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March 27 - April 12

Art Cinema, Counter-Cinema: The Cinema of Kiju Yoshida and Mariko Okada

A legendary figure of the postwar Japanese cinema, Kiju Yoshida (b. 1933) is one of Japan's most artistically ambitious, politically astute and influential filmmakers. Yoshida is best known for his work with the spellbinding Mariko Okada (b. 1934), one of the most beloved and celebrated actresses of her generation, and one of the great stars of the Japanese New Wave. Working together with Okada, Yoshida created an incredible body of films unparalleled for their formal sophistication, philosophical depth and sheer beauty. Underappreciated in this country, Yoshida (who is also known by the alternate pronunciation of his name, Yoshishige Yoshida) is rightly considered in Japan and Europe, and especially France, among the preeminent masters of the modern Japanese art film.

Yoshida's first passion, and the focus of his studies at Tokyo University, was French existential philosophy and literature, a training which deeply informs the intellectual rigor of his subsequent film work and later writing on film and art. By chance, or destiny, Yoshida was drawn into a film career by Shochiku's major recruitment drive in the late 1950s, and entered the studio's famously hierarchical apprentice system together with a number of young university-educated intellectuals, including Yoshida's close colleagues and contemporaries Nagisa Oshima and Masahiro Shinoda. Like them, Yoshida's first films, Good for Nothing (1960) and Blood Thirsty (1960), were astonishingly accomplished and conceptually brilliant works that deliberately played against the taiyozoku (youth film) cycle to which the young directors were assigned, rejecting the promise of romance and sex to instead deliver trenchant and unrepentant critiques of the corporatization of Japan as a betrayal of the postwar generation.

In 1962 Yoshida turned in a new direction when he accepted the invitation of Mariko Okada – one of Shochiku's great young female stars, acting now as a producer – to adapt a popular melodramatic novel about unrequited love and postwar disillusionment, The Affair at Akitsu. Following the film's critical success Yoshida and Okada married and left the studio to work independently, launching a remarkable collaboration that has extended thus far across thirteen films and over forty years. Between 1963 and 1968 the couple made a series of important and incredible "anti-melodramas," as they have been called, gripping and highly stylized dramas starring Okada as a woman in various states of emotional and romantic distress and offering a forcible critique of women’s traditional role as victim and object of desire within Japanese melodrama. In 1969 the couple worked together on their most ambitious project, and one of the most important examples of Japanese counter-cinema, Eros + Massacre, a soaring and inspired exploration of the history of radical art and politics in modern Japan. Yoshida's subsequent films have each bravely tackled critical and politically charged topics – Japan's militarist history (Coup d’état, 1973), the atomic bomb (Women in the Mirror, 2002) and euthanasia (The Human Promise, 1986) – while continuing to explore the limits and rich ambiguities of the cinema as an artistic and narrative medium.

We are deeply honored to welcome Kiju Yoshida and Mariko Okada as our special guests for this truly historic retrospective.

This program is co-presented with the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard. Special thanks: Susan Pharr, Ted Gilman and Stacie Matsumoto, Reischauer Institute; Masaru Tsuji, Consul General of Japan in Boston; Grant Tomkins and Yusuke Nakashima, The Japan Foundation; Ryoko Oyama and Shinako Matsuda, Nikkatsu; Peter Grilli, Japan Society of Boston; Junko Kawaguchi, Shochiku; Akira Tochigi, National Film Center, Japan; Abé Mark Nornes.

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Friday March 27 at 7pm

Good for Nothing (Roku de nashi)

Directed by Kiju Yoshida.
With Masahiko Tsugawa, Hizuru Takachiho, Yusuke Kawazu
Japan 1960, 35mm, b/w, 88 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation

Yoshida was propelled into the forefront of Shochiku's directorial ranks by his energetic first feature, a brisk and angry entry in the studio's highly popular cycle of taiyozoku films which focused, for the most part, on frustrated juvenile delinquents. Yoshida's original script is centered on a group of listless middle-class high school students whose fantasies of sex and violence exert an unhealthy hold upon their imagination. The stakes of the boys' depraved playacting rise dangerously, spiraling into a deadly roulette of crime and betrayal. A stylistically assured and striking debut film with overt nods to early Godard, Good for Nothing's dynamic black and white cinematography announced the non-conventional mise-en-scène and fluid, expressive camera movement which would become an important signature of Yoshida's later films.

