The Silent Women in Ozu, Naruse and Mizoguchi
“In the Japanese woman, Japanese directors
have discovered the perfect
– Donald Richie, noted author and film critic.
Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse and Kenji Mizoguchi are known as some of the greatest
filmmakers in Japanese Cinema; some regard them as the greatest filmmakers ever
lived. Yet, most of their early films are now irretrievably lost. Around 7000
films were produced in Japan in the 1920s alone. Today, the National Film Center
(Tokyo) lists only around 70 titles before 1930 in their collection.
Three surviving silent films are curated for this programme. All were made
within the span of two years from 1933 to 1935, and share a similar strand in
their stories about the sacrifice the female protagonists made to support the
education of their son, brother and lover. In Woman of Tokyo (1933) by Yasujiro
Ozu, Chikako works in a bar to pay for her brother, Ryoichi's tuition fees. In
Nightly Dreams (1933) by Mikio Naruse, Omitsu supports herself and her son by
working as a bar hostess. In Kenji Mizoguchi’s Osen of the Paper Cranes (1935),
Osen turns to prostitution to raise money to pay for the tuition fees of Sokichi,
her younger lover, a medical student.
Lending voice to the silent women is live accompaniment of Gamelan music, played
traditionally in Wayang Kulit or shadow puppet theatre prevalent in Southeast
Asia in the past and designated by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and
Intangible Heritage of Humanity. For the first time, these silent films will be
given a new lease of life with an original score inspired by traditional
Southeast Asian cultures and improvisation on Asian bronze, bamboo and string
by Tan Bee Thiam, Asian Film Archive
Date: 21 March 2007
Time: 7.30 pm
Venue: University Cultural Centre Hall, NUS
Tickets are available through sistic. To get your tickets, please visit
About the Films
Woman of Tokyo (Tokyo No Onna) by Yasujiro Ozu, 1933, 47 mins
Cast: Yoshiko Okada, Ureo Egawa, Kinuyo Tanaka, Shinyo Nara
Ryoichi stays with his sister, Chikako who is supporting his education. He is
looking forward to marriage with Harue when he found out about his sister’s
night work. Woman of Tokyo is an uncharacteristically bleak and melodramatic
film by Ozu released in Feb 1933. The film draws parallel with Ernst Lubitsch’s
If I Had a Million (1932). In a film-within-film set up, Ozu quoted fragments of
the Lubitsch film in Woman of Tokyo, drawing several parallels between them.
Another mystery to the film is its duration – only 47 minutes.
While considered by both domestically and internationally to be "the most
Japanese of all directors", Ozu’s fondness for American films was well known and
he later told Donald Richie that he particularly liked those of Ernst Lubitsch.
During the war, he was stranded in Singapore and spent days at the old Cathay
building watching American films confiscated by the Japanese Army. Amongst the
films he watched and admired greatly are seminal works as Orson Welles' Citizen
Kane and Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca.
A famous sequence in the film: Ryoichi and Harue going to the movies when Harue
receives the horrible telephone call. This received a treatment in Noel Burch's
To the Distant Observer, and a strong rebuttal in David Bordwell's Ozu and the
Poetics of Cinema. (Tan Bee Thiam, Asian Film Archive)
Nightly Dreams (Yogoto no Yume) by Mikio Naruse, 1933, 64 mins
Cast: Sumiko Kurishima, Teruko Kojima, Tatsuo Saito, Jun Arai, Mitsuko Yoshikawa
Deserted by her husband, Omitsu supports herself and her son by working as a bar
hostess. When Saito, her husband returns, her neighbours persuaded her to give
him a second chance. Unable to find employment because of the Depression, Saito
turned to robbery to get money for his son’s medical care. When Omitsu learns of
it, she rejected the money and urged him to turn himself in.
Nightly Dreams can be considered Naruse’s most visually audacious work with
virtuoso camera movement, unusual angles, deep field of vision, and startling
montage. Released in June 1933, Nightly Dreams was the second feature that
Naruse had relatively full control of script, story and direction. Apart From
You, Naruse’s debut film was released 2 months before this on 1 April 1933. Both
films introduced the theme that would persist throughout Naruse's oeuvre: women
battling to support their ungrateful families.
The scriptwriter, Tadao Ikeda, also co-wrote Woman of Tokyo.
Naruse is the favourite director of Kurosawa, and has been championed by film
critics such as Susan Sontag. (Tan Bee Thiam, Asian Film Archive)
Osen of the Paper Cranes / The Downfall of Osen (Orizuru Osen) by Kenji
Mizoguchi, 1935, 90 mins
Cast: Isuzu Yamada, Daijiro Natsukawa, Mitsusaburo Ramon, Genichi Fuji, Ichiro
Yoshizawa, Shin Shibata
Osen works as a servant girl for an unscrupulous dealer, Kumazawa, who takes in
the penniless Sokichi Hata. When Kumazawa is arrested, Osen agrees to help
Sokichi finance his dream of going to medical school. But the only way Osen can
find enough money for them is to prostitute herself during the day, without
Sokichi knowing. Years later, when he becomes a doctor, he is unable to cure her
Osen of the Paper Cranes, released in Jan 1935, was based on a story by Kyoka
Izumi, the novelist held by critic Yomota Inuhiko to have “laid the logical and
mythological foundations for the establishment of film as melodrama in Japan.”
The narrative structure was almost identical to his earlier film, The Water
Magician (1933) that Mizoguchi had adapted from Izumi as well. In The Water
Magician, a woman is accused of a murder committed in the effort to raise money
for her lover’s legal studies; her lover later becomes the judge of her case.
(Tan Bee Thiam, Asian Film Archive)
On Preserving our Film Heritage
Around 7000 films were produced in Japan in the 1920s alone. Today, the National
Film Center (Tokyo) lists only around 70 titles before 1930 in their collection.
Films were carelessly misplaced by studios that produced them. The chaos of the
Kanto Earthquake (1923) and the Pacific War destroyed a significant portion.
Under the Allied Occupation, films such as those that promoted ‘feudal loyalty’
were banned. In 1946, all films ‘deemed unnecessary to be kept for further
analysis’ were burnt and a large chapter of cinematic legacy was lost in the
Reference: Forgotten Fragments by Jasper Sharp and Mike Arnold.
Kindly sponsored by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Shochiku Co., Ltd.
National Film Center, Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.
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