Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

October 31, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 21 (Sosei Hoshi)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 21

ima komu to
ihishi bakari ni
nagatsuki no
ariake no tsuki wo
machi-idetsuru kana


just because you said 
"I'll come right away"
I have ended up waiting
for the wan crescent of the moon
in the morning sky of the Ninth Month

The Buddhist Priest Sosei (c. 844-910)

Sosei Hoshi by Kano Tan'yu, 1648

The complaint of a woman who has waited a long night for her lover who didn't show up. 

Although the writer is a man, this poem has been written from the point of view of a woman. That is clear from the fact that in the Heian-period women almost never left their houses; it were the men who came visiting, also in the case of (secret) love affairs. As her lover has told her he will come soon, she keeps waiting for him during a long, autumnal night, hoping that he will appear, but all she finally sees is the "ariake no tsuki," the moon that it left in the sky while it is already getting light in the early morning. Ironically, this was the time that lovers usually would leave and head for home.

Such a "morning moon" only appears after the sixteenth day of the lunar month, when the moon is waning - so it is not a full moon but a crescent. "Nagatsuki" refers to the Ninth Month of the lunar calendar (mainly our August), when the nights are long and the moon is beautiful. 

The only point where interpretations may differ in this poem, is how long the woman has been waiting. Kokinshu scholars agree that the woman has been waiting one night, as in my translation above; but Teika, the compiler of the Hyakunin Isshu may have read it more narratively, in the sense that she has waited several months.

Sosei, who had the title "hoshi," Buddhist Priest (lit. "Master of the Law"), was the son of Archbishop Henjo, the author of Poem No. 12 in the Hyakunin Isshu. He is one of the Thirty-six Poetic Immortals and is well-represented in the Kokinshu and other imperial anthologies.

[Kokinshu 193]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994). 
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

September 27, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 20 (Prince Motoyoshi)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 20

ima hata onaji
Naniwa naru
mi o tsukushite mo
awamu to zo omou


In dire distress, 
our reputation tossed about 
like a channel buoy at Naniwa -
as it doesn't make a difference anymore, 
I must see you again!

Prince Motoyoshi (890-943)

[Sumiyoshi Shrine, Osaka (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

A passionate love poem that can be read in two ways: "I want to meet you, even if it costs me my life," or "I want to meet you, as it doesn't make a difference anymore - our reputation is anyway ruined!"

The poet, Prince Motoyoshi (Motoyoshi Shinno) was the eldest son of Emperor Yozei (poem 13). In the Tales of Yamato (Yamato Monogatari, mid-tenth c.) he appears as a suave and famous lover. In the Gosenshu (951) and other anthologies he has twenty poems. The present poem has an interesting head-note in the Gosenshu: "Sent to the Kyogoku Lady of the Wardrobe after their affair had come out." The lady in question was Fujiwara no Hoshi, daughter of Tokihira, and concubine in the service of Emperor Uda whom she bore three sons. But she also had an affair with Motoyoshi which became public knowledge. To have a relation with one of the wives of the Emperor was a form of sacrilege - as is shown in the Genji, where Genji makes the Emperor's wife Fujitsubo (who was also his stepmother) pregnant with a son, such relations could well break up the "unbroken line" of Imperial succession! Piquantly, one of the wives of Motoyoshi was a daughter of Emperor Uda, demonstrating how near-incestuous relations among Heian aristocrats often were when seen from a modern point of view - again, exactly as is described in the Genji. It was a small world, indeed.

This poem works with a pivot word (kakekotoba): mi o tsukushite mo means "even if it consumes my body," but also refers to a kind of channel-marker indicating the waterway for boats (miwotsukushi). And as the name "Naniwa" indicates, we are again at sea in Osaka. 

An important question is what "ima hata (= the modern mata) onaji," "now the same," refers to. One interpretation is that it refers to mi wo tsukushite mo: the poet doesn't mind whether he lives or dies, so great is his distress. A second interpretation links it to "na" in "Naniwa" (which then also has to be a pivot word): "na" is "name" in the sense of "reputation." The whole poem then should be understood as the lady worrying about further damage to her (or both their) reputation, and therefore reluctant to meet her lover again. This last interpretation is the most convincing according to Mostow as it fits in with the anecdotes about Motoyoshi and the Fujitsubo story in the Genji, and also accords with the pictures and illustrations in later ages based on this poem.

[Gosenshu 960]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994). 
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

June 20, 2016

Ozu Yasujiro (Great Auteur Film Directors 4)

Ozu Yasujiro (1903-1963) has been called the "most Japanese" of Japan's film directors, but I believe such a designation can only lead to a misunderstanding of his art. After all, I can't say that Ozu is more Japanese than for example Mizoguchi Kenji, Naruse Mikio or Imamura Shohei.

The films Ozu made fall all in the category of home dramas (shoshimin eiga), which are of course Japanese in their details and sensibility, but (in his case) also universal in their meaning so that the whole world can enjoy them. And the very characteristic style Ozu forged during a lifetime of film making, is not so much "typically Japanese" as "typically Ozu" - also in Japan nobody else comes close to Ozu's style.

As in the case of other great directors, Ozu has been variously positioned both as a radical Modernist and as a conservative nationalist and even as a Zen poet (probably from the Western viewpoint that "simplicity is Zen") - but he transcends all these limiting qualifications.

What are the characteristics of Ozu's films?

1. The family as central subject ("home drama")
Ozu's forte was a detailed, sensitive portrayal of the daily lives of average people. His films fall in a genre that in Japanese is called shoshimin-eiga," "films about ordinary people" or "home drama," which includes the emergent middle class which also formed the public for these films.

Although set in a particular Japanese environment, and imbued with Japanese sentiments, these are problems human beings all over the world face in their lives: the struggle for self-definition, individual freedom, disappointed expectations, the impossibility of communication, separation and loss brought about by the inevitable passages of marriage and death.

Shoshimin-eiga was the brand of the Shochiku studio, which introduced it in the 1920s (inspired by American cinema of the 1910s and 1920s) and kept making such films after Ozu's death with director Yamada Yoji (on a very different level!). Other important shoshimin-eiga directors who were contemporaries of Ozu were for example Gosho Heinosuke, Shimazu Yasujiro, Shimizu Hiroshi and Naruse Mikio.

In their best prewar films these directors presented the family (mostly lower middle class and sometimes also blue collar) in a tense confrontation with society; after the war, this social criticism is lost and, like the whole of Japan, the families represented become more well off, rising to upper middle class.

Ironically, Ozu as Japan's iconic home drama director, never had a family himself - he never experienced college, office work or marital life.

