My Favourite Japanese director – a tribute to Kenji Mizoguchi

[This post originally appeared in Film Alert 101 in February]


KENJI MIZOGUCHI was a Japanese director who made some of the twentieth century cinema’s greatest films. All of his work is important but the late masterpieces from the 50s – Ugetsu, Oharu(1952), Sansho (1954), Chikamatsu (1954), Miss Oyu (1951) and many others are especially multi-faceted and may be read on several levels, as historical spectacle, myth, melodrama, metaphysical meditation and social statement. Stylistically he created images of extraordinary beauty and expressiveness with an ever fluid camera following his characters, often in long takes, with both compassion and detachment. He is not only my favourite Japanese director but my favourite director period.  Like so many of my obsessive film companions, I was first introduced to Mizo’s graceful universe by Ugetsu Monogatari, a sublime period piece telling of a potter (Masayuki Mori) who, leaving his family to the ravages of a brutal civil war, goes off to peddle his wares, is taken in and seduced by a ghost (Machiko Kyo in eerily beautiful makeup), is finally released from her thrall  and returns to his village where he imagines a night of reconciliation and redemption as his wife materializes in an interior domestic space, previously dark and empty, now mysteriously lit by a glowing fire as she sits in his imagination.  (more…)

Vale Jerry Lewis

jerry lewis young
Some Notes on the great Jerry Lewis, whom I regarded as the greatest comedy actor of his time.
Artists and Models is a very funny, wacky Frank Tashlin film which owes much to his earlier career as a cartoonist. Among other things, he contributed his skills to quite a range of 1940s Looney Tunes including some memorable Porky Pig and Daffy Duck items (Plane Daffy, Porky’s Railroad, Puss N’ Booty, I got Plenty of Mutton and The Stupid Cupid, all late 30s-early 40s classics). During the 1950s, Tashlin was central to the evolution of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis during the latter stages of their comic partnership. The best of the Tashlin/Martin/Lewis films was Artists and Models (1955), a sometimes hilarious, wacky comedy and one of the definitive colour films of its era. This was clearly a strong influence on Jerry Lewis’ imaginative and expressive colour schemes in his own films, most notably in The Ladies’ Man (1961) and ultimately in his masterpiece The Nutty Professor (1963).