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 representations, 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," Mizoguchisaid filmmaker Paulo Rocha in a 2000 interviewpossessed "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 on 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 particularity to Dakar at that time, in that corner of town, seen by these children, with that tone of voice, that we are able to see, with the lucidity of a childhood memory, what the Qur'anic teacher stands on; it is not the Qur'an but sand, a wicker chair, water for his foot-bath, and children who will beg for money to give to him. We see this in equal measure to his dictates, and 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 the bad faith of leaders, Omoi 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.


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