Japan Cinematography from the Postwar to the 1970’s Part I

From 1945 to 1952, the Japan experienced, for the first time, the experience of foreign occupation, through the control of the allied military command. Thus the censorship of the war years passed to that of the US occupation. Anything that referred to the spirit of sacrifice, national loyalty, patriotism, the will for revenge, the apology for suicide was prohibited. Directors were invited to encourage the spread of democratic ideals and new customs (such as, for example, showing a kissing couple). In fact, the making of jidaigeki, a genre too compromised with the feudal past, was forbidden. In 1947, some of the producers held responsible for making propaganda films were banned, but three years later the provision was lifted. They had a particular importance,

According to CACHEDHEALTH.COM, the most relevant aspect of Japanese cinema in the years of the US occupation was represented by the attempt to adapt to the wind of Western democracy. Thus were born films in which, for example, children push fathers to enter the new era (Anjō ke no butōkai, 1947, The dance of the Anjō family, by Yoshimura Kōzaburō), the patriarchal heads of families are mocked (Yabure daikō, 1949, The Broken Drum, by Kinoshita Keisuke), praises the opponents of nationalism (Waga seishun ni kui nashi, 1946, Without regret for my youth, by Kurosawa), there is an open support for the liberation of women (Jōsei no shōri, 1946, The victory of women, by Mizoguchi). Among the few directors who in those years managed to conduct their own personal discourse, outside the dominant imperatives, there was undoubtedly Kurosawa who, in films like Yoidore tenshi (1948; The drunken angel) and Nora inu (1949; Stray dog), manages to represent with great effectiveness the difficult situation of Japan of the postwar period.

In 1952 the US occupation ended and the Japan regained its sovereignty. Japanese films began to participate in Western festivals and, starting with the Golden Lion awarded at the Venice Film Festival in 1951 to Kurosawa’s Rashōmon (1950; Rashomon), they obtained a series of important international awards that led to the discovery of Japanese cinema in the West. The years of occupation had helped Japanese directors to find an effective synthesis between their cultural heritage and the expressive modes of Western cinema, capable of making their films more in line with the needs of international circuits. Thus opened one of the most fruitful seasons of the country’s cinema, marked by a certain solidity of the production system, organized around some large companies that controlled the market on the basis of a vertical structure, that is, including production, distribution and operation. Among the trends of the period were the return of the jidaigeki, films about the war years, especially with pacifist intentions (Nijū-shi no hitomi, 1954, Twenty-four pupils, by Kinoshita; Biruma no tategoto, 1956, The Burmese Harp, by Ichikawa Kon), the films about the atomic bomb (Genbaku no ko, 1952, The children of the bomb, by Shindō Kaneto), social films that denounced the country’s contradictions (Bōryoku no machi, 1950, The city of violence, by Yamamoto Satsuo; Dokkoi ikite iru, 1951, Yet we live, by Imai Tadashi). The latter, in particular, were made by independent productions, around which those directors hunted by the major companies during and after the period of the trade union conflict with the production company Tōhō gathered.

Tōhō itself was one of the most active film houses in those years. It achieved its greatest success with the film Gojira (1954; Godzilla) directed by Honda Ishirō, which was credited with starting a whole series of catastrophic works populated by prehistoric monsters – sometimes generated by atomic experiments – which conquered the market. In the field of auteur cinema, the Tōhō made use, instead, of the presence of directors such as Kurosawa and Naruse who, in the 1950s, made their most important films.

The Shin-Tōhō, initially born from a rib of the Tōhō and then becoming fully independent, contributed to the development of ghost films (kaidan eiga), referring to a rich cultural tradition that had its roots in nō and kabuki, for example. with Tōkaidō Yo-tsuya kaidan (1959, Ghost stories in Yotsuya in Tōkaidō) by Nakagawa Nobuo. Daiei, for its part, focused on historical cinema, launching some very successful series, such as Nemuri Kyōshiro (1963-1969) and Zatō Ichi (1962-1971), directed by various directors and interpreted by a new generation of stars such as Ichikawa Raizō and Katsu Shintarō. Led by the skilled Nagata, Daiei was also active in the production of author jidaigeki, often designed specifically for major international festivals. Thus were born the successes of Jigokumon (1953, The Gate of Hell) by Kinugasa and, above all, the last masterpieces of Mizoguchi. Still in the field of auteur cinema, the company also made use of the collaboration of Ichikawa Kon who, between the fifties and sixties, made some of his most important films such as Enjō (1958, Conflagrazione) and Yukinojō henge (1963, La revenge of an actor).

Japan Cinematography from the Postwar to the 1970's 1