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Friday March 27 at 9pm

Blood Thirsty (Chi wa kawaiteru)

Directed by Kiju Yoshida.
With Keiji Sada, Shinichiro Mikami, Mari Yoshimura
Japan 1960, 35mm, b/w, 87 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation

Yoshida's second Shochiku assignment turned away from the studio's dominant focus on troubled youth and generational conflict in order to paint a darker and more despairing portrait of society in a state of moral collapse. Taking sharp aim at Japan’s harshly competitive corporate culture, Blood Thirsty follows a hapless salaryman whose desperate gesture to prevent the mass layoff of his colleagues is ruthlessly and absurdly exploited by his company for a deeply ironic advertising campaign. Based on one of Yoshida's original stories, Blood Thirsty is a formally daring and edgy film whose withering critique of corporate capitalism and the alienation of the working force remains particularly urgent today.

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Saturday March 28 at 7pm

Coup d’état (Kaigenrei)

Directed by Kiju Yoshida.
With Rentaro Mikuni, Yasuyo Matsumura, Yasuo Miyake
Japan 1973, 35mm, b/w, 110 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation

The extended engagement with the intellectual and cultural roots of modern Japanese politics explored by Yoshida in Eros + Massacre began earlier with Coup d'état, his remarkable portrait of Ikki Kita, a controversial militarist who led the notorious February 26, 1836 coup later fetishized by Yukio Mishima. Yoshida's first non-widescreen feature, Coup d'état brilliantly exploits the smaller format with stunning, sharply modernist cinematography and mise-en- scène that favors unusual, off-kilter compositions and works to heighten the claustrophobia of Kia's increasing paranoia and delusion. Coup d'état also features an incredible score by noted avant-garde composer and frequent Yoshida collaborator Ichiyanagi Sei.

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Saturday March 28 at 9:15pm

The Eighteen Who Stirred Up a Storm (Arashi o yubu juhachinin)

Directed by Kiju Yoshida.
With Tamotsu Hayakawa, Yoshiko Kayama, Eiji Matsui
Japan 1963, 35mm, b/w, 108 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation

The last of Yoshida's taiyozoku films focuses on a gang of proletariat ruffians enraged with a world that offers them no means to advance except though violence. Pitted against the destructive gang is an idealistic youth determined to stop them from wrecking his town—and to protect the young waitress he has come to love. Exemplary of the Shochiku New Wave is the film's use of stark black and white widescreen cinematography as a means to deliberately aestheticize and distanciate its sordid, violent story and underscore the urgent social problem message contained within it. "Laborers considered as 'things' that simply, not even respected as workers. The absurdity of their presence, and of us who allow this state of affairs. It seemed opportune to me to describe this without offering any clear explanations. A critical essay addressed to the social cinema of the time." – K.Y.

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Sunday March 29 at 3pm

Wuthering Heights (Arashi ga oka)

Directed by Kiju Yoshida.
With Yusaku Matsuda, Yuko Tanaka, Tatsuro Nadaka
Japan 1988, 35mm, color, 131 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Print from Galerie lumiere des roses

Among Yoshida's darkest films is his brooding and tempestuous adaptation of Brontë's best known work. Inspired by traditional Japanese ghost tales, Yoshida relocates Wuthering Heights to medieval Japan and draws upon the deep currents of violent, incestuous and necrophilic desire that run throughout the book. In Yoshida's hands, Brontë's classic tale of ill-fated love so revered text by the Surrealists—and by filmmakers from William Wyler to Jacques Rivette — becomes a fable about the dangers of an unnatural obsession with the past. A lush and darkly sumptuous film and Yoshida's only jidaigeki, or period film, Wuthering Heights was also to be one of the last great roles of legendary actor Yusaku Matsuda, who died the year after the film's release.

