Mizoguchi and Japan

Mark Le Fanu
BFI Publishing. 2005.

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This is the first full-length study of Mizoguchi for over 20 years, and as such is greatly to be welcomed by devotees of the Japanese master. Le Fanu, who teaches at the European Film College in Denmark, wrote an earlier book on Tarkovsky, and this new work is even more impressive in its scholarship and attention to detail. As the title indicates, he sets Mizoguchi’s films within the wider context of Japanese history, culture, and society, of which he has acquired quite an astonishing knowledge. I particularly like his very personal style of writing, and he does not hesitate to heap praise, where he feels it warranted, on one or two obscure early films which hardly any of us will ever have the opportunity to see. He shares my view that the pinnacle of Mizoguchi’s achievement is Sansho Dayu (1954), one of what he calls the “Great Tryptych” along with The Life of Oharu (1952) and Ugetsu Monogatari (1953). However, he casts no light on something that has puzzled me for years: the character credited to Toshiro Mifune in The Life of Oharu is, to me, nothing like the famous actor; he is too tall, he walks differently, and his voice is not as deep. Years ago I read another writer on Japanese cinema (I think it was Joan Mellen) who also thought it wasn’t Mifune. If anyone can cast further light on this, I would be intrigued to know!

Alan Pavelin
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