2. Stoic acceptation of life's various stages
There is a secondary theme in Ozu's work, too, that of a "rite of passage:" life consists of several stages and we have to move on, even if that means leaving loved ones. Home drama is thus a genre about change - about the inevitability of life's changes, signified by birth, marriage and death, and of the tensions between generations, as well as the impact of modernity which threatens the stability of the home (in the Japanese case, the loss of authority of the father and consequent dissolution of the Meiji-period family system). Accepting life's changes is also a form of transcendence.

3. Distinctive "Ozu"-style
Ozu exerted total control over all aspects of every production. His films never are a haphazard presentation of Japanese customs, but through his superb cinematic technique they can be understood cross-culturally. Ozu's distinctive style was polished during his long career, and the following are the main features according to Japanese film critic Sato Tadao:
  • The low-angle shot. Ozu positioned his camera just above the floor or ground (the cameraman had to lie flat on his belly). This has been compared to the view the Japanese have when sitting on tatami mats, but is in fact lower than that - it is not a cultural matter but an idiosyncrasy of Ozu.
  • The stationary camera. Almost no crane shots or dolly shots.
  • The arrangement of characters. When two or more charachters appear in the same shot, they are often facing the same direction and assuming the same pose.
  • The avoidance of movement. Not only do Ozu's characters almost never show any aggression, their general movement is also restricted so that they almost never walk across a shot.
  • The full-face shot of the speaker. Profile shots of characters delivering a line are very rare, for when a characters speaks, Ozu normally brings the camera around so that he or she faces it almost head on. 
  • The stability of the size of camera shots. Ozu never took close-ups and never used telescopic or wide-angle lenses. 
  • Linking by means of cutting alone. Except in some early films, no dissolves, fade-ins or fade-outs.
  • Curtain shots. Ozu used to insert shots of inside or outside scenery between sequences. 
  • Tempo. Ozu matched tempo to the actual time it took characters to walk out of the room, go upstairs via a staircase, etc.
  • Choreographic acting directions. Ozu's characters are always calm and deliver their lines at a measured rate. It is as if Ozu wanted to make perfect still-life pictures on film.
To this list can be added: the elliptic story line (certain major events are elided, such as the marriage ceremony in Late Spring); Ozu's interest in the interaction of characters, not in plot, so the stories are consciously slight; the refusal with some exceptions to use non-diegetic music; and a studio-based style, Ozu usually avoids location shooting because there is too much contingency.

Finally, there is the well-known disregard for eye-line matches, but that is not typical of only Ozu's style, we also find it in other major Japanese directors of the same period, especially Naruse. This is a cultural trait, as in Japan it is considered uncomfortable to look at length into someone's eyes during a conversation.

Ozu's life and career can be divided as follows:

1. From Nonsense Comedy to Social Realism (1927-1937)
Ozu Yasujiro (1903-1963) was born in downtown Tokyo, but educated in Matsuzaka in Mie Prefecture and in Nagoya. He was a fiercely independent character, who never submitted to authority (unless they wanted him to do what he already wanted to do) and who found various ingenious ways to skip school and the military. When his family returned to Tokyo in 1923, he joined the recently founded Shochiku studios against the opposition of his father. He became assistant director and was, among others, trained in "nonsense" comedies, often not more than strung together gags. His debut was in 1927 with a period drama, but from 1928 on he became a comedy director (inspired, among others, by Hollywood's Ernst Lubitsch). The black humor satire I Was Born, But... from 1932 is considered his first masterpiece. In this period, Ozu made 37 films, of which 17 have been preserved. Except the last two, all films are silent ones.

2. The War Years and their Aftermath (1941-1948)
Because of the disruption by the war (Ozu himself had been drafted from September 1937 to July 1939, and lived again from 1943 to the end of the war in occupied Singapore), in this period Ozu only makes four films, two during the war, and two in the Occupation period. Due to censorship during the war, one of his scripts had to be discarded, and the other films, especially There Was a Father (Chichi ariki) bear the marks of wartime in an emphasis on patriarchal social order. In contrast, the two first postwar films depict the scars left by the war: war orphans in The Record of a Tenement Gentleman (Nagaya shinshiroku) and the economical plight of women whose husbands take a long time to return after the war has ended (A Hen in the Wind / Kaze no naka no mendori).

3. The Great Mature Films (1949-1962)
In this period Ozu makes 13 films, about one per year. These are the great years of the collaboration with script writer Noda Kogo, as well as numerous great actors and actresses, educated in Japan's studio system. There are no really weak films in this period. From the first film in this period, Banshun, on, Ozu's subject is the loss of traditional family values, especially the care family members used to have for each other, and which used to be more important than personal gratification.

Although Tokyo Story from 1953 is now considered as one of the best films ever made in the world, Ozu as a director was late in breaking through outside Japan. During his life, his films were not even entered in international film festivals. Only when Tokyo Story was shown in New York in 1972, almost ten years after his death, it won the hearts of viewers. Instrumental in the breakthrough of Ozu was the unflagging advocacy by Donald Richie, whose detailed study on Ozu was published in 1974, finally convincing critics that this quiet filmmaker was one of cinema's finest artists.

Ozu died on his 60th birthday. His grave at Engakuji in Kamakura bears no name - just the character mu ("nothingness").

Here are Ozu's ten best films:

1. I Was Born, But... (Umarete wa mita kedo..., 1932)
The greatest film ever made about the hierarchies imposed by company life, which clash with other hierarchies. This was Ozu's 24th film, shot from November 1931 to early April 1932. Two small boys have to learn to live with the fact that their father (Saito Tatsuo) is not a great man, but simply a company employee ("salaryman"), who has to be obsequious to his boss (Sakamoto Takeshi). The worst moment comes when the boss gives a show for the neighborhood of a home movie he shot in which the father is shown clowning to please his superior. The boys ask why their father has to behave so silly, and why they can't beat up the boss' kid when they are stronger? In the end, of course, they have to learn something of the ways and compromises of the adult world. A serious comedy, funny and devastating at the same time, that teaches us to accept life as it is. Technically, in this film also Ozu's systematic low-angle frontality begins to appear. See my detailed post about this film.

