The Silent Women in Ozu, Naruse and Mizoguchi

“In the Japanese woman, Japanese directors
have discovered the perfect protagonist.”
– 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 instruments.

by Tan Bee Thiam, Asian Film Archive

Date: 21 March 2007
Time: 7.30 pm
Venue: University Cultural Centre Hall, NUS
Ticket: $25

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 of syphilis.

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 ashes forever.

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.
Akira Tochigi
Atsuko Morimune
Fumiko Tsuneishi
Kiwamu Sato
Marie Suzuki
Shinya Watanabe
Yoshiro Irie

Return to Events Main Page
© Asian Film Archive. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Service | Privacy Policy HyperLink   HyperLink   HyperLink   HyperLink   HyperLink