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

In addition to the group of directors trained within the Shōchiku, other important figures of the new cinema were Imamura Shōhei and Teshigahara Hiroshi. Active at Nikkatsu until the early 1960s and then moved to independent cinema, Imamura developed his discourse on human instinct, on the dimension of desire, with increasing rigor, sometimes seeking a link with Japanese mythology itself, as in Kamigami no fukaki yokubō (1968, The deep desire of the gods). Teshigahara, with his independent productions, created some of the most refined works of the period and, inspired by the novels of the writer Abe Kōbō, he worked above all on the theme of identity, favoring a metaphorical register and impregnated with black humor, as happens in his most well known, Suna no onna (1964; The sand woman). In the context of the documentary, the militant and highly politicized work of Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Ogawa Shinsuke should be remembered, trained at the Iwanami documentary school, as well as that of Hani Susumu, who created an independent cinema at the end of the 1950s, halfway between fiction and reality, mainly focused on the representation of childhood and adolescence as states of innocence, ‘abroad, eg. in Latin America in the case of Andesu no hanayome (1966, The Girlfriend of the Andes).

According to CLOTHINGEXPRESS.ORG, the extremely new elements that Nūberu bagu introduced into Japanese cinema also ended up influencing some sectors of genre and consumer cinema. A clear example of this is the work of Suzuki Seijun, who, on behalf of Nikkatsu, made a series of action and yakuza films such as Irezumi ichidai (1965, A generation of tattooed) and Koroshi no rakuin (1967; The butterfly on the viewfinder), but also personal reinterpretations of the birth of fascism in the Thirties, such as Kenka ereji (1966, Elegy of the fight), in which the director upsets the canons of genres, resorts to visual solutions of extreme stylization, favors the register of the grotesque, uses provocative erotic metaphors, constructs often indecipherable plots. The extreme character of his cinema was the cause of his dismissal by the Nikkatsu, which provoked a large protest movement. Even in the field of erotic, not to say pornographic, cinema, this air of novelty made itself felt. This is evidenced in particular by the films directed by the independent Wakamatsu Kōji who, with his Kabe no naka no himegoto (1965, The secret within the walls) and Taiji ga mitsuryō suru toki (1966, When the embryo poaches), mixes sex and politics, violence and opposition to established power, in decidedly unusual and provocative ways, even within the framework of the Japanese censorship codes (e.g., the strict prohibition of framing sexual organs) that have often directed the erotic film towards extravagant solutions.

Although born in the context of large companies, the new Japanese cinema of the 1960s was mainly linked to independent productions. In this sector, the most important reality was that of the ATG (Art Theater Guild), founded in 1967, which, thanks to its own circuit of cinemas, allowed the production and distribution of a large number of low-cost arthouse films.. Particularly rich as regards the development of a new cinema, both in terms of content and style, the Sixties were however very difficult on the commercial level, so much so that, at the beginning of the following decade, many companies – including the Nikkatsu, Daiei, Shin-Tōhō and ATG itself, which closed in 1975 due to a financial deficit – were forced to shut down and others to downsize drastically. Furthermore, many of the authors of the 1960s seemed to have lost their creative streak with the start of a new decade. Thus began one of the most difficult periods in the history of Japanese cinema.

While in 1971 Nikkatsu, in order to escape the impending economic failure, launched a romantic-pornographic genre known as Roman porno on the market, on the level of auteur cinema, however, Kurosawa had tried to get out of the crisis by associating with Ichikawa, Kinoshita and Kobayashi in the Yonki No Kai (Society of the Four Horsemen) which produced the director’s first color film, Dodesukaden (1970; Dodes’ ka- den), whose title onomatopoeically recalls the rattle of an imaginary tram passing through the shanty town populated by marginalized where the action is set. The film was a failure, yet it was a bleak metaphor for Japan’s heavy recessive crisis in the 1970s. Out of disappointment, Kurosawa attempted suicide in 1971; L’ the year before, the writer Mishima Yukio had spectacularly committed suicide, but in the stagnant climate of those years, the originality of the multifaceted and iconoclastic talent of Terayama Shūji emerged, theatrical, boxer, poet, filmmaker and scriptwriter for Hani and Shinoda. He died prematurely in 1983, Terayama was the author of films such as Sho o sute yo, machi e deyō (1971, Let’s throw the books, let’s go down the street) or Den’en ni shisu (1974, Pastoral hide and seek), bearers of the nonconformist and rebellious spirit of the seventies but also pervaded by a melancholy poetic fantasy that referred to Fellini’s atmospheres.

Japan Cinematography from the Postwar to the 1970's 3