Kinuyo Tanaka (1909–1977) is one of the greatest and most prolific screen actors and – after Sakane Tazuko – only the second woman to make it as a film director in the Japanese film industry. Appearing in 250 films over the span of 50 years, Tanaka acquired her first screen credit aged 14, while her major breakthrough came in films such as Ozu’s I Graduated But… (1929). During the 1930s, Tanaka rose to become one of Japan’s most popular and iconic movie stars, going on to play leading roles with almost all of the critically canonised auteurs of her time including Heinosuke Gosho, Kon Ichikawa, Mikio Naruse, Tom Uchida, Keisuke Kinoshita, Hiroshi Shimizu (to whom she was briefly married), Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi. Tanaka made the move to directing in 1953 with Love Letter, a move infamously protested by Mizoguchi, a filmmaker otherwise known for his empathic portrayals of women. Undeterred, Tanaka completed five more films over the next decade for a range of major studios, largely focusing on experiences unique to women, before returning to screen acting and successfully transitioning to TV drama. This season celebrates the extraordinary and ground-breaking directorial career of Tanaka by screening – for perhaps the first time in Australia – the recent digital restorations (not available for our previous mini-focus) of four of her key films including the Ozu-scripted The Moon Has Risen (1955), the unflinching Forever a Woman (1955), and her final and “most erotic” (Kelley Dong) directorial effort, Love Under the Crucifix (1962).
7:00pm THE MOON HAS RISEN
Kinuyo Tanaka (1955) 102 mins – Unclassified 15+
Tanaka’s second directorial effort for Nikkatsu is a romantic comedy based on a script by one of her key mentors, Yasujiro Ozu, in collaboration with Ryosuke Saito. Like many of Ozu’s works, Tanaka’s film concerns a traditionally minded elder obsessed with finding a partner for a younger family member, humorously examining the clashing generations and the changing social conditions in postwar Japan. Starring a number of Nikkatsu’s finest actors including Ozu regular Chishu Ryu, Hisako Yamane, Mie Kitahara, Yoko Sugi, Shoji Yasui and Tanaka herself.
9:00pm FOREVER A WOMAN (aka THE ETERNAL BREASTS)
Kinuyo Tanaka (1955) 106 mins – Unclassified 15+
Based on the autobiography of poet Fumiko Nakajo, who died of breast cancer in 1954 aged 31, this unflinching namida chodai (tear-jerker) is a rare view of Japanese society from a truly female perspective. Avoiding melodrama and sentimentality, it depicts a rural Japanese woman’s struggle through a mastectomy, divorce, single motherhood and growing independence. Shot using low angles, deep staging and frequent close-ups, Tanaka shows the influence of Ozu and Naruse on her filmmaking, while approaching the story scripted by Sumie Tanaka with her signature lyricism. Starring Yumeji Tsukioka.
7:00pm LOVE UNDER THE CRUCIFIX
Kinuyo Tanaka (1962) 102 mins – Unclassified 15+
Tanaka’s sixth and final film as director casts Ineko Arima (co-star with Tanaka of Ozu’s Equinox Flower) as the daughter of a legendary tea master who falls in love with Tatsuya Nakadai’s married Christian samurai. Flamboyant and feminist, the film uses the ritual of the ancient tea ceremony as a metaphor for the stifling strictures of contemporary Japanese society. Kelley Dong calls it Tanaka’s “most erotic film” and “the natural culmination of [her] vested interest in a woman’s right to refuse”. The real-life 16th century samurai who serves as the basis for Nakadai’s character was beatified by Pope Francis in 2017.
8:55pm THE WANDERING PRINCESS
Kinuyo Tanaka (1960) 93 mins – Unclassified 15+
Tanaka’s fourth feature as director, and her first in colour, is a powerful collaboration with writer Natto Wada (The Burmese Harp) – based on the book by Hiroko Aiishinkakura – centring on the Japanese woman chosen to marry the younger brother of the “puppet” Emperor of Manchuria during its occupation by Japan in the 1930s and early 1940s. Machiko Kyo (Mizoguchi’s Princess Yang Kwei-Fei) stars in this characteristically complex tale of female hardship, thwarted desire, arranged marriage and the yoke of imperial male power. It develops into a tragic romantic drama of star-crossed lovers as Japan loses the war.