra de choisir à son tour (Eyes Do Not Want to Close at All Times or Perhaps One Day Rome Will Permit Herself to Choose in Her Turn, or Othon, 1970); Geschichtsunterricht (History Lessons, 1972); Einleitung zu Arnold Schoenbergs Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielscene (Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg's 'Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene, 1973). They are signed by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet.

Translated by Michael Graham.

May 18, 2019

Mizoguchi, Sembène

at the
Echo Park Film Center

May 24th, 2019
Doors at 7:30pm
$5 Suggested Donation

Echo Park Film Center 
1200 North Alvarado St. 
Los Angeles, CA. 90026 


Kenji Mizoguchi, 1949

preceded by

Ousmane Sembène, 1970  


a.k.a. The Flame of My Love. Japan. 1949. 84 minutes.
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. Shochiku Kyoto Studio. 
Based on a novel by Kogo Noda itself based on the book Mekake no Hanshogai (Half a Life as a Mistress) by Hideko Kageyama a.k.a. Hideko Fukuda. Script: Yoshikata Yoda and Kaneto Shindo. Producer: Hisao Itoya, Kiyoshi Shimazu, Tomoji Kubo. Cinematography: Kohei Sugiyama, Tomotaro Nashiki. Lighting: Shigeo Terada, Minoru Yoshikawa. Artistic Director: Hiroshi Mizutani, Dai Arakawa, Junichiro Osumi. Sets: Kiyoharu Matsuno, Sueyoshi Yamaguchi. Costumes: Tsuma Nakamura. Coiffures: Yoshiko Kimura. Wigs: Rikizo Inoue. Music: Senji Ito, played by the Shochiku Kyoto Orchestra. Songs: "Waga Koi wa Moenu" by Gento Uehara and Kikutaro Takahashi, sung by Ken Tsumura; "Ai no Tomoshibi", by Senji Ito and Matsumura Mataichi, sung by Takako Sayomiya. Sound: Taro Takahashi, Takeo Kawakita. Assistants: Tatsuo Sakai, Mitsuo Okada. Historical Research: Sunao Kai. Players: Kinuyo Tanaka (Eiko Hirayama), Mitsuko Mito (Chiyo), Ichiro Sugai (Kentaro Omoi), Eitaro Ozawa (Ryuzo Hayase), Koreya Senda (Taisuke Itagaki), Eijiro Tono (Hirobumi Ito), Kappei Matsumoto (Kusuo Arai), Mitsuo Nagata (Okajima), Miyake Kuniko (Kishida Toshiko, the feminist), Masao Shimizu (Takeshi Sakazaki, the publisher), Hiroshi Aoyama (Ikeda, the student), Shinobu Araki (Kaku Hirayama, father of Eiko), Ikuko Hirano (mother of Eiko), Mitsuaki Minami (Takashige Kanda, prison warden), Jukichi Uno and Haruo Inoue (prison guards), Shigeo Shoyuzama (prison doctor), Makoto Kobori (restaurant owner), Tamihei Tomimoto (police commissioner), Hirohisa Murata (Chiyo's husband), Torahiko Hamada (boss of the silk mill), Kenji Izumi (manager of the silk mill), Sadako Sawamura (Omasa, the prisoner), Miyoko Shinobu (Tomii), Kenzo Tanaka and Hideki Kato (policemen), Akio Miyajima, Mokutaro Minakami (men who buy Chiyo), Ryuji Tosa, Koji Nadada, Ichiro Katayama (supporters of Jiyuto), Hisako Araki, Kiyo Murakami, Yoshiko Sekiya, Michiko Murata, Junko Hara, Kazuko Satomi, Shizue Hiraku, Teruko Yasaka, Fumiko Yamada (employees of the silk mill), Kimie Kawakama, Junko Kagami, Toshimi Nishikawa, Kazuko Aoyama, Fusako Suzuki, Mitsue Takigawa, Chigusa Maki (prisoners). 