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Sunday March 29 at 8pm

The Affair (Jyoen)

Directed by Kiju Yoshida.
With Mariko Okada, Yoshie Minami, Tadahiko Sugano
Japan 1967, 35mm, b/w, 101 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation

An innovative study of an intense mother-child relationship, The Affair stars Mariko Okada as a woman struggling to leave the shadow of her sexually frank mother, a widow who openly flaunts her affairs with younger men. Trapped in a loveless relationship with her frigid husband, the woman gradually empowers herself to break the reactionary pattern caused by her overbearing mother by exploring relationships with two radically different men. The Affair makes notable use of documentary style flourishes—hand-held widescreen camerawork, natural lighting and naturalistic mise-en-scène—that intensify the shifting dynamic captured between the woman and the triangle of men she must decide between.

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Monday March 30 at 7pm

Flame of Feeling (Honoo to onna)

Directed by Kiju Yoshida.
With Mariko Okada, Isao Kimura, Mayumi Ogawa
Japan 1967, 35mm, b/w, 101 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation

Yoshida used the then-controversial topic of artificial insemination to explore the steady erosion of a seemingly "normal" middle-age couple and the widening gulf that inexplicably grows between them. Mariko Okada powerfully conveys the confusion of a woman whose belief that she is incapable of love leads her on a troubled search to restore her emotions. Among the lesser known of the Yoshida-Okada collaborations, Flame of Feeling is one of their most richly allegorical and alluringly stylish "anti-melodramas."

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Special Event Tickets $10
Kiju Yoshida and Mariko Okada in Person

Friday April 3 at 7pm

The Affair at Akitsu (Akitsu Onsen)

Directed by Kiju Yoshida, Appearing in Person
With Mariko Okada, Hiroyuki Nagato, Sumiko Hidaka
Japan 1962, 35mm, color, 112 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation

A haunting tale of unrequited love, The Affair at Akitsu is one of the most beloved Japanese melodramas of the postwar studio era. Yoshida’s first adapted screenplay uses the vivid background of war-torn Japan to suggest its archetypal characters of the spirited, selfless woman – mesmerizingly embodied by Mariko Okada – and the cynical intellectual drawn to her beauty as twin figures for the hope and resignation simultaneously born of Japan’s inevitable defeat. A deeply affecting and exquisitely beautiful film, Yoshida and Okada’s first collaboration announced the abiding interest in resilient heroines and pointedly feminist ideas that would remain a constant across the many films made throughout their long partnership.

 Listen to this evening's introduction, discussion and Q&A.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Kiju Yoshida and Mariko Okada in Person

Saturday April 4 at 7pm

Eros + Massacre (Erosu purasu gyakusatsu)

Directed by Kiju Yoshida, Appearing in Person
With Mariko Okada, Toshiyuki Hosokawa, Yuko Kusunoki
Japan 1969, 35mm, b/w, 158 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation

One of the great late works of the Japanese New Wave, Yoshida’s enduring masterpiece offers an epic and extraordinary vision of unconventional desire as a potent yet ultimately untenable mode of political resistance. Confronting a dark moment in modern Japanese history, Eros + Massacre chronicles the final days of prominent feminist Noe Ito—beautifully portrayed by Mariko Okada –and her lover, the firebrand anarchist Sakae Osugu, leading up to their brutal assassination in 1923 by the military authorities. Yoshida brilliantly interweaves his lush evocation of the doomed revolutionaries’ intellectual and amorous adventures—and the intense love triangle that blossomed between Ito, Osugu and a spirited young woman journalist—with a moving portrait of the aimless love of two restless student radicals in 1960s Tokyo.  Eros + Massacre’s increasingly fluid passage from tragic past to urgent present suggests how political rebellion is pulled by a deeper, almost mythic pattern forged by the imagination and desire shared by two generations of revolutionaries.

 Listen to this evening's introduction, discussion and Q&A.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Kiju Yoshida and Mariko Okada in Person

Sunday April 5 at 7pm

A Story Written on Water (Mizu de kakareta monogatari)

Directed by Kiju Yoshida, Appearing in Person
With Mariko Okada, Yasunori Irikawa, Ruriko Asaoka
Japan 1965, 35mm, b/w, 120 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Print from the National Film Center, Japan

Yoshida's first film made independently after his departure from Shochiku inaugurated his celebrated cycle of edgy and stylistically dazzling "anti-melodramas," each starring the incomparable Mariko Okada and all challenging the Japanese melodrama's conventional focus on family and suffering womanhood. A feverish tale of a son's troubled relationship with his radiantly beautiful mother—played with devastating grace by Okada—A Story Written on Water introduced a new psychological complexity into Yoshida's films, using its poetically charged flashback structure to explore the interwoven patterns of memory and unspoken desire. In A Story Written on Water, as in all of Yoshida's anti-melodramas, the woman portrayed by Okada possesses a power and presence that she herself cannot quite understand, an instinctually anti-patriarchal force embodied in her stunning, almost otherworldly pulchritude.

