Japanese Director Kenji Misumi Receives Retrospective at Moving Image, 10/5-14


Japanese director Kenji Misumi (1921–1975) was best known for his wildly popular Zatoichi and Lone Wolf and Cub samurai films. Versatile and underrated in the West, he was also one of the pioneers of the jidai geki (historical drama), and was nicknamed Little Mizoguchi for his stylistic mastery. In collaboration with the Japan Foundation, Museum of the Moving Image presents a seven-film retrospective of the director's works from October 5 through 14, 2012.

Although he died young, at the age of 54, Misumi's career spanned pivotal eras of Japanese filmmaking-and his complete body of work demonstrates his deftness in tone, style, and content, and his commitment to breaking through the conventions of the Daiei studio system. This selection of Misumi's films, all in rarely screened 35mm prints, includes his celebrated sword thrillers, among them his most acclaimed film, Destiny's Son, and the blockbuster comic-action Zaitoichi series, as well a handful of melodramas and a horror film, each rendered with a visual poetry all the filmmaker's own. The 1964 film The Sword (Ken), the only contemporary film in the series, is based on the novella by Yukio Mishima, about a talented pupil of kendo caught up in a rivalry with a fellow student.

Tickets for each screening are included with Museum admission, which is free for Museum members.

Following the Museum's series, the films travel to the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Unless otherwise noted, film screenings take place in the main Moving Image Theater and in the Celeste and Armand Bartos Screening Room at Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35 Avenue (at 37 Street), Astoria, and are included with Museum admission. Advance tickets for some special screenings and events are available online at http://movingimage.us or by calling 718 777 6800. All films directed by Kenji Misumi.

The Tale of Zatoichi (Zatôichi monogatari)
1962, 96 mins. 35mm. With Shintaro Katsu, Masayo Banri. The first film in the long-running samurai series introduces Katsu as Zatoichi, a blind masseur who conceals his expert swordsmanship until life's unfair situations force him to action. With bold widescreen compositions, Misumi deliberately builds the drama-with touches of comedy-toward the expertly choreographed final climactic battle.

Destiny's Son (Kiru)
1962, 71 mins. 35mm. With Raizo Ichikawa. After learning shocking truths about his origins from his dying father, Shingo (Ichikawa) seeks revenge and redemption. Based on the novel by Renzaburo Shibata, Destiny's Son questions the warrior code and morality of the samurai lifestyle. Gorgeously shot in color, in the TohoScope widescreen process, this is one of Misumi's most visually stunning and tightly paced films.

Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (Zatôichi kesshô-tabi)
1964, 87 mins. 35mm. With Shintaro Katsu, Nobuo Kaneko. After witnessing the death of a young woman, Zatoichi promises to deliver her baby to the father. The eighth film in the Zatoichi series finds the blind hero in a web of deception and violence, as Zatoichi must fight off assassins intent on murdering him while the father refuses to claim the child. Deftly balancing its comedic effects with extravagant sword fighting, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight is one of the most entertaining installments of the series.

The Sword (Ken)
1964, 94 mins. 35mm. With Raizo Ichikawa, Yusuke Kawazu. Misumi's only contemporary film stars Ichikawa as a talented pupil of kendo caught up in a rivalry with a fellow student. Based on the novella by Yukio Mishima, The Sword allegorizes The Temptations and consequences of a generation coming of age in a consumer society. Shot in high-contrast black and white in a distinctly New Wave style, it is one of Misumi's cinematic gems.

The Homely Sister (Namida gawa)
1967, 79 mins. 35mm. With Shiho Fujimura, Kiku Wakayagi. In this touching and perceptive drama set in the nineteenth-century Edo period, two sisters have sacrificed their personal happiness to care for their ailing father. Younger Otaka falls in love but can't accept a marriage proposal because, traditionally, the older sister needs to marry first. When older sister Oshizu learns of this decision, she takes matters in her own hands.

Yotsuya Ghost Story (Yotsuya kaidan)
1959, 84 mins. 35mm. With Kazuo Hasegawa, Yasuko Nakata. In one of Japan's most frequently told ghost stories, a murdered wife returns in an act of vengeance. This time around, however, she may have her husband there to help. Misumi's brilliant black-and-white version of this bloody tale puts a new twist on the old story. With some of the best special effects of his early career, Misumi's Yotsuya Ghost Story is a thrilling and chilling horror film.

Homeless Drifter (Mushuku mono)
1964, 89 mins. 35mm. With Raizo Ichikawa. Mushuku mono follows Ipponmatsu, a wandering gambler, as he travels to a nearby village in search of his father's killer. The deeper he gets into the underworld of the city, the more unexpected twists he must face. Unique for its inclusion of local citizens aiding the hero in his battle for peace, Mushuku mono delves thoughtfully into social issues of the samurai era. Beautifully filmed in widescreen color, it's also a grand experiment in creating motion through choreography and editing.

Museum of the Moving Image advances the understanding, enjoyment, and appreciation of the art, history, technique, and technology of film, television, and digital media. In January 2011, the Museum reopened after a major expansion and renovation that nearly doubled its size. Accessible, innovative, and forward-looking, the Museum presents exhibitions, education programs, significant moving-image works, and interpretive programs, and maintains a collection of moving-image related artifacts.

Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Friday, 10:30 to 8:00 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Closed Monday except for holiday openings

Film Screenings: Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays, and as scheduled. Unless otherwise noted, screenings are included with Museum admission.

Museum Admission: $12.00 for adults; $9.00 for persons over 65 and for students; $6.00 for children ages 3-12. Children under 3 and Museum members are admitted free. Admission to the galleries is free on Fridays, 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. Tickets for special screenings and events may be purchased in advance by phone at 718 777 6800 or online.

Location: 36-01 35 Avenue (at 37 Street) in Astoria.

Subway: M (weekdays only) or R to Steinway Street. Q (weekdays only) or N to 36 Avenue.

Program Information: Telephone: 718 777 6888; Website: movingimage.us
Membership: 718 777 6877, members@movingimage.us

The Museum is housed in a building owned by the City of New York and its operations are made possible in part by public funds provided through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Natural Heritage Trust (administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation). The Museum also receives generous support from numerous corporations, foundations, and individuals.

Photo: The Homely Sister