MY LOVE IS BURNING is the third film in a series that has been called "the Fighting Women" trilogy, which includes THE VICTORY OF WOMEN (1946) and THE LOVE OF ACTRESS SUMAKO (1948), all directed by Mizoguchi with Tanaka as the righteous heroine, all set in the Meiji period and made at Shochiku studios after the Japanese surrender, when, it must be said, U.S. Occupation forces were exerting influence over Japanese film production in the name of "promoting democracy". The Meiji period was a decisive time in 1880s Japan, as the country found itself under the pressures of modernization, Westernized political forms, and the rejection of the shogunate's feudalism; Mizoguchi often returned to this epoch for its beauty and its spirit of revolt. For MY LOVE IS BURNING screenwriters Shindo and Yoda drew on the life of one of the Meiji period's first staunch feminists, Hideko Kageyama, a journalist and Civil Rights activist whose autobiography MY HALF LIFE AS A MISTRESS was the basis for the screenplay.


Eiko, a schoolteacher in Okayama, is inspired by the visit of a leading feminist to her town. In the harbor, while saying goodbye to a friend who is departing for Tokyo to join the burgeoning Liberal Party, Eiko sees and is unable to stop her family's servant, Chiyo, from being sold into bondage. Eiko decides to go to Tokyo to fight for women's rights. There she meets Omoi, a dynamic leader of the new Liberal Party. 

Omoi loses a major political battle when moderates vote to dissolve the Party. Eiko takes pity on him and they become lovers. 

Eiko joins Omoi in a political crusade and they become involved with a group of farmers protesting the exploitation of mill girls. Acting as a scout, Eiko witnesses the abuse of the girls and watches in horror as a girl is rapedit is Chiyo, her family's former servant. Afterwards, the half-crazed Chiyo burns down the mill. Eiko, Omoi, and Chiyo are thrown into prison. 

Five years later in 1889, a Constitution is bestowed by the Emperor, along with amnesty for political prisoners. The Constitution, however, contains no mention of women's rights. Omoi is released to great popular acclaim. 

Eiko and Omoi marry and take Chiyo into their household. Omoi is found to be maintaining a mistress; Eiko is disgusted by Omoi's hypocrisy. 

In Japan's first parliamentary elections, Omoi is voted into the Diet. Eiko decides to return to Okayama, where she will start a school and promote women's rights through education. On the train, she reunites with the beaten Chiyo.

"A detailed, living fresco of protest, street battles, intrigues, and the claims of the individual conscience." (John Gillett, NFT)



Jean Mitry wrote that Mizoguchi's characteristic  "atmosphere is both realist and legendary," and of a "refined style, with half-tone effects." It should be noted that whereas UGETSU MONOGATARI (1953) and SANSHO THE BAILIFF (1954) partake more of the mythic, legendary side of Mizoguchi's historical representation, the events of MY LOVE IS BURNING are part of Japanese history and depict precise historical moments. "Police raids on the early political campaign meetings (of the 1880s Civil Rights movement), such as are seen in the opening scene of the film, did actually occur quite often," writes Tony Rayns. 

"The political turmoil of the 1880s is carefully reconstructed: the regional tours of the demagogues, the breaking up of dissident meetings and riots by police, the rural revolt of the farmers in Chichibu, splits and betrayals in the Liberal movement, the sellout of the rank-and-file by the leadership of the party, (and) the first elections in Japan."  (Freda Freiberg, "Tales of Kageyama")

"The first group that organized itself into a small political party was the Jiyuto (the Liberal Party). It was fundamentally a party of middle-class capitalists anxious to defend their own interests, although many of its younger members were vocal on the subjects of citizen's rights in general and women's rights in particular." (Rayns, NFT)

"The film depicts the period leading up to the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution in 1890 through the experience of Eiko Harayama (Tanka), who sees the liberal opposition as a movement within which she can work for women's rights. After being betrayed by two men, she decides to work alone as a teacher in order to provide women with education needed to challenge the male-dominated social structures. The opening title describes the film as 'an appeal to the world for a truly free woman' and Eiko as 'a woman who fought a feudal society.' The implication is that the struggle is an ongoing one not limited to a specific time and place and that, as Eiko discovers, in many respects the structures of feudal society remain despite apparent ideological changes." (James Leach, "Mizoguchi and Ideology")


