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)

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)

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.