TV & Film

BFI Presents, Kinuyo Tanaka: A Life in Film

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The BFI has announced the full schedule for a two-month season dedicated to Kinuyo Tanaka, an actor and filmmaker who played a major part in the history of Japanese cinema; KINUYO TANAKA: A LIFE IN FILM will run from August 1 to September 30 at the BFI Southbank.

Tanaka’s work as a director and the six groundbreaking films she made as one of Japan’s first female film directors will be celebrated in August, with all of them presented in new 4K restorations.

Tanaka’s work with notable directors such as Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, and Kenji Mizoguchi will be featured in September.

Kinuyo Tanaka: Film Pioneer

A season introduction, Kinuyo Tanaka: Film Pioneer, on 8 August will guide its audience through the film selection.

The richly illustrated talk will explore how Tanaka came to be considered one of the greatest actors in the history of Japanese cinema before she moved on to become a ground-breaking filmmaker with a focus on distinctly feminine topics.

Love Letter

Tanaka Kinuyo’s star-studded tale of love and social dislocation.

Tanaka’s directorial achievements will be screened at the BFI Southbank beginning in August, opening with her debut movie, Love Letter (Kinuyo Tanaka, 1953).

This heartbreaking drama, based on a popular serialised novel and a success with fans and critics alike, tackles love and societal dislocation in the aftermath of the American occupation.

The Moon Has Risen

A bright comedy about love and family.

The Moon Has Risen (Kinuyo Tanaka, 1955), a bright ensemble comedy about love and family based on a script given to Tanaka by friend and mentor Yasujirô Ozu.

Forever a Woman (aka The Eternal Breasts)

A bold examination of female desire and agency.

Forever A Woman (aka The Eternal Breasts) (Kinuyo Tanaka, 1955), a moving portrait of mother and artist that illuminates radical ideas of female agency and desire. Tanaka’s first passion project as a filmmaker was inspired by the life of female poet Nakaj Fumiko, who died of breast cancer at the age of 32.

The Wandering Princess

Tanaka’s lavish historical epic starring Rashomon’s Kyô Machiko.

August continues with The Wandering Princess (Kinuyo Tanaka, 1960), which marked Tanaka’s return from a five-year hiatus. Based on Saga Hiro’s biography, the film follows the aristocrat from adolescence to womanhood, revelling in her resolve in the face of political instability and personal grief.

Girls of the Night

An emotionally charged melodrama on the plight of sex workers.

As Japanese cinema of the 60s became more aligned with realism, Tanaka responded with Girls Of The Night (Kinuyo Tanaka, 1961), an unflinching but emotionally charged melodrama on the plight of sex workers forced into state reformatories. The impressive ensemble piece shows a woman refusing to be cowed by society’s pressures, instead carving an unconventional path to freedom.

Love Under the Crucifix

A sweeping historical drama of illicit love set in feudal Japan.

Love Under The Crucifix (Kinuyo Tanaka, 1962), Tanaka’s final directorial contribution, is a harsh portrayal of feminine desire and autonomy against all odds set in 16th century Japan. The beautiful historical drama, with magnificent set pieces, depicts a Tea Master’s daughter who accepts the marriage of a wealthy merchant only for her love of a Christian warrior to stay unshakeable.

Kinuyo Tanaka: The Actor

The season continues in September by celebrating Kinuyo Tanaka, the actor. Six of her most notable roles will be screened at BFI Southbank

Shunkinsho: Okoto to Sasuke

A brilliant music teacher develops a strange and devoted love affair with her disciple and servant.

Shunkinsho: Okoto to Sasuke (Yasujirō Shimazu, 1935) will be the first of six films to be presented at the BFI Southbank. Tanaka plays a superb music teacher who begins a weird and committed love affair with her apprentice and servant in a significant early performance that is tremendously strong yet gently regulated.

Army

A woman grapples with her family’s history of allegiance to the Imperial Army and her concern for her young son’s welfare.

Army (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1944) is the story of a family who has sent their sons to the Imperial Army for three generations. Tanaka plays the mother of the next young man in line, and the complexity of her performance contributes to the film’s ambiguity in regards to militarism.

A Hen in the Wind

In post-war Japan, a young woman turns to prostitution in order to save her ailing son.

In A Hen in the Wind (Yasujirō Ozu, 1948), Tanaka is a devoted, near-destitute mother who turns to sex work when her son falls dangerously ill. Her performance centres the film and articulates the impossibility of the situation after her husband returns from war and cannot accept this new reality.

The Life of Oharu

One of Tanaka’s most acclaimed collaborations with Keji Mizoguchi charts a woman’s descent through Japanese society.

In one of fifteen collaborations with Kenji Mizoguchi, Tanaka plays the titular noble lady who descends the social strata into prostitution and destitution following the discovery of her affair with a page. Mizoguchi was admired for his sensitivity to the social structures that oppress women, and Tanaka is devastating as the resourceful heroine whose fate lies in the hands of others.

Mother

Tanaka plays a mother struggling to provide for her children in a film influenced by European neo-realism.

Mother (Mikio Naruse, 1952), often recognised as Japan’s greatest contribution to neo-realism, is thick with sociological observation and sees Tanaka as a tenacious matriarch struggling to provide for her children after her husband’s death. The film’s poignancy is earned and seems genuine.

Brothel No 8

An old woman and former sex worker looks back on her life and, by extension, the history of women’s roles in Japanese society.

Finally, Tanaka’s heroine in Brothel No. 8 (Mikio Naruse, 1952) depicts the harsh truth of forgotten women in Japanese history through her experience with “karayuki-san,” which saw underprivileged girls and women shipped abroad for sex work. Tanaka received the Berlin Film Festival’s Best Actress award, and the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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