"In August 1945, Japan surrendered totally and unconditionally. 
"It may be difficult for foreigners to understand the state of mind at that moment. On the one hand, there were Japanese who believed in victory and for whom the defeat represented a downfall and the end of their dreams. On the other hand, there were Japanese who had suffered greatly during the ten years of war and although Japan was destroyed and completely beaten, this defeat meant joy and liberation. 
"At the end of the World War, these two contradictory tendencies were evident among the Japanese people and brought about a certain confusion. In Japan, fascist power was not defeated by the people but by foreign forces, so this victory did not bring about the end of the oppression but the occupation of the country by the foreign soldiers. This case is quite different from that of France, for example, where the people had resisted against the Nazi occupiers and for whom the victory meant, at the same time, national liberation. 
"When the Japanese people found peace, we could breathe freely. Like other Japanese, Mizoguchi did not know how this freedom would benefit his work. 
"For the construction of a peaceful and democratic Japan, the US Occupation Army commissioned the Japanese studios to make a number of films to fight against fascism. The Japanese filmmakers did not object, but it was not possible for them to produce masterpieces under the orders of General MacArthur. 
"This period, called 'democratization of Japan', was vital to the modern history of our country but was also very important for the cinema, because it prepared the ground for the golden age of Japanese cinema..." 
(Akira Iwazaki, "Kenji Mizoguchi" in Anthologie du cinéma, Tome III. L'Avant-Scène. Paris 1968.)

"Japanese critics, especially those of the left, read the feminist films of the Occupation period as colonized discourse: the Americans dictated the themes and attitudes; the films produced were un-Japanese, unauthentic. Thus Akira Iwasaki, leading left-wing activist and critic, dismissed MY LOVE IS BURNING (along with other feminist films of the period 1946-1949) as 'a good response to the dictates of General MacArthur' and labeled its heroine if not exactly un-Japanese then definitely not genuinely Mizoguchian. (...) He, along with other male leftist filmmakers and critics of the period, did not seem to view feminism as progressive, identifying it rather with American liberal capitalist ideology.

"(Iwasaki's) view is shared in part, but not consistently, by Sato Tadao, leading postwar Japanese critic. In one article, Sato finds 'strident official propaganda' in the feminist rhetoric of Mizoguchi's early Occupation films; but elsewhere he records his disappointment that MY LOVE IS BURNING did not make the Top Ten Japanese critics' poll in 1949. (...) He notes that a characteristic Mizoguchi theme is that men succeed at the expense of women. In the prewar Mizoguchi films, women are often the victims of the ideology of risshin shusse (male careerism). In the postwar films, this motif is still there, if not dominant. Thus, in MY LOVE IS BURNING, Omoi is elected to parliament but betrays the woman who supports him and abandons his commitment to women's rights..." (Freda Freiberg, "Tales of Kageyama")

"Yoshikata Yoda, a lifelong collaborator of Mizoguchi and a writer on the second and third films of the trilogy, admits that he could not successfully dramatize these heroines in his screenplays. Yoda also believes that Mizoguchi did not really understand postwar democracy, probably because he was too concerned with trying to transform himself to catch up with the changing times: 'At the historical moment at the end of the war, Mizoguchi was at a loss. He was in the middle of a slump in his career, too.... He could not understand postwar democracy, and because the world was drastically changing, he was probably obsessed about changing himself too.... Finally, he realized that he could not grasp anything.'" (Kyoko Hirano, "Women's Liberation")


Working with "the best cinematographers in film history" as well as Tanaka, "an actress of unimaginable resources," filmmaker Paulo Rocha has said of Mizoguchi that he possessed "expressive means, at all levels, that the West does not possess, not even in its dreams." 

