Each screening will include a 10 minute introduction from a University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies lecturer about the featured cinematographer.
Lady Snowblood (Shurayukihime)
Thursday, February 27 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan
Gory revenge is raised to the level of visual poetry in Toshiya Fujita’s stunning Lady Snowblood. A major inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill saga, this endlessly inventive film, set in late nineteenth-century Japan, charts the single-minded path of vengeance taken by a young woman (Meiko Kaji) whose parents were the unfortunate victims of a gang of brutal criminals. Fujita creates a wildly entertaining action film of remarkable craft, an effortless balancing act between beauty and violence.
Cinematographer: Masaki Tamura
1973. 97 minutes. Drama/Mystery. NR. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
Thursday, March 12 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan
The tale of an eccentric band of culinary ronin who guide the widow of a noodle-shop owner on her quest for the perfect recipe, this rapturous “ramen western” by Japanese director Juzo Itami is an entertaining, genre-bending adventure underpinned by a deft satire of the way social conventions distort the most natural of human urges—our appetites. Interspersing the efforts of Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) and friends to make her café a success with the erotic exploits of a gastronome gangster and glimpses of food culture both high and low, the sweet, sexy, and surreal Tampopo is a lavishly inclusive paean to the sensual joys of nourishment, and one of the most mouthwatering examples of food on film ever made.
Cinematographer: Masaki Tamura
1985. 114 minutes. Comedy/Western. NR. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
Nobody Knows (Dare mo Shiranai)
Thursday, March 19 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan
Inspired by a real-life incident of child abandonment, this piercing family drama is a testament to the everyday resilience of four young siblings left to survive on their own in a Tokyo apartment. When young single mother Keiko (You) leaves home to pursue a mysterious job and a new romance, 12-year-old Akira (Yuya Yagira) must look after his younger sisters and brother, keeping the household together as money dwindles and months pass without word. With wrenching clarity and unvarnished lyricism, Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters) captures the precarious balancing act of hope and vigilance that sustains children forced to grow up much too quickly.
Cinematographer: Yutaka Yamazaki
2004. 141 minutes. Drama. NR. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
To the Ends of the Earth (Tabi no Owari Sekai no Hajimari)
Thursday, April 9 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan
Yoko (Atsuko Maeda in her third collaboration with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa) is a cautious, introverted, and determined to host of a popular TV travel show. On assignment in Uzbekistan — accompanied by her cynical director (Shota Sometani), a cameraman (Ryo Kase), an AD (Tokio Emoto), and a local Japanese speaking guide (Adiz Radjabov) — she searches for a mythical, fish, samples culinary delicacies, and seeks out other wonders in a land that often appears strange and hostile. But everything goes wrong. She’s unable to find the fish, she almost chokes on half-cooked food, and, frustrated by the failed filming, decides to set aside her host duties and take a stroll on her own. Lost in the streets of a foreign city, she finds herself adrift and alone, confronting her fears and hidden aspirations.
Cinematographer: Akiko Ashizawa
2019. 120 minutes. Drama. NR. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
Thursday, January 9 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan
Brimming with action while incisively examining the nature of truth, Rashomon is perhaps the finest film ever to investigate the philosophy of justice. Through an ingenious use of camera and flashbacks, Akira Kurosawa reveals the complexities of human nature as four people recount different versions of the story of a man’s murder and the rape of his wife.
Cinematographer: Kazuo Miyagawa
1950. 88 minutes. Drama/Mystery. NR. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
Thursday, January 23 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan
During 16th century civil wars, village potter Masayuki Mori (Rashomon, The Bad Sleep Well, Floating Clouds) decides to follow the money and leave wife Kinuyo Tanaka behind to sell his wares in town, there to be seduced by ghost princess Machiko Kyō. But when the spell is finally broken, he returns to a devastated village. Adapted from Akinari Ueda’s 1776 collection of tales of the supernatural — and a de Maupassant story. This film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi was a Venice Silver Lion winner and for many years a regular on Ten-Best-of-All-Time lists.
Cinematographer: Kazuo Miyagawa
1953. 97 minutes. Drama/Mystery. NR. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
An Autumn Afternoon (Sanma no aji)
Thursday, January 30 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan
The last film by Yasujiro Ozu was also his final masterpiece, a gently heartbreaking story about a man’s dignified resignation to life’s shifting currents and society’s modernization. Though the widower Shuhei (frequent Ozu leading man Chishu Ryu) has been living comfortably for years with his grown daughter, a series of events leads him to accept and encourage her marriage and departure from their home. As elegantly composed and achingly tender as any of the Japanese master’s films, An Autumn Afternoon is one of cinema’s fondest farewells.
Cinematographer: Yûharu Atsuta
1962. 113 minutes. Drama. NR. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
Thursday, February 6 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan
Following the collapse of his clan, an unemployed samurai (Tatsuya Nakadai) arrives at the manor of Lord Iyi, begging to be allowed to commit ritual suicide on the property. Iyi’s clansmen, believing the desperate ronin is merely angling for a new position, try to force his hand and get him to eviscerate himself—but they have underestimated his beliefs and his personal brand of honor. Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize, Harakiri, directed by Masaki Kobayashi is a fierce evocation of individual agency in the face of a corrupt and hypocritical system.
Cinematographer: Yoshio Miyajima
1962. 133 minutes. Drama/Action. NR. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
The Downfall of Osen (Orizuru Osen)
Thursday, February 13 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan
This silent film will be accompanied by a live benshi narration!
After their unscrupulous master is arrested, servant girl Osen and penniless young Sokichi must fend for themselves. They live together in Meiji-era Tokyo, and Osen’s love drives her to pay Sokichi’s way through medical school, finally turning to secret streetwalking on his behalf. Told in an elaborate flashback structure, The Downfall of Osen has been singled out as a transitional film that bridges director Kenji Mizoguchi’s early and middle periods, as well as the silent and sound eras.
Cinematographer: Shigeto Miki. Miki was Mizoguchi’s cameraman for all of his 1930s films. Miki started his career in 1916, when he shot his first film at the age of 14! After working for Mizoguchi for years, he was Makino Masahiro’s cameraman for the 40s through 60s.
This silent movie will be accompanied by a live benshi. At the birth of cinema, lecturers always accompanied silent films, but as films became complex enough to tell stories the lecturers disappeared – except in Japan. Silent films in Japan (and its colonies) had both live music and a benshi, who would stand to the left of the screen imitating voices and providing spectacular narration. The live benshi performer will be Kataoka Ichiro, Japan’s premiere benshi. Ichiro was in Ann Arbor for a season of silent Ozu some years ago, and tonight he will narrate Mizoguchi’s classic film.
1935. Drama/Silent. 90 min. NR. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
Tokyo Drifter (Tōkyō nagaremono)
Thursday, February 20 at 7:30 PM at the Michigan
In this jazzy gangster film, reformed killer Tetsu’s attempt to go straight is thwarted when his former cohorts call him back to Tokyo to help battle a rival gang. Director Seijun Suzuki’s onslaught of stylized violence and trippy colors is equal parts Russ Meyer, Samuel Fuller, and Nagisa Oshima—an anything-goes, in-your-face rampage. Tokyo Drifter is a delirious highlight of the brilliantly excessive Japanese cinema of the sixties.
Cinematographer: Shigeyoshi Mine
1966. 82 minutes. Drama/Thriller. NR. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.