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.

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