Donald Richie Film Series to Launch 10/18 at Japan Society NY
Donald Richie, Japan Society NY
Before his passing in February, Donald Richie (1924-2013) educated and inspired generations to become interested in Japan through the Japanese art and culture he introduced - especially through film. Noted film scholar Kyoko Hirano calls him one of the single most important film and cultural critics. "Many people in the world beyond North America and Western Europe, beyond the film world, first became acquainted with Japanese culture through Richie's wide range of writings," she says.
In Richie's Fantastic Five: Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu, Yanagimachi & Kore-eda, Japan Society's Film Program honors Richie's legacy, presenting five timeless classics and hard-to-see gems over five months in glorious 35mm presentations. Curated by Hirano, a former Japan Society Film Program Director, the series highlights five seminal Japanese directors, who first became known throughout the world through Richie's work. Co-presented with The Japan Foundation, the series launches with Akira Kurosawa's High and Low (October 18); continuing with Kenji Mizoguchi's The Life of Oharu(November 16); Yasujiro Ozu's Equinox Flower (December 12), screening on Ozu's birthday and the 50th anniversary of his death; Mitsuo Yanagimachi's Himatsuri (January 24), unavailable on DVD; and Hirokazu Kore-eda's After Life (February 19), marking the one-year anniversary of Richie's death.
Hirano notes, "Richie tirelessly promoted the cinematic beauty of such giants as Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi and Mikio Naruse; championed the iconoclastic energy of Japanese New Wave directors Nagisa Oshima, Masahiro Shinoda, Susumu Hani and Shohei Imamura; and celebrated the vibrant styles of new and upcoming directors such as Yoshimitsu Morita, Kazuo Hara, Yanagimachi and Kore-eda. Thanks to Richie, the world knows the greatness of Japanese cinema."
The second part of the series, also curated by Hirano, will focus on films that portray various aspects of Japanese society as observed through Richie's eyes, and begins March 2014 as part of the annual spring Globus Film Series.
Tickets to each screening are $12/$9 Japan Society members, seniors and students. Tickets may be purchased in person at Japan Society, by calling the box office at 212-715-1258, or at www.japansociety.org.
Screening Schedule and Film Descriptions:
High and Low - Series Opening Film
Friday, October 18, 7:00 pm
**Introduced by series curator Kyoko Hirano, followed by a reception.
1963, 143 min., 35mm, B&W, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. With Toshiro Mifune, Kyoko Kagawa, Tatsuya Nakadai, Isao Kimura, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Tatsuya Mihashi.
Akira Kurosawa's dynamic yet humanist films became immortal thanks to Richie's definitive book The Films of Akira Kurosawa (University of California Press, 1965; revised in 1984), in which Richie discusses Kurosawa's powerful cinematic styles and his ethical concerns. Repeatedly cited as one of the greatest police procedurals of all time, High and Low, based on Ed McBain's novel King's Ransom, puts Kurosawa's masterful control of pacing and composition on full display--starting with a claustrophobic first half that slowly boils with increasing pathos and moral complexity until it explodes into an action-packed second half that highlights the tensions brought out by class conflict while delivering a thrilling manhunt. Toshiro Mifune offers a typically remarkable performance as Gondo, a wealthy executive who is unexpectedly caught in the middle of a kidnapping ransom case that stands to ruin him, while a graceful Tatsuya Nakadai, as Chief Detective Tokura, leads a memorable supporting cast of detectives and police who sweat and search for the anonymous kidnapper in the slums below.
Donald Richie on High and Low: "A morality play in the form of an exciting thriller. A self-made man (Mifune) is ruined by a jealous nobody (Yamazaki in his first important screen role) but goes on to do the right thing and in the end the camera observes more similarities than differences between the two. With a memorable mid-film climax on a high-speed bullet-train."
Saturday, November 16, 6:00 pm
**Introduced by scholar Joel Neville Anderson
1952, 136 min., 35mm, B&W, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. With Kinuyo Tanaka, Hisako Yamane, Toshiro Mifune, Yuriko Hamada, Jukichi Uno, Ichiro Sugai.