2. The Only Son (Hitori musuko, 1936)
Ozu finally changes to sound in The Only Son, an example of Japanese "neo-realism" avant-la-date. This was Ozu's 36th film, shot from April to September 1936. A mother (Iida Choko) has slaved to send her son (Himori Shinichi) to college in Tokyo. After she has not heard anything from him for a long time, she unexpectedly visits him, using up all her savings. She finds him poor, a teacher at a night school, living in eye-sore suburbia, with wife and child (the existence of both also new to her!), and wholly disillusioned. The mother's hope that he would advance in his career has not been fulfilled. But he borrows money to entertain his mother and she returns to the countryside where she still pretends to her friends to be proud of him. A moving work about the disappointments of family life, and the essential loneliness of human beings. The first film in Ozu's fully established mature style. Interesting is the use of off-screen sound: when we are in the living room of the son's house, we constantly hear the clicking of the machinery of a nearby textile factory.

3. Late Spring (Banshun, 1949)
A masterpiece on the peaceful life of a middle-class family, in which the most ordinary things happen in a moving way. This film (Ozu's 42nd, shot from May to September 1949, and the first of his long collaboration with scriptwriter Noda Kogo) that laid the groundwork for all other twelve films from Ozu's mature period. A daughter (Hara Setsuko) lives with her widowed father (Ryu Chishu). He wants her to get married and have a life of her own, she wants to stay at home and look after her father - I suspect her attitude stems more from amae (indulging herself) than from oya-koko (filial piety). In the end, the father pushes her into marriage by falsely pretending he himself is also getting married again (something the daughter considers as repulsive). After she has married, he sits alone in the now empty house, feeling sad. Interesting is that the wedding ceremony - which in a Hollywood film would have formed the grand finale - is entirely left out. We even never get to see the bridegroom! Set in a quiet residential area of Kamakura, this film which came out four years after the end of WWII, and is imbued with an iconography of "Japaneseness" (Zen gardens, Noh Drama, the tea ceremony) made audiences feel that peace indeed had come to Japan and that the worst chaos of the postwar years was over. Seasons are important in Japan, so this film literally takes place in late spring, a season of quiet before the rainy season starts with its violent rains; similarly, the film describes the daughter's quiet content of unmarried life with her father before the start of the stormier existence of a late marriage. See my detailed post about this film.

4. Early Summer (Bakushu, 1951, lit. "Wheat Harvest Season")
The 44th film, shot from June to September 1951 at the Shochiku Ofuna studio, Ozu's homebase. Chronicles three generations of the Kamakura-based Mamiya family, which is seeking a promising match for the eldest daughter, Noriko (Hara Setsuko). But Noriko has firm ideas about how and to whom she will give herself and surprises her family when she abruptly opts for a childhood friend, a poor doctor going to be posted in far-off northern Japan. Noriko fulfills her family's wishes, but also tears them (willfully?) apart by her perverse choice. For after she moves away, the extended family lacks her contribution to the household income and has to split up. The grandparents have to leave and move to the countryside of Nara - they are resigned to their own lonely fate. Although the story superficially resembles Banshun, and Hara Setsuko plays the lead in both films, this is a completely different film, with a much darker atmosphere. Noriko's brother Shoji, who was killed in the war, is something of an unseen presence. At the end of the film the grandparents view a field of wheat - the innumerable ears of wheat are like the souls of dead soldiers, waiting to transmigrate to new life. Read my detailed post about this film.

5. Tokyo Story (Tokyo monogatari, 1953)
The 46th film, shot from July to October 1953. An elderly couple (Ryu Chishu, Higashiyama Chieko) from Onomichi in western Japan visits their preoccupied children in Tokyo (the son has a busy medical clinic, the daughter a hairdressing salon), but they are clearly a burden and packed off to Atami. Like the mother in The Only Son, the parents are not satisfied with their children's life in Tokyo. But there is no dramatic tension, as the parents' attitude is one of resignation and tolerance. Back home, the mother dies, and now it is the turn of the children to visit the town where they were born. The only child genuinely affectionate is the widowed daughter-in-law (Hara Setsuko); she is also the only one who understands the feelings of the widowed father. She offers to stay with him now that he is alone, but he refuses - he accepts life as it comes. See my detailed post about this film.

6. Equinox Flower (Higanbana, 1958)
Equinox Flower is Ozu's 49th film (shot from May to August 1958) and his first color film. A daughter (Arima Taeko) wants to make her own choice of marriage partner; the despotic father (Saburi Shin) opposes, but the mother sympathizes and the father is finally won over. The film shows how later in his career Ozu became increasingly sympathetic with the younger generation. Also, with its satire, pure comedy and deep irony, this is a much lighter work than Ozu's previous films, which tended to become a bit darker. The film contains one of the best later roles by Tanaka Kinuyo, while also typical Japanese kimono beauty Yamamoto Fujiko makes an appearance. By the way, Ozu choose the more subdued Agfa color film (in contrast to the popular Eastman color film) - probably, he also liked the red color of Agfa. 

7. Floating Weeds (Ukikusa, 1959)
The 51st film, shot from September to November 1959, and made for the Daiei studio, with actors from Daiei. A remake of Ozu's 1934 silent film A Story of Floating Weeds, a film about the head of a traveling theater group who in a small village meets a former mistress and the - now grown-up - son who was the result of the casual affair of long ago. The title refers to ukikusa or duckweed, and thus metaphorically to the aimlessness of life's journey. The traveling entertainers are on the one hand homeless but on the other hand at home everywhere, as they move from theater to theater across the country. What they play is taishu kabuki, a kind of third-rate kabuki that is specific to modern Japan, an assemblage of song spectacle and samurai melodrama, along with comedy and dance routines, combined into a vaudeville-like sequence of acts. It was performed in rural theaters and small variety halls in urban entertainment districts. Taishu kabuki was especially popular in the 1930s when the original film was shot, but when Ozu made the present film it was disappearing, so the film is doubly nostalgic. This is also a story about the disintegration of parental authority, as the son refuses to accept the "floating weed" traveling actor as his father - especially when the father forbids the son to have a member of his troupe as his girlfriend and even slaps him. With Nakamura Ganjiro and Kyo Machiko as the theatrical couple, Sugimura Haruko as the former mistress, and Wakao Ayako as the girlfriend. Set in a port town in Wakayama instead the mountain location of the older version. Beautifully photographed by Daiei cameraman Miyagawa Kazuo. 

