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O'Brien | Japan After WWII: Kenji Mizojuchi on Changing Values Mizojuchi's Protagonist: Problems ofArt, Life, Values. 62 I Film & History Regular Feature | Film Reviews Kevin O'Brien University of Nevada-Las Vegas Japan After WWII: Kenji Mizojuchi on Changing Values Utamaro and His Five Women [Utamaro O Meguru Gonin No Onna]. (Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. Japanese with English subtitles, black and white, 107 minutes. Theatrical release [Japan] 17 December 1946. Video release December 1993 by New Yorker Films) p^^±_ reminiscent of the extended dolly shot which opens Kenji Mizoguchi's exceptional Sisters of Gion (1936), Utamaro and His Five Women begins with a moving camera gracefully sliding down a gauntlet of kimono clad women and men. A Mizoguchi trademark, the long take reiterates the director's command of his medium: themes are revealed visually and the viewer is instantly transported back in Japanese history to the Ginza in feudal Edo. This is the late eighteenth century-near the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate-where women are treated as objects and one's identity is defined through group association rather than individualism. In addition, "good" painting must adhere to the strict codes of the rigorous Kano School of Art. Utamaro is, however, different from other jidai-geki films like Mizoguchi's own Ugestu (1953), or Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai(1954). The film transcends its genre by questioning the place of art, women, and the individual simultaneously in both Utamaro and Mizoguchi's historical contexts. The artist Kitagawa Utamaro lived shortly before the Tokugawa period gave way to the Meiji Restoration; Mizoguchi made his film in 1945-46, just after the Japanese Empire had succumbed to the American Occupation forces. Thus, Mizoguchi's own historical situation and the circumstances surrounding the film's production are critical for understanding and evaluating Utamaro. The director's portrayal of this ukioye-e painter and his time reveals not only the changing values of the late Tokugawa era but anticipates the inevitable erosion of the traditional social structure in Mizoguchi's own post-World War II Japan. Vol. 25, No. 1-2, 1995 | 63 O'Brien | Japan After WWII: Kenji Mizojuchi on Changing Values According to Dudley and Paul Andrew, after the war, Mizoguchi courted the favor of the occupying forces by turning out several films explicitly lobbying for the democratic treatment ofwomen. The only piece he was allowed in this era, Utamaro and His Five Women, likewise preached a message of suffrage and equality, though in a far more oblique way. The oblique way should not be confused with what has been termed the convoluted narrative of Utamaro but rather indicative of the complex themes Mizoguchi investigates. Though a period piece, the film text mirrors contemporary issues the Japanese people faced during the time it was made: How does one function as an individual outside of the traditional group, particularly the closely knit Japanese family? In the newly formed western-style democracy, how does one secure equal status with others regardless of gender, political views, or economic position? Where does one find the instantaneous knowledge necessary to personally deal with such chaotic social change in a country which had previously looked to the Tokugawa period as the model for traditional societal roles? Mizoguchi goes back to Utamaro's Edo, for, as Japanese historian Mikiso Hane has written, "Modern Japan cannot be understood without an awareness of the Tokugawa background." This was the era where tradition was revered, social divisions were accepted, and Japan had effectively isolated itselffrom the international community. For almost three hundred years, the Tokugawa social structure defined Japan. This is what makes the historical figure Kitagawa Utamaro worth reexamining through Mizoguchi's film (and conversely). The maverick painter's life and art, as presented by Mizoguchi, foreshadows the end of the Shogunate. The director , restrained creatively by the allied plan, realized that the very fabric ofJapanese society was transforming drastically before him. The imposed western values of equal social status—especially for women—and democratic selfdetermination were unfamiliar concepts to the occupied Japanese. Implicit in Mizoguchi's film is the problem of self-individualization, the issue of gender equality, and the theme of the artist as the person...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9922
Print ISSN
0360-3695
Pages
pp. 62-64
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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