Richie introduced Kenji Mizoguchi to the world through a retrospective he helped put together at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1961. Set in feudal Japan during the Edo period, The Life of Oharu is one of the most devastating of Mizoguchi's films about exploited, fallen women. Starring the amazing Kinuyo Tanaka as the eponymous Oharu, Mizoguchi chronicles her repeated humiliation and abuse as the victim of a patriarchal system that unequivocally places women as second-class citizens, suffering one disgrace after another until she is left with nothing. Featuring incredible black and white photography that is as beautiful as it is haunting, The Life of Oharu stands among cinema's greatest achievements for its aesthetic beauty as well as the unflinching, poetic realism of its storytelling. Mizoguchi, whom Jean-Luc Godard called "the greatest of Japanese filmmakers, or quite simply one of the greatest of filmmakers," considered the film his masterpiece.
Donald Richie on The Life of Oharu: "Based on a light and picaresque novel by the 17th-century writer Saikaku, the film takes a more serious view of the decline and fall of the heroine--from court lady to common whore. Yoshikata Yoda's script, Tanaka's performance as Oharu, Hiroshi Mizutani's art direction and Ichiro Saito's score--using Japanese instruments--help make this one of Mizoguchi's most elegantly beautiful films."
Thurday, December 12, 7:00 pm
**Introduced by filmmaker Atsushi Funahashi
1958, 118 min., 35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Yasujiro Ozu. With Shin Saburi, Kinuyo Tanaka, Ineko Arima, Yoshiko Kuga, Keiji Sada, Fujiko Yamamoto, Miyuki Kuwano, Chishu Ryu, Chieko Naniwa.
Among the earliest champions of the now-immortal director, Richie first introduced Yasujiro Ozu to the world with a retrospective at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1963, followed by a European tour of his films. Richie's book, Ozu (University of California Press, 1974), illuminated upon Ozu's uniquely serene style and went on to influence an entire generation of film scholars and directors. Made in 1958, Equinox Flower is a highlight of Ozu's late period, the first to embrace and utilize color photography to stunning effects. Like many of Ozu's films, this contemporary middle-class drama revolves around the conflict brought out between generations, specifically between a father and his daughter's ideas about marriage (he insists on an arranged marriage; she wants to marry for love). Here, Ozu finds more sympathy with the younger generation than he had in previous films, giving the film a gentle, balanced touch that offers some hope for the future.
Donald Richie on Equinox Flower: "One of Ozu's most satisfying films--and his first picture in color. Based on a novel by Ton Satomi, the Kogo Noda/Ozu script has father Saburi firmly opposed to daughter Arima's marriage to Sada, while at the same time believing himself to be a liberal parent. Through a delightful series of deceptions his despotic ways are smilingly unmasked."
Friday, January 24, 7:00 pm
**Introduction by author Ian Buruma
1985, 126 min., 35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Mitsuo Yanagimachi. With Kinya Kitaoji, Ryota Nakamoto, Kiwako Taichi, Norihei Miki, Junko Miyashita.
Following Mitsuo Yanagimachi's debut documentary God Speed You! Black Emperor (1976), Richie promoted the independent director by introducing his films and eventually presenting a retrospective at the 1990 Toronto International Film Festival. The rarely-screened Himatsuri is Yanagimachi's controversial fourth feature, revolving around a gruff and proud lumberjack who refuses to sell his land, set in the beautiful mountainous area of Kumano, and is eventually driven to commit horrendous, sacrificial acts against himself and his family as his desires merge with the fierce forces of nature surrounding him. Himatsuri is an enormously lush and mysterious film that is certain to leave a lasting impression, however confounding or unsettling. Dave Kehr of the New York Times called it "a work of exquisite sensitivity, corrosive wit, and great technical prowess, [Himatsuri] established Yanagimachi as the leading Japanese filmmaker of his generation."