"(Every image in Mizoguchi is) at the same time an observation of the world, a documentary truth of the external worldhard, cruel, bindingand a reflection of an inner world, which is to say an emotional repercussion of the painful feelings experienced by the characters, victims of this reality which tortures them tirelessly." (Jean Douchet)

To read screenwriter Yoshikata Yoda's recollections of working on MY LOVE IS BURNING, newly translated to English from the book SOUVENIRS DE KENJI MIZOGUCHI (MEMORIES OF MIZOGUCHI), as well as Mizoguchi's remarks on the film, see HERE


Senegal. 1970. Color. 24 minutes. 
Wolof and French with English subtitles.
Directed by Ousmane Sembène. 
Production: Broadcasting Film Commission / Ecumenical Council of American Churches in Senegal
Producers: Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, Herbert F. Lowe. Screenplay: Ousmane Sembène based on his short story Tauw. Cinematography: Georges Caristan. Editor: Mawa Gaye. Sound: El Hadji Mbow. Music: Samba Diabara Samb. Players: Mamadou M'bow, Amadou Dieng, Fatim Diane, Coumba Mané, Yoro Cissé, Mamadou Diagne, Christophe N'doulabia.

"I conceive my films as introductions to the comprehension of a situation which needs to be changed. " (Ousmane Sembène) 

"Of all African directors, Sembène was the first to confer value to the images." (Med Hondo)

In Dakar, twenty-year-old unemployed Tauw ("elder brother" in Wolof) fends off accusations of laziness and tries to make a home for his pregnant girlfriend who has been rejected by her family. He struggles to find work as a longshoreman in a marketplace that requires him to pay money to be hired. He dreams on a park bench. An odious religious father is repudiated.

This day-in-the-life film, using the whole city of Dakar as a stage, focuses on the despair caused by Senegal's high rate of unemployment and the generational clash, in which the old still cling to Islam and paternal dictatorship while the young find no escape from exploitation in both its traditional and modern forms.

Like Sembène's BLACK GIRL (1966), THE MONEY ORDER (1968) and XALA (1975), TAUW is based on one of the director's own novellas. 

"Ousmane Sembène (1923–2007) of Senegal is considered the father of African film. By the time he came to film, at age 40, he had a past ranging from deep immersion in tribal religion to Communism, from military service to being a longshoreman in Marseille. A prominent novelist, he decided to go to the Soviet Union to study filmmaking at Gorki Studios under Mark Donskoi, feeling that, in Senegal where literacy was less than universal, he could reach a larger audience through cinema." (Charles Silver)

TAUW was funded by the Ecumenical Council of American Churches in Senegal. About this Sembène simply said "I am taking money from where I can get it. Even from a church." In the film, Tauw's brother Oumon is seen taking lessons at the feet of a Qur'anic teacher who is rendered as an absolute caricature of religious authority, yet the sketch is not cardboard. Sembène films this everyday situation of subordination with such clarity and detail, and with such particularity to Dakar at that time, in that corner of the town, seen by these children, that we feel the sand, the wicker chair of the teacher, and the water of his footbath in equal measure to the teacher's dictates, and we are encouraged to weigh his holy words and their economics to actual circumstances and things. 

As TAUW's critique of the role of Islam in everyday life was commissioned by an American Christian Church, accusations of insensitivity, cultural recklessness, and even Crusading were leveled at the film by The African-American Institute in an interesting letter by Harry Stein:

Two characteristics emerged which blot out other perspectives and perceptives (sic). These are the blatantly anti-Islamic message and tone found through this film and the symbolism linking modernity and assumed progress with Christianity against a backdrop of backwardness reinforced by Islam.  
These features of the film are, in our opinion, so damaging that they negate other possible insights and applications of the film. Were this film by Senegalese for Senegalese the focus on Islam and Christianity could be understood and reacted to within this context. The themes of Islamic cultural and political conservatism are constantly a matter for Senegalese discussion and opinion.  
But this film is for an American audience (sic). The Director's personal convictions and intent will, except in rare instances before specialized audiences, be misunderstood. Moreover, this film was financed by, I believe, and is distributed by the major American Protestant organization proselytizing in Africa. All staff are unable to yet believe that your organization could have created or be a part to such an undertaking which places Islam and Christianity in such a context. I, personally, do not believe you could exhibit this film in Africa without stirring potentially bitter antagonisms. Exhibition in the United States would even be more insidious because the majority of viewers would accept the films basic themes. They would not be aware of Senegalese internal politics and cultural diversity. They would not know that Sembène has always opposed certain aspects of Senegalese life."