8. Late Autumn (Akibiyori, 1960)
Ozu's 52nd film, shot from July to November 1960. Made again in the Ofuna studio, with an uptown Tokyo setting. Shows a mother-daughter instead of a father-daughter relationship as in Late Spring, but the story is similar. Three middle-aged men try to help the widow of a late friend to marry off her daughter. The daughter is less than happy at the proposals, mainly because of her reluctance to leave her mother alone. Hara Setsuko now plays the mother, Tsukasa Yoko the daughter (both borrowed from Toho by Shochiku). "Akibiyori" literally means "a clear autumn day," in Japan more an "Indian summer" than the dark and stormy impression that the term "late autumn" makes on my Northwest European sensibility. This film is a variation on the story of Late Spring, but the distinctive feature is the importance of the characters that appear around the central figures of mother and daughter (company directors, university teachers, and their families). The record of their friendship is interwoven with the plot of their late friend's daughter's marriage. This is a very stylish color film, with as main tones white and blue. See my detailed review of this film.

9. The End of Summer (Kohayagawa-ke no aki, 1961)
Ozu's 53rd film, shot from June to September 1961. As compensation for "borrowing" two Toho stars in his previous film, Ozu made this film for Toho affiliate Takarazuka Eiga. Nakamura Ganjiro delightfully plays the broad-minded patriarch of the Kohayagawa family, which runs a sake brewery in Kyoto's Fushimi ward. His family shockingly discovers that at his advanced age he is visiting a mistress from his youth. They become concerned about his health and money spending. Interwoven with this is a story about the daughter's marriage. Ozu makes the most of the delicious role played by Nakamura Ganjiro. Hara Setsuko, Aratama Michiyo and Tsukasa Yoko play his daughter-in-law and daughters. The ending of the film is rather dark: the patriarch has died and while smoke rises from the chimney of the crematory, ravens fly in the sky and a farmer washes radishes in the river; the daughters sit on the dyke and talk about transience without emotion. Title lit. "The Autumn of the Kohayagawa Family." 

10. An Autumn Afternoon (Sanma no aji, 1962)
The 54th and last film by Ozu Yasujiro, shot from August to November 1962, and again set in uptown Tokyo. A widower (Ryu Chishu) arranges the marriage of his daughter (Iwashita Shima) and is left with the realization that he is growing old. The greatest performance of Ryu Chishu's career, bringing out the loneliness of old age. The marriage story is again mixed with the friendship of some middle-aged men as in Late Autumn. But new elements are also introduced, such as the married son's contemporary life in a modern flat, and the former middle-school teacher's misery. The father also visits a cheap bar where the proprietress reminds him of his late wife. Note that the daughter is unable to marry the man of her choice, but goes ahead with a marriage proposal brought forward by her boss. This is for financial reasons, because she has to support the brother who lives in an apartment. It can be seen as a final statement about the failure of the father (and brother) to fulfill their responsibilities towards the family. A film with a rather bitter taste. Luminous color photography by Atsuta Yuharu. See my detailed review of this film.

About Ozu: Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema by David Bordwell (Princeton UP); Ozu: His Life and Films by Donald Richie (California UP); Currents in Japanese Cinema by Sato Tadao (Kodansha).
References: The Rough Guide to Film (Penguin Group, 2007); Have You Seen...? by David Thomson (Penguin Books, 2008). IMDB, The Criterion Collection, Slant Magazine, Senses of Cinema, Bright Lights Film Journal. Photos linked from Wikipedia. This series covers two blogs, Japan Navigator for Japanese directors and Splendid Labyrinths for non-Japanese directors.
1. Jean Renoir 2. Kenji Mizoguchi 3. Luis Buñuel 4. Yasujiro Ozu 5. Max Ophüls 6. Akira Kurosawa 7. Luchino Visconti 8. Mikio Naruse 9. Michelangelo Antonioni 10. Orson Welles (to be continued)
See also my posts A History of Japanese Film by Year:
1896-1909 - First Stirrings
1910-1919 - Development
1920-1929 - Art Films and Nihilistic Heroes
1930-1939 - Social Realism and Shoshimin-Eiga
1940-1949 - Censorship during War and Occupation
1950-1954 - Golden Age of the Classical Studio System
1955-1959 - Taiyozoku and other Youth Films
1960-1964 - The New Wave
1965-1969 - Independent Productions
1970-1974 - Sex and Violence
1975-1979 - Decline and Stagnation
1980-1989 - Disintegration of the Studio System
1990-1994 - The Rise of Indies
1995-1999 - Revival
2000-2004 - Postmodern Peak
2005-2009 - Cinematic Bubble
2010-2014 - Risk Avoidance

June 15, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 19 (Lady Ise)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 19

mijikaki ashi no
fushi no ma mo
awade kono yo o
sugushiteyo to ya


Are you telling me
to go through this life
without meeting even as brief
as the space between joints
on the reeds at Naniwa Inlet?

Lady Ise (875-938)

[Sumiyoshi Shrine, Osaka (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

The hopeless situation of the poetess who can not meet her lover even for the briefest time.

The first three lines in Japanese (which have ended up at the end of the poem in my translation) are an introduction (jokotoba). "Naniwa" is the traditional name for the Osaka area; "-gata" (like in Niigata) is an inlet in which the beach is revealed at low tide. "Ashi" (or yoshi) is the common reed (Phragmites australis); it often figures in Japanese classical poetry for its slimness or beauty when seen reflected in water, and the reeds in the inlets of Naniwa Bay were especially favored among poets. Reed also has very short segments between its nodes, and that idea is used here to suggest the briefest of moments. "Yo" is "this life," but also the word for a segment of a reed, and therefore a case of word association (engo) with ashi and fushi.

[Heron and Reed, by Suzuki Harunobu (Photo Wikipedia)]

This poem was written by Lady Ise (also called "Ise no miyasudokoro," c. 875 - c. 938), who was born as the daughter of Fujiwara no Tsugukage. In the Heian-period aristocratic ladies did not use their personal name (we don't even know the real name of Murasaki Shikibu, the author of the Genji), but were known under nicknames often based on the position of a male family member. In this case, Ise's father had been provincial governor of Ise (Ise no kami), and that determined her name.

Lady Ise was a court lady (like Murasaki Shikibu), and also a poet famous for her passionate love poems. Her collected poems are set up in a novelistic way, and show us her love affairs with the brothers Fujiwara no Nakahira and Tokihira, and after that Emperor Uda, with whom she had a son. Lady Ise is one of the Thirty-Six Poetic Immortals and has 22 poems in the Kokinshu alone; in total, 170 poems have been ascribed to her.

[Lady Ise, Satakebon Sanjurokkasen (Photo Wikipedia)]

In the Ise-shu, her collected poetry, the present poem is given under the heading "Around autumn, when he had spoken cruelly," leading us to guess that the "he" must be an unfeeling lover. In the Kokinshu it is placed in the group of poems on "forbidden love," (i.e. love for a married person or someone of a very different rank), making it - as Mostow says - into "a private complaint about being unable to reveal one's love." 

