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

As was part of her tradition, Shōchiku continued to favor films with a contemporary setting, with a particular taste for melodrama and the little things of everyday life. This trend was evident in both popular and genre cinema, as evidenced by the extraordinary successes of Kimi no na wa (1953-54, What’s your name?) Of Ōba Hideo and the subsequent series Otoko wa tsurai yo (1969-1997, It’s hard to be a man) directed almost entirely by Yamada Yōji and starring Atsumi Kiyoshi, in the role of the protagonist Torasan, and in the author’s role, thanks above all to the work of Kinoshita and Ozu. A separate discussion deserves Kobayashi Masaki which, with a still very classic style and a ‘humanism’ that looked to Kurosawa, instead aimed more at the decisive denunciation of the brutality of war and the feudal past. Rebuilt in 1951 from the merger of two other production houses, Tōei collected studies some of those left-wing filmmakers, including Imai, who had previously been kicked out by other companies. However, it achieved its greatest success thanks to the series of historical settings and, in general, to the jidaigeki films, among which those of Katō Tai (Mabuta no haha, 1962, Love for a mother) and Yamashita Kōsaku (Seki no Yatappe) stand out., 1963, Seki’s Yatappe). 1963 was also the year of Jinsei gekijō – Hishakaku (The theater of life – Hishakaku) by Sawashima Tadashi, who launched series dedicated to the world of yakuza (the Japanese mafia), a genre marked by a deep nostalgia for an idealized tradition, by the conflict between duty and sentiment, by the sense of belonging to the group, by the importance of the code of honor and by the exaltation of sacrifice. Another merit of Tōei was that of having opened its doors to Uchida, which remained in China for a long time after the war, and who, in the 1950s and 1960s, made some of her most original films, especially in the field of jidaigeki, such as the Daibosatsu tōge trilogy (1957-1959, The pass of the great Buddha), but also in that of the gendaigeki, such as Kiga kaikyō (1964, Lo strait of hunger), a film relatively little known in the West but considered a masterpiece in Japan develops his discourse on the congenital vocation to evil of the human being. Finally, Tōei was the company that, more than others, was able to profit from the phenomenon, in great vogue at the time, of program pictures, that is, those low-budget and genre productions, destined to be screened in a program comprising two films at the cost of a single ticket. war, Nikkatsu was reborn in 1954. Not finding any more actors, directors and technicians available on the market (all under contract with the other companies), he tried the youth card. Thanks to this forced policy, it became the most innovative house of the period, both through the so-called taiyōzoku films (i.e. about the ‘tribe of the sun’, youth groups with violent and hedonistic behavior), and through the series of Nikkatsu actions. Tayōzoku films, such as Nakahira Kō’s Kurutta kajitsu (1956; The Season of the Sun), were a new genre of melodrama, inspired by the novels of Ishihara Shintarō, who represented with crudeness and cynicism the radical crisis of values ​​that had struck the world of the Japanese youth born during the war, who, in the second half of the 1950s, could not help but reject the generation of fathers. Action films, albeit with different narrative developments, re-proposed the same existential anxieties through their desperate heroes. Both trends, which will have a considerable weight in the birth of the Japanese nouvelle vague (called Nūberu bagu in Japanese), will also mark the advent of a new generation of stars, such as Ishihara Yūjirō and Shishido Jō. Japanese achieved the numerically most significant results of its entire history, both in terms of production (555 films in 1960), and on that of consumption (one billion and 127 million presences in 1958). However, the inexorable and rapid decline immediately began, which led the number of spectators to drop drastically, in 1963, to just over 500 million units.

According to CLOTHESBLISS.COM, the reason for this crisis was in Japan, as indeed everywhere, the advent of television, which did little to try to oppose through Cinemascope and color. The overall most significant event in Japanese cinema of the 1960s was the the affirmation of a new generation of filmmakers who, in open controversy with the humanism of the previous generation, looked with greater cynicism at the contradictions of the present, condemned the victimhood of the past, affirmed values ​​such as those of individualism and desire, it dealt more explicitly with difficult issues such as sex, politics and violence, it disrupted traditional representation models by searching for new forms of language. The first signs of this renewal were already evident in Nikkatsu’s tayōzoku and action films, as well as in Masumura Yasuzō’s business. Masumura, who had studied at the Experimental Center of Cinematography in Rome in the early 1950s, published, on his return home, some polemical essays on the sense of victimization and resignation of dominant Japanese cinema, to then move on to directing with films such as Kyojin to gangu (1958, Giants and toys) and Akai tenshi (1966, The red angel), both produced by Daiei, marked, depending on the case, by a particular dynamism, by characters who are resolutely trying to fulfill their desires and by a strong sense of eroticism. But the Nūberu bagu found its true expressions in the context of Shōchiku, through the work, in particular, of Ōshima Nagisa, Yoshida Yoshishige and Shinoda Masahiro. It was Ōshima who played the role of leader of the movement, as evidenced by the three films he directed in 1960: Seishun zankoku monogatari (A cruel tale of youth), Taiyō no hakaba (The cemetery of the sun) and, above all, Nihon no yoru to kiri (Night and fog of Japan), in which, through an exasperated use of the sequence shot and anomalous temporal connections, he reconstructs, with coldness and cynicism, the conflict between two different generations of revolutionary militants. The film, shot almost clandestinely, was immediately withdrawn from the screens, a fact that determined the break between Ōshima and Shōchiku. The director thus founded his own company, helping to bring about a new phase of rebirth of independent productions. Shinoda and Yoshida also followed him along this road. Yoshida, in particular, he made some very important films at the end of the 1960s, including Erosu purasu gyakusatsu (1969, Eros più massacro), which, in staging the relationship between sexuality and terrorism, stands as one of the most radical results of the new Japanese cinema ; while Shinoda’s films were characterized by their weary stylization, as in the aesthetically pleasing Shinjū ten no Amijima (1969, Double Suicide in Amijima).

Japan Cinematography from the Postwar to the 1970's 2