 Listen to this evening's introduction, discussion and Q&A.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Kiju Yoshida and Mariko Okada in Person

Introduction by Abé Mark Nornes
Monday April 6 at 7pm

The Women in the Mirror (Kagami no onnatachi)

Directed by Kiju Yoshida, Appearing in Person
With Mariko Okada, Yoshiko Tanaka, Sae Isshiki
Japan 2002, 35mm, color, 129 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation

For his latest film, Yoshida turned once more to melodrama as a means of sensitively engaging a difficult political issue, here the devastating legacy of the Hiroshima bombing. Mariko Okada stars, in her 154th film, as the eldest of three women trying to uncover the hidden family ties that may or may not bind them together. A shared memory of the Hiroshima disaster draws the three generations together in a search back to the very site of the atomic trauma that unites them, with Hiroshima standing in as a figure for the limit point of the national imagination. Among Yoshida's more classical films, Women in the Mirror is an assuredly stylish late work that carefully balances the three women's stories as interlocking pieces of a complex psychological and historiographic puzzle.

 Listen to this evening's introduction, discussion and Q&A.


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Special Event Tickets $10
Kiju Yoshida and Mariko Okada in Person

Friday April 10 at 7pm

The Cinema of Ozu According to Kiju Yoshida (Yoshida Kiju ga kataru Ozu-san no eiga)

Directed by Kiju Yoshida, Appearing in Person
Japan 1994, video, color, 59 min. Japanese with English subtitles

Yoshida grew close to Ozu Yasujiro during his time at Shochiku, where he was able to observe the legendary master at work. Although Yoshida and his generation outspokenly rejected the values of Ozu, Kurosawa and the older humanist filmmakers, over the years Yoshida found himself increasingly drawn back to Ozu’s films, fascinated by their unique rigor, formal language and delicate balance between comedy and tragedy. In 1998, Yoshida published a remarkable revisionist study of the venerable master, Ozu’s Anti-Cinema, which positioned Ozu not as a classicist but as an avant-garde and eccentric artist who reinvented film narration and cinematic space. For Japanese television, Yoshida adapted his own text into a four part documentary, which he also condensed into the one hour version which we will see tonight.

Late Autumn (Akibiyori)

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu.
With Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara, Yumeji Tsukioka Japan
1960, 35mm, b/w, 128 min. Japanese with English subtitles
Print from Janus

Ozu Yasujiro’s penultimate film and one of the great works of his last years, Late Autumn offers an enchanting reinvention of Ozu’s most recurrent themes—the dissolution of the Japanese family and the loneliness of old age—focused on the efforts of three aging businessmen to marry off a friend’s daughter and perhaps find a partner among them for her widow mother as well. In one of her best Shochiku roles, Mariko Okada almost steals the film as the daughter’s best friend who intervenes and embodies the voice of the younger generation so important to Ozu’s late work.

This evening is co-presented by the Consulate General of Japan in Boston.

 Listen to this evening's introduction, discussion and Q&A.

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FREE SCREENING
Sunday April 12 at 3pm

The Human Promise (Ningen no yakusoku)

Directed by Kiju Yoshida.
With Rentaro Mikuni, Sachiko Murase, Choichiro Kawarasaki
Japan 1986, 35mm, color, 124 min. Japanese with French subtitles
Print from Galerie lumiere des roses

Yoshida returned to feature filmmaking after a hiatus of thirteen years with this brave and moving film about the struggle to maintain dignity in the face of old age and approaching death. The Human Promise reaffirms Yoshida's ability to deal with difficult and even taboo topics by exploring the question of euthanasia with a profound sensitivity and subtlety. The film's unusually frank meditation on death is anchored by the restrained performances by its veteran actors, including Rentaro Mikni, who starred in several of Yoshida's earlier works, including A Story Written on Water. The Human Promise's use of water imagery enriches a motif central to the rich ambiguity at the heart of Yoshida's cinema.

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