[Kokinshu 1049]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994). 
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

June 6, 2016

Thinking about Ikkyu in Ikkyuji (Kyoto)

Ikkyuji is one those ever rarer Kyoto temples that is still quiet and unspoiled by mass tourism. It is situated in southern Kyoto, at the border with Osaka and Nara, near the Kizu River in what is now Kyotanabe, far off the beaten tourist path. Although Kyotanabe has grown into a big town, especially around the station, and the rice fields which - as I remember from two decades ago - used to lead to Ikkyuji have now been plastered over with housing, the temple stands way back at the side of the hills, far from any noise. After arriving, I just sit on the veranda, watching the garden and the green hills behind it, and allow the serenity to take hold of me. There are only few other visitors, one or two at a time, who walk past or also sit down quietly for a while.

 [Ikkyuji - the garden]

And sitting there on the veranda of the Hojo from 1650, with its Kano school fusuma paintings, looking at the raked gravel and plantings of the sun-filled classical Zen garden, with the tiled roof of Ikkyu's mortuary building as "borrowed scenery," I think about the man after whom the temple has been named: the Zen priest, poet and calligrapher Ikkyu (1394-1481), whose name "One Rest" points at the shortness of human life.

Who was Ikkyu?

Although he followed a solid program of meditation and study with several strict masters in his youth, Ikkyu (reputedly the out-of-wedlock son of Emperor Gokomatsu - thanks to this imperial connection, Ikkyu was twice invited to give a Zen lecture in the palace) is in the first place remembered as an eccentric, as a "mad priest." And indeed, when he lived in Sakai, in the 1420s, he frequently spent time in wine shops and brothels, as we can also read in his poetry. But the "madness" of Ikkyu has been much exaggerated, especially in the Edo period when supposed anecdotes from his life became the subject of Kodan story tellers. This was all fantasy, including the stories about Ikkyu as a mischievous acolyte - many of these fictional stories have mistakenly been repeated in popular biographies, also in English, as if they were the sober truth.

[Two images of Ikkyu: as mischievous acolyte (above) and as serious priest]

In fact, Ikkyu was a serious poet, whose Chinese poems in the jueju form are like a sort of koans. In contrast to contemporary priests, who also wrote in Chinese but on secular themes, and who used Chinese poetry as a tool for social intercourse, Ikkyu wrote passionately religious poetry, focusing on the philosophical and soteriological problem of non-duality, a religious conundrum to which he gave an intensely personal expression.

Ikkyu's Chinese poems are in fact the main reliable source of information about his life. His major literary work is the Kyounshu or "Crazy Cloud Anthology," a posthumous collection of 1,060 poems in Chinese (most of the other writings attributed to him are spurious). While the Ikkyu of fiction is a carefree fellow, exceptionally clever and witty as a child, and as a grown-up priest a sake-drinking, love-making and prank-playing Zen prelate, in his poetry Ikkyu appears as very learned and erudite, and instead of just abandoning himself to pleasure, he explores all the philosophical and metaphysical levels of love. Far from being carefree, he appears as a man who knew sorrow and the darker depths of the soul.

[Ikkyuji -path inside the temple]

But although very different from the Ikkyu of popular fable, even in his poetry Ikkyu appears as an eccentric, as someone unlike his contemporaries. This is something we should see against the background of his time. In the Muromachi period, Rinzai Zen was at the zenith of its power and wealth. Monasteries acted as pawn-brokers and sake brewers, and were also active in foreign trade. This had lead to the inevitable corruption and spiritual vacuity. Seals of Enlightenment were sold to the highest bidder. Incensed by the decadence of the religious structure that surrounded him, Ikkyu became a monk who wrote anti-clerical poetry and indignantly criticized the hypocritical behavior of his fellow priests. Many monks had secret wives or went to brothels, and on the sly indulged in sake or fish. In that light, Ikkyu's preoccupation with these matters was not so much an eccentric aberration as an attempt to reconcile everyday reality with his own religious views. Ikkyu was both a fundamentalist and an iconoclast.

That he was not just an eccentric is also shown by the fact that he attracted the interest of various contemporary literary and artistic figures, such as the Noh playwright Konparu Zenchiku and the renga masters Sogi and Socho.

By the way, since Japan gave up the study of Chinese language and culture in the Meiji-period and de facto started only considering literature written in Japanese as Japanese literature, Ikkyu unfortunately has almost been forgotten as a literary master, and funny, fictional anecdotes have taken the place that rightfully belongs to his literature written in Chinese.

[Ikkyuji - main building]

That Ikkyu was not a man who just played around is demonstrated by his love for the blind singer Mori, whom he met in 1471 and who lived with him until his death. From the poems he dedicated to her speaks a genuine, deep love - they also had a daughter. (Perhaps Zen Buddhism should have gone the way of the Pure Land School, where from this time on, priests were allowed to marry and raise a family.)

Ikkyu spent the last years of his life in a hermitage called Shoun'an, present-day Ikkyuji, which he had set up already in 1456. Since 1474, Ikkyu was abbot of Daitokuji, the particular Zen temple whose priests he had often severity criticized for their worldly behavior. But Daitokuji had fallen on bad times as it had been destroyed in the Onin War (1467-77) and Ikkyu was called upon to help restore it - he had close contacts with the wealthy and powerful merchants of Sakai, a port town south of present-day Osaka where he had lived for many years, and managed to get their financial support. Ikkyu probably choose this location for his hermitage because it was halfway between Kyoto and Sakai, and it could be reached by boat from Sakai over the Kizu River. Moreover, it was far from war-ridden Kyoto and the worldliness of its temples.

In Ikkyuji, one of the last serene temples in Kyoto, the spirit of Ikkyu lives on.
For visiting details in English, see the temple's website. Ikkyuji is a 25 min walk from JR Kyotanabe St (30 min from Kintetsu Shintanabe St). As the route passes over a narrow and busy road with dangerous traffic, a 5-min taxi is advised.
My information about Ikkyu is based on Ikkyu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology: A Zen Poet of Medieval Japan (Unesco Collection of Representative Works, 1987) by Sonja Arntzen, a seminal study unfortunately long out of print. 

