90 Second Expert: Japanese Cinema

Quick History

  • The ’23 earthquake prompts rise of classic masters Ozu and Mizoguchi
  • The shadow of ’30s militarism hampers industry development
  • 1945 ushers in a golden age, with Kurosawa riding high, along with a host of
    other classic directors
  • An industry-wide crisis puts a damper on things until the mid-’80s
  • J-film then rejuvenates with ghosts, animation and crazy yakuzas

Key Titles

A Page of Madness (1926)

The most remarkable surviving Japanese silent film, an avant-garde startler by ex-kabuki actor Teinosuke Kinugasa. Set in a lunatic asylum, it shuns intertitles and plays games with appearance and reality.

Rashomon ( 1950)

This epic was a revelation to western audiences, not least for the power and intensity of Toshiro Mifune’s performance. It’s a study of relative truth, with an ambush and killing told from four different viewpoints.

Tokyo Story (1953)

By this time, Ozu had perfected the austere, contemplative style that frames his tale of an elderly couple visiting their married offspring in Tokyo. A deserved fixture of every, worthy greatest-movies list ever compiled.

Ugetsu Monogatari (1954)

The film that brought director Mizoguchi to international notice. Set in the strife-torn 16th Century, its intertwined stories of two villagers led astray by love and ambition are filmed with compassion and cool grace.

The Human Condition (1958-61)

Masaki Kobayashi’s towering wartime trilogy, drawing on his experience as a dissenter under the military regime. A chilling vision of Japanese society during the dark years.

Ringu (1998)

J-horror starts here. Vengeful ghosts crawling out of TV screens, ancient curses, creepy water imagery, a feisty heroine taking on more than she imagined – much imitated but so far not surpassed.


Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000