All of this can be heartily dismissed and moved past if one accepts, or is willing to learn from, the Marxism of Sembène's filmthe inability of the Institute to do so lead to such confused sensitivities, and ultimately to the recommendation that the film not be exhibited. The lack of respect and faith in the audience to learn from a film (all of Sembène's films are didactic, in the richest sense) exemplified by this letter is the U.N. version of the same type of Americanized reaction one sometimes finds to the particularities of Mizoguchi's films: 

"While I found MY LOVE IS BURNING coldly interesting in revealing a new facet of Mizoguchi's career, it is hardly a film for people off the streets or even revival-house buffs. Unlike A GEISHA (1953), whose observations on women in economic bondage were as relevant to 1978 Manhattan as to 1953 Japan, MY LOVE in its severe, anti-dramatic format and obscure historical references belongs more in the archives for Mizoguchi scholars." (Tom Allen,The Village Voice, 1979)

I print these wholly negative, mad distortions—Sembene's film is for "the American audience" and links "modernity and assumed progress with Christianity"; Mizoguchi's film is "obscure", not a film for "people off the streets" and should be confined to "the archives" (read: to oblivion)so that we may prove them wrong in projection on May 24th, 2019.


Program total running time: 1 hour and 52 minutes
There will be no introductions.
Program notes provided at the door. 
Doors open at 7:30pm, film at 8pm.
$5 Suggested Donation.

Special Thanks to Chloe Reyes, Tag Gallagher, and Amy Basen.

Witnessing duplicity and bad faith of leaders, Eiko says
 "It's hard to live right. Now I know what reality is."

Betrayed progressives stand off to the side and yell, having just realized it: "We're the bureaucracy's dog! Where is justice? Where is freedom?"


"Kino Slang Presents" is a regular series of cinema screenings at the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles. It continues the cinematographic investigations, excavations, proceedings by montage and association, silent alarms and naked dawns of this thirteen-year-old blog.


May 15, 2019


A Statement by Mizoguchi

From the book Mizoguchi Kenji by Peter Morris (Canadian Film Institute, 1967). Morris cites these statements as being "based on three interviews recorded by Tsuneo Hazumi in the Fifties. Hazumi, who died in 1958, was one of the best Japanese critics and a close friend of Mizoguchi."

My film MY LOVE IS BURNING has been the target of much severe criticism. In one of these articles, it was described as 'a wild animal film' and the article added that all the characters howled from beginning to end. This, I must say, is a pertinent criticism. Because I say this, I am not admitting completely to failure .I myself was worried about making a film of this kind. If I may dare speak thus: it is a 'barbarous' film. That said, the result was not really satisfying. It is the same for my film about prostitutes, WOMEN OF THE NIGHT (1948). At that time, it seems to me, I had been accumulating a sense of resentment during the long war period which I wanted to work off on some object. You could call this 'Mizoguchi's post-war style' or else the misplaced bravura of an old man. To tell you the truth I was stimulated by the pictures that Picasso made just after the war. I wanted, in every sense, to grapple with themes hand to hand. 

I realize now that stories like WOMEN OF THE NIGHT and MY LOVE IS BURNING do not have to be filmed from such an impassioned attitude, but that it is necessary to retain sufficient self-possession to be able to create an evocative, but objective description. 

Nevertheless, for all that, an actress like Isuzy Yamada is admirable. Acting, for her, is a way of life, good or bad. It is this approach which perfectly illustrates the expression 'hand to hand' or coming to grips with an idea. 

