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Kenji Mizoguchi (溝口 健 二, Mizoguchi Kenji?) (Tokyo, May 16, 1898 – Kyoto, August 24, 1956) was a Japanese film director, one of the best known in Japan. The West along with Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirō Ozu.
Mizoguchi was born in Tokyo in 1898. His family falls into poverty, despite his father’s ambitions, after the economic crisis of 1904. His family had to move to the neighborhood of Asakusa, the poorest in Tokyo. Mizoguchi’s father, a former carpenter, behaves violently with his mother and also with his sister, whom he ends up selling as a geisha.
He had difficulties as a student at school, and became an apprentice painter on canvas. He becomes passionate about painting and gets a degree in a Painting Academy. He works as an advertising illustrator and also in a newspaper in the city of Kobe. In 1918, he participated in the violent riots that took place as a result of the influence of the Russian Revolution and because of that he lost his job.
He entered the film industry in 1920 as an actor in the Nikkatsu studios, although he soon became an assistant director. In 1922, he directs his first film The day in which he returned the love in which his socialist convictions are manifested, and which is censored by the government.
The director’s career
At the beginning of his career, he is a fast director, sometimes directing adaptations of Eugene O’Neill, Leon Tolstoy or versions of German expressionist films. That way he rolls more than 70 films between the 20s and the 30s, most of which were lost after the Second World War. His filmography of this period is marked by his commitment against the totalitarianism that Japan is heading and his interest in the problem of prostitutes, always present in his films. He founded the Daiichi Eida production company in order to maintain its independence, but the producer will break almost immediately.
According to Mizoguchi himself, his first serious film was The Sisters of Gion in 1936, with which he will achieve an important public success.
From this point on, he is oriented towards a neo-realism that serves to analyze the transition of Japan from feudalism to the modern era. Get the Culture Ministry Award with The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, where he analyzes the underrated role of women in Japanese society. He develops his famous theory “a scene / a plane”. He is assisted by his very competent assistant Hiroshi Mizutani, who encourages him to use wide-angle cameras.
During the war he will direct propaganda films for the most important production company in Japan, Shochiku. You can highlight The song of victory, the most famous The loyal 47 Ronins and The Bijomaru sword that will free you from going to jail.
Recognition after the war
After 1945, Japan enjoys a freedom movement that Mizoguchi is a privileged witness in his militant films in favor of the female vote, such as The Victory of Women and Burn My Love. At that time he lived with the fear of communist repression and left the production company Shichoku in 1950. From that moment on, he dedicated himself to directing melodramas that revive Japanese folkloric and traditional aspects together with his scriptwriter and collaborator Yoshikata Yoda.
It began to be known in the West at the beginning of the 50s mainly thanks to the critic and director Jacques Rivette. His first known film in the West was Vida de O-Haru, gallant woman in 1952, before being consecrated with the Silver Lion at the Venice Festival the following year for the Tales of the Pale Moon. He is again awarded in 1954 by Sansho Mayor and The Crucified Lovers.
Your path will be followed by Yasujirō Ozu and then by Akira Kurosawa. More traditionally Japanese than his compatriots, Mizoguchi is moved by the subtlety of his poetry, which however does not hide the sordidness, through a black and white universe in which he was a true master.
Between 1953 and his death in 1956, all his films get a favorable reception from the European critics and manage to have their own audience. Mizoguchi dies in Kyoto because of a leukemia at 58 years old. He is considered today one of the masters of Japanese cinema along with Kurosawa, Ozu, Mikio Naruse and Masaki Kobayashi.
Between 1923 and the time of his death, he directed 89 films, of which only two were in color.
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