May 19, 2016

Mizoguchi Kenji (Great Auteur Directors 2)

Mizoguchi Kenji (1898-1956), was with Ozu Yasujiro and Kurosawa Akira one of the three greatest Japanese directors of all time. For some obscure reason, however, both in Japan and abroad he now seems to be less popular than those other two directors. Only 7 of his films are available in the Criterion series, against 20 by Ozu and 26 by Kurosawa (although I regard the sometimes rather bombastic Kurosawa definitely as a lesser director than Mizoguchi). And in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll of the best movies of all time, Ozu came in at third position with Tokyo Monogatari, but Mizoguchi had only a shared 50th place. Let's hope this is a temporary dip, for Mizoguchi deserves better.

In the 1950s, Mizoguchi was the idol of the French New Wave, because his moving-camera, long-shot long-take technique exemplified the aesthetic that the young Cahiers du cinéma critics were championing (and which they also found in films by, for example, Jean Renoir and Max Ophüls). Rivette adored him for the mastery of his mise-en-scene, Godard eulogized his elegance, metaphysics and instinct as a director and called him “the greatest of Japanese filmmakers, or quite simply one of the greatest of filmmakers.” To this day, Mizoguchi remains the apogee of Japanese film to the French, while Kurosawa retains a greater appeal for the "action and ethics"-oriented audiences of Britain and the United States.

[Mizoguchi Kenji (Photo Wikipedia)]

Mizoguchi Kenji was born into a wealthy family, but his father's ambitious business ventures failed and the family fell into poverty. His mother died and his elder sister was obliged to enter a geisha house to support the family. Her earnings paid for Mizoguchi's education. In 1920 Mizoguchi joined Nikkatsu as an actor; three years later he became a full-fledged director. Between 1923 and his relatively early death in 1956, he made 85 films, of which however only 30 are extent today. The condition of the prints of some of the pre-war films is also rather bad. It were the films Mizoguchi made in the 1950s, especially the triad of The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff, that made him one of the first Japanese directors to be reckoned with internationally, winning prizes year after year at the Venice Film Festival.

One of the first Mizoguchi films that has come down to us, is The Water Magician (Taki no Shiraito, 1933), a silent film that was in fact his 48th film! It is a melodrama about "Taki of the White Threads," a carnival performer whose spectacular displays using water fountains have made her famous. She falls in love with a poor student, Kin-san (working as a rickshaw puller), and agrees to put him through college in Tokyo, sending him regularly money by letter, but after her savings run out they loose contact. Now penniless herself, she is driven to murder an usurer who wants to make her his sex slave. She is arrested and put on trial for her crime, and who is her judge but the student she has put through college! He has to give her the death sentence... (after which he himself commits suicide).

This type of story (based on a play by Izumi Kyoka, who in turn loosely derived it from a classical Chinese story) is typical for Mizoguchi, for his favorite subject were women, and then especially "all-suffering women" (paired with typically "weak men"). These women are like "mothers" to the transgressing men, in the sense that they are full of compassion; we could also make the comparison with the Kannon, a compassionate Bodhisattva who was feminized in Japan and extremely popular.

Mizoguchi's prewar films were often about the plight of women trapped in impossible situations. After WWII, this would change into the more general liberal-humanist topic about the liberation of women. In all cases, Mizoguchi expressed his deep sympathy for women victimized by an oppressive, patriarchal society. That does not mean he was a "proto-feminist" in the sense that he fought for change - he was too conservative for that. In fact he has been criticized as misogynistic and sadistic, because his stoic heroines just seem to undergo a series endurance tests - evidence from his personal life is also often brought up, how as a young man he depended on his geisha sister, how he bullied his actresses, etc. But I don't believe these criticisms are correct. From the films speaks a real empathy with his suffering heroines, who always emerge from their ordeal with their dignity and moral superiority intact.

After The Water Magician, in the 1930s Mizoguchi continued making great films as Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion (see below); he also made somewhat lesser but still interesting films as Oyuki the Virgin (Maria no Oyuki, 1935), based on Boule de Suif by Maupassant, or the melodrama The Straits of Love and Hate (Aienkyo, 1937). But in the war years his subject matter was curtailed by censorship to films set in the world of the traditional performance arts (geidomono) or nationalistic, historical films. An successful example of the first category is The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (see below); in the other group fits The Loyal 47 Ronin (Genroku Chushingura, 1941) a slow and hieratic work that didn't have Mizoguchi's own interest, but that strangely enough still manages to find some viewers in the West.

Immediately after the war, under the influence of the American occupation authorities, Mizoguchi made some pro-democracy films (such as Utamaro and His Five Women in which the artist is made into a proto-democrat; or the indictment of forced prostitution after the war in Women of the Night, a film about "pan-pan girls"), after which comes his slew of great films in the 1950s (see below). He also made two unusual spectacle movies, Yokihi about the story of Yang Kweifei, the concubine of a Chinese emperor, and a period film, New Tales of the Taira Clan. Both works are colorful but static, as this was not really Mizoguchi's element. As was already clear from his Chushingura, he was a director of women and not of samurai.

His best films are:

1. Naniwa Elegy (Naniwa ereji, 1936)
Mizoguchi's first work with script writer Yoda Yoshikata, who would become one of his fixed collaborators. Naniwa, by the way, is the traditional name for Osaka. A young switchboard operator of a pharmaceutical company, a modern woman (played by Yamada Isuzu), is ruined when she is coaxed into an affair with her married boss in order to pay off her father's debts and finance the education of her ungrateful brother. When her employer tires of her, she has no recourse but prostitution, especially when a scheme to cheat the boss' friend out of his money backfires and lands her in police custody. Her weak fiancé stands helplessly by. Filmed in a modern style, with an open ending: a close-up of the face of the protagonist as a big question mark. This was the film in which Mizoguchi found his true direction. Also an invaluable document of Japanese urban life in the mid-thirties, with documentary-like shots of flashing neon lights, cafés, department stores, subway stations and other modern urban spaces (with Miki Minoru's deep-focus photography). The reality of the location is emphasized by the use of Osaka dialect. But the 1930s were a conservative period in Japan and the film's progressive take on the social pressures faced by independent and modern Japanese women made it controversial. 

2. Sisters of the Gion (Gion no kyodai, 1936)
After Osaka's modernity, Sisters of the Gion takes a realistic look at the glamorous world of traditional geisha in Kyoto's decorous Gion district. Mizoguchi sets up an interesting contrast between a strict and traditional elder sister (Umemura Yoko) who remains faithful to her patron even after he has gone broke, and a defiant, younger one (Yamada Isuzu) who is modern and opportunistic - she goes from man to man for money, regarding being a geisha as purely "business." Although the director's sentiments seem to go to the elder sister, the end of the film leaves her in fact condemned. Scripted by Yoda from an original story by Mizoguchi; remade 17 years later by Mizoguchi as Gion Festival Music (Gionbayashi) - another very fine film - in which it was updated to the postwar situation and the harshness was replaced by humor. Sisters of the Gion is Mizoguchi's best prewar film.

3. Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Zangiku monogatari, 1939)
The tragedy of a woman in the feudalistic and snobbish world of the Kabuki theater, but at the same time an almost "sacramental" depiction of the family system. A kabuki actor injures the dignity of his family by falling in love with the family maid, Otoku. He in fact owes his career to her tireless devotion, she sacrifices herself for her lover's success, even at the expense of her health. But his theatrical family will only allow him to continue his career if he gives up seeing the maid. He complies, and while he holds a festive parade as the new star actor of the company, Otoku dies a lonely death. Melodrama filmed in a refined way. In these ultra-nationalistic times, Mizoguchi sought shelter from censorship by making films about Japanese traditions (geidomono), a safe topic. It is also a traditional theme, that at the basis of every man's success, lies the devotion of a woman. But Mizoguchi does give a twist to this theme, for he shows that only a moron can rejoice in success built on the destruction of someone who shines with innate goodness. In other words, any happiness the male protagonist might feel over his success, is utterly out of place.

4. Women of the Night (Yoru no Onnatachi, 1948)
Another film set in Osaka, but here a very different city from the vibrantly modern one in Osaka Elegy: we are now among the rubble and devastation of bombed-out, postwar occupation-era Osaka. It is also a world apart from Sisters of the Gion: we meet a group of women forced into prostitution by the hardship of the immediate postwar years ("panpan girls"). The film contains many superb scenes as well as a message of sympathy for the panpan girls. Helped to bring about a ban on street prostitution (although only in the late 1950s). Filmed on location with a gritty neo-realist approach by Mizoguchi. His second film with Tanaka Kinuyo, who would become closely associated with the director both on screen and off.

5. Portrait of Madame Yuki (Yuki fujin ezu, 1950)
Set in the resort of Atami, this film is about an affluent heiress (Kogure Michiyo), married to a vulgar, oppressive, womanizing and spendthrift husband. She is in love with an earnest young scholar (Uehara Ken), but remains physically drawn to her brutish husband - her body-mind split finally ends in tragedy. This is also because her lover is too passive to make even the slightest effort to help her by breaking the cycle - in fact, he is just as worthless as her husband. Beautiful portrait of a proud and delicate woman threatened by the insensitivity around her. This film, with Lady Musashino and Miss Oyu, is often treated as "lesser" Mizoguchi, as a creative slump, but I don't agree. All three are very fine films. Take only the cinematography in Portrait of Madame Yuki, as the scene of the mist-covered, reed-filled lake into which the female protagonist is about to throw herself at the end.
P.S. The next year Mizoguchi would treat similar material in Lady Musashino (Musashino Fujin, 1951), based on a novel by Oka Shohei. Here Tanaka Kinuyo is a disillusioned young wife, trapped in a loveless marriage to her translator husband (Mori Masayuki), living in the western Tokyo suburbs; she eventually becomes entangled in a destructive affair with her cousin, who (again) is too weak to support her love. 

6. Miss Oyu (Oyu-sama, 1951)
Loosely based on the novel Ashikari (The Reed Cutter) by Tanizaki Junichiro. Oyu (Tanaka Kinuyo) is a young widow who falls in love with Shinnosuke, the man introduced (via a formal miai marriage arrangement) as the prospective partner for her younger sister Shizu. Oyu herself can not remarry as in the traditional family system it is her task to solely devote herself to the upbringing of her young son, who will become the head of the deceased husband's family. Shizu not only notices that her sister has lost her heart to her husband-to-be, but also that her feelings are reciprocated. So she plans to go ahead with the marriage and have that serve as a façade for an otherwise socially impossible affair. The result is an interesting clandestine ménage à trois - Shizu even foregoes consummating her marriage to Shinnosuke so that he can remain pure for Oyu. This was Mizoguchi's first collaboration with cinematographer Miyagawa Kazuo, known for his elegant long takes. Particularly lovely is the first scene of the introductory meeting between prospective bride and groom in a Japanese-style garden. A gentle, bittersweet film.

7. The Life of Oharu (Saikaku Ichidai Onna, 1952)
Loosely based on a classical novel by 17th c. author Iharu Saikaku. The atypical period film chronicles the inexorable decline of a court lady (Tanaka Kinuyo in one of her best roles) who falls in love with a man below her station (the man is dutifully executed for his trespass; the court lady is banished from Kyoto) and finally ends up as a cheap harlot, via being the concubine of a lord (solely to produce a baby), a geisha, and the wife of a fan maker. In this way, Tanaka Kinuyo (then aged 42) plays a variety of ages across the decades, in a relentless downward move through the social strata, rendering a grueling depiction of a woman at the mercy of patriarchalism. Finally, Oharu becomes a mendicant Buddhist nun, traveling the countryside, begging like a pilgrim in order to do penance for her "sins." Of course, the truth is that she was sinned against. Imbued with a sad beauty. Contains sublime examples of Mizoguchi's fluid tracking shots and his signature one-scene one-take style. This distinguished film became Mizoguchi's international breakthrough when it won the International prize at the Venice Film Festival. Read my detailed review.

8. Ugetsu (Ugetsu monogatari, 1953)
Adapted from stories by Ueda Akinari and Maupassant. One of the most perfect movies in the history of Japanese cinema, an exquisite blending of the otherworldly and the real. Set during the civil wars of the 16th century, a potter (Mori Masayuki) leaves wife and child behind to go to the city to sell his wares. There he falls in love with a beautiful, mysterious woman (Kyo Machiko) who later turns out to be the ghost of a princess. She had never tasted love in her life and therefore must now seduce and destroy men. When at long last he manages to free himself from this beautiful, but malevolent spirit (who wants to take him back to the land of the dead), the potter returns home where he is relieved to find his wife (Tanaka Kinuyo) waiting for him, with his small son. She fixes him a warm meal and mends his clothes, but the next morning the potter discovers that in fact she has been dead for some time - she is also a ghost. The difference is that she has become a benevolent ancestral spirit who watches over her husband and her son. Despite the supernatural elements, this is not a horror film: it is eerie rather than frightening, with a strong spiritual dimension. The meeting with the mysterious lady and the potter's subsequent seduction is shown in a dreamlike sequence which is one of the highlights of world cinema.

9. Sansho the Bailiff (Sansho Dayu, 1954)
Based on a short story by Mori Ogai, which itself goes back to a medieval legend, this heartbreaking film is an expression of human resilience in the face of evil. An eleven-century family is broken up by politics - the father, a governor who disobeyed the ruling feudal lord, dies in exile. The wife (Tanaka Kinuyo) and her two children are left to fend for themselves and eventually fall prey to slave traders. The son is finally reunited with the mother through the self-sacrifice of his sister (she commits suicide so that he can escape). One of cinema's greatest masterpieces, with gorgeous photography and elegant camerawork. As is his wont, Mizoguchi keeps his camera distant and his takes long, resulting in a contemplative style. Venice Film Festival San Marco Silver Lion. With this and previous films, Mizoguchi raised the genre of the historical film to a high level of historic validity and universality.

10. Street of Shame (Akasen Chitai, 1956)
Street of Shame is a sensitive yet unvarnished tale of a brothel called "Dreamland" in Tokyo's Yoshiwara red-light district, and a group of five women whose dreams are constantly being shattered by the socioeconomic realities surrounding them in a male-oriented world. The film became Mizoguchi's swan song (he died this same year at age 58 of leukemia); it contains excellent character portrayals, of the cynical hooker Mickey or the aging Yumeko who is shattered when her son rejects her because of her profession. Made while the National Diet of Japan was debating an anti-prostitution law (which was finally passed shortly after the film’s release). Akasen Chitai however takes an equivocal position: in the society of that time, there is no work for the women outside of prostitution; moreover, marriage is presented as a form of slavery. Fine performances by Kyo Machiko, Wakao Ayako, and Kogure Michiko. Awarded with a Special Mention at the 17th Venice Film Festival.

About Mizoguchi: Kenji Mizoguchi and the Art of Japanese Cinema by Tadao Sato (Oxford / New York, 2008).
References: The Rough Guide to Film (Penguin Group, 2007); Have You Seen...? by David Thomson (Penguin Books, 2008). IMDB, The Criterion Collection, Slant Magazine, Senses of Cinema, Bright Lights Film Journal. Photos linked from Wikipedia. This series covers two blogs, Japan Navigator for Japanese directors and Splendid Labyrinths for non-Japanese directors.
1. Jean Renoir 2. Kenji Mizoguchi 3. Luis Buñuel 4. Yasujiro Ozu 5. Max Ophüls 6. Akira Kurosawa 7. Luchino Visconti 8. Mikio Naruse 9. Michelangelo Antonioni 10. Orson Welles (to be continued)
See also my posts A History of Japanese Film by Year:
1896-1909 - First Stirrings
1910-1919 - Development
1920-1929 - Art Films and Nihilistic Heroes
1930-1939 - Social Realism and Shoshimin-Eiga
1940-1949 - Censorship during War and Occupation
1950-1954 - Golden Age of the Classical Studio System
1955-1959 - Taiyozoku and other Youth Films
1960-1964 - The New Wave
1965-1969 - Independent Productions
1970-1974 - Sex and Violence
1975-1979 - Decline and Stagnation
1980-1989 - Disintegration of the Studio System
1990-1994 - The Rise of Indies
1995-1999 - Revival
2000-2004 - Postmodern Peak
2005-2009 - Cinematic Bubble
2010-2014 - Risk Avoidance

May 10, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each): Poem 18 (Fujiwara no Toshiyuki)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 18

Suminoe no
kishi ni yoru nami
yoru sae ya
yume no kayoiji
hito me yokuramu


Are you so afraid of people's eyes
that not even at night, 
over dream paths, 
you come to me like the waves 
that approach the shore of Suminoe?

Fujiwara no Toshiyuki (d. 901)

[Japan's oldest lighthouse in Sumiyoshi Park, Osaka (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

The complaint of a woman about her lover who doesn't come by.

"Different from the approach of the waves to the shore of Suminoe, which come both day and night, that I can’t even meet you at night along the paths of my dreams, must be because even in dreams you avoid people’s eyes."

It was believed in Heian Japan that lovers could meet in their dreams. In this case, even that is not possible, something which is rhetorically ascribed to the extreme fear of the lover that other people might see him.

This is a poem written in the voice of a woman (although composed by a man), and not a complaint by a man. This is evident because in aristocratic Heian society it was impossible for a woman to go out and visit her lover. Women always stayed in their mansions, sitting in half-dark halls, hidden from the gaze of others behind heavy screens and curtains. The only occasion they could go out would be a pilgrimage to a famous Kannon temple or to see the Kamo festival, but then also they would ride in carriages behind curtains or be veiled themselves. So it were the men who visited the women, but unless they were married, even lovers were not allowed to gaze upon the face of their beloved. Sometimes aristocratic women even didn't want their voice to be heard by men who were not their family, so they would communicate through one of the many servants with whom they were always surrounded, or via a poem.

By the way, even after marriage couples would not live together - the wife stayed with her father or other family members and the husband would visit her there, usually for a few nights at a time. This system made polygyny possible for the men; in the Genji Monogatari and the diaries of Heian court ladies we can read how much distress this unequal system caused.

The reason that the man here is afraid to be seen, could be that this is a case of "forbidden love," that is love for a married woman or love for a woman of very different status (again a situation we often encounter in The Tale of Genji).

[Sumiyoshi Shrine, Osaka (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

"Suminoe" is Sumiyoshi in southern Osaka, the location of the ancient Sumiyoshi Shrine (a deity of not only seamen, fishers and farmers, but also of waka poets!), which now has National Treasure status and is one of the most interesting places to visit in Osaka. The Sumiyoshi deity was very popular in the Heian period and also plays an important role in the Tale of Genji: he helps Genji, after his banishment to Suma, to regain a successful career in the capital. Although now built up and changed beyond recognition because of land acquisition, the coast at Suminoe used to be very beautiful and was especially famous for its pine trees. Those pine trees are silently alluded to in the poem, as they are homonyms with the verb "waiting," and that is after all the fate of the woman in the poem...

In the Kokinshu this poem is accompanied by a head note stating that it was written during a poetry contest in 953 ("The Empress' Poetry Contest of the Kanpyo Era") and this explains why the male poet here wrote in the voice of a woman - it must have been part of the contest.

The poet is Fujiwara no Toshiyuki (d. 901), who also was a renowned calligrapher and middle-ranking official. He is one of the 36 Poetic Immortals and has 28 poems in various imperial anthologies.

[Kokinshu poem 559]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994). 
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

April 29, 2016

Best Places to See in the Kobe Area

It may come as a surprise to hear that my present hometown Kobe is a popular tourist destination (more than 22 million annual visitors incl. day trippers)... but these are mainly Japanese tourists