There are only two actresses in Japan, Kinuyo Tanaka and her, to whom one can apply this description. Although the audience criticizes them from a relatively artisitc point of view, one can say that they are at the absoute stage where they impose their personalities alone and can act by following their own natures. It is the same for stage actorrs when they reach a certain point. I worked once with Shotaro Hanayagi on STORY OF THE LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS (1939). I noticed that, for ators as experienced as he, to act is to live completely with his own character. This is very differenct from the method of an ordinary film actor who knows hot to act only in the small space marked out by the camera. From the same viewpoint, I have a great admiration for Louis Jouvet, the well-known French actor. 

When I directed Tanaka or Yamada, I realized that it was pointless to offer minute explanations of their role. All I could do was to bend with their style of acting and find the exact rhythm for their actions. 

Today, as always, I want to make films which represent the way of life of a particular society. But he spectator must not be driven to despair. It is necessary to invent a new sense of humanism which will bring him cheer.

I want to continue to express the new, but I cannot abandon altogether the old. I retain a great attachment to the past, although I have only little hope for the future. Whatever my financial difficulties may be I shall never be able to prevent myself from yielding to my passion for my work.  

by Yoshikata Yoda

excerpted from Souvenirs de Kenji Mizoguchi by Yoshikata Yoda (Cahiers du cinéma,1997). Originally translated from the Japanese by Koichi Yamada. Translated from the French by Andy Rector. Yoda was Mizoguchi's screenwriter from NANIWA ELEGY (1936) though PRINCESS YANG KWEI-FEI (1955).

I've already told you somewhere that (the film's producer) Hisao Itoya was very knowledgeable about the cultural history of Meiji era. He had long been thinking about a film about the life of Hideko Kageyama, the great revolutionary of the Meiji era. (The screenwriter) Kaneto Shindo had already written a script about her. We'd already had a lot of trouble rendering Sumako's eccentric character in LOVE OF THE SUMAKO ACTRESS. Hideko Kageyama, who was animated by a burning revolutionary faith, was equally astonishing. However, in Shindo's scenario, Hideko's almost manly side was not very accentuated; it was rather a lucid attempt to explode the limitations put upon women. But with a model like Hideko, it was possible to do something stronger. "I do not care about the revolution," said Shindo, but along with (producer) Itoya, I thought it was necessary to dwell on the historical climate related to Hideko's life. I noticed that Hideko was trying to become masculinized. She wore, for example, male outfits; she shared, with other emancipated women, this somewhat naive theory of the equality of the sexes: one had to live like a man. She had then brutally realized that she was only a woman, with her passion for the revolutionary Kentaro Ooi, and her progressive demands had been strengthened; she defended her cause lucidly. But Shindo did not agree. My role was limited to giving some advice. . . In the final version, we omitted two very important points: 1) Hideko's behavior was explained by the fact that, physiologically, she did not have the revelation of her femininity until rather late. This particularity should have had dramatic implications. Shindo refused. But shown as a simple lover, the heroine was too commonplace. 2) During the famous case of Korea (agitation for the Korean independence movement), Hideko, charged with a mission, must escape with a suitcase full of dynamite. She is stopped before embarking. I thought we could dramatize this sequence. But thinking about the surveillance of the U.S. occupation army, we gave up. . . As became all too common! 

The difficulty of MY LOVE IS BURNING was to express the revolutionary rise of the Liberty and Civil Rights party, a beautiful page in the history of the Meiji era. Or also the great difficulty of making an ideological portrait of a revolutionary like Kentaro Ooi, the partner of Hideko. After MY LOVE IS BURNING, Mizoguchi was to shoot THE LIFE OF O'HARU. But there was bad blood between Mizoguchi and Shochiku. The scenario was enriched, fed by our joint discussions. The refusal of Shochiku--with whom Mizoguchi split--was very discouraging. So we went to Tokyo to shoot MADAME YUKI, produced by Shintoho, based on the novel by Seiichi Funabashi. I adapted it with his brother Kazuo Funabashi. Our work was relatively easy, but by our own fault, (the script of) MADAME YUKI failed to reach the romantic sensuality of the original text. Mizoguchi, however, excelled at these things, and, trusting him, we only tried to express the honesty and sincerity of the young heroes. I did not want to give too much credit to the aristocratic class for the prevailing democracy, but to show its fall, its disappointment, its fading. We did it through a pure and naive girl named Hamako: she admires Yuki a lot, of which she is the maid. In her eyes, little by little we read her disappointment and her disillusions. . .

A Statement by Mizoguchi
from the same book by Peter Morris, see above.

I have made numerous films on the Meiji era, the subject matter of which was taken from the everyday life of the epoque when the Emperor Meiji reigned (1868-1912). It is often told how I insisted on obtaining minute accessories for these films with such rigorous precision that I insisted for one entire day on obtaining one little lamp. This story is true, and it is in this manner that I directed the Meiji series. 

Let us say, that a man like me is always tempted by the climate of beauty in this era. What's more, I was then in deep sympathy with the popular spirit of revolt which permeated the works of Izumi Kyoka (a famous writer of the Meiji). Nevertheless, today it would be impossible for me to make such a film following the texts of Izumi, even if somebody asked me to do it. It would be the same thing for films on the life of actors. 

At the time when I made these kinds of films, the military was exercising an extremely severe censorship; and although I wished to develop following the path of my NANIWA ELEGY (1936) they forbade me to do so, describing the spirit of this film as having "decadent tendencies". In order to avoid their strictures I was therefore obliged to produce films on actors. Obviously, my sole intent in doing this was not to find refuge from censorship; I can truly say that it was also the nostalgia of this era which I loved which attracted me to make these films, nostalgia of a man who was born and raised at that time. I wanted to express its beauty. That is why I was very exacting, even when it concerned only a little lamp.

Before I started to make these films honoring the Meiji, the life and customs of that time had rarely been translated faithfully. How could it have been possible to film as was necessary, if improvised decors and chance accessories were used? It should be added that, during that earlier time, there was not one specialist in decoration, a situation which would be quite unimaginable today. Nowadays directors don't have to wear themselves out with working on such minute details as they did when they had to be producers and artistic advisers all the same time.


In Japan a vague conception of the Meiji times can be recreated, but not precisely the visual distinction between each stage from the beginnings of the Meiji period until the Russo-Japanese War. For the era which coincides with the reign of the Emperor Raisho (1916-1926) the work would be even more difficult. Although it is only a very recent past we are concerned with, we are already incapable of communicating the moral tendencies and general atmosphere of that time. Herein lies one of the principle difficulties of visual art, a difficulty which is not encountered in literature. 

If, for example, I intended to make a film from the original text of Tsuyu no ato saki by Kafu Nagai (a great writer of the Meiji era), I would not have enough confidence in myself to be sure of expressing with clarity the life and customs as they are described in the novel.

On the other hand, I made a series of regional works such as NANIWA ELEGY at Osaka, THE SISTERS OF GION at Kyoto, HOMETOWN at Tohoku, a small village in the North East region; each time, the motivation was to express the particular life of these regions. I understood, when making these films, that it was impossible to recreate an actual life drama in a Kyoto studio without losing the authentic feel of regional life. If this is so, I said to myself, I must only choose a place that I know as well as if I'd lived there like Kyoto or Osaka. And so I decided to concentrate on the life of the inhabitants from these towns and above all to look at them mischievously. Having been told that I have the shortcomings of a Kyoto man, I was well able to appreciate their strengths and weaknesses. And, although I don't believe I have included all of the people of the Kamigata region in NANIWA ELEGY and SISTERS OF THE GION, I can say that these two films are a means for the better understanding of human realities.


MY LOVE IS BURNING will screen in Los Angeles on Friday, May 24th, 2019 at 8pm along with Sembène's TAUW (1970) as part of Kino Slang at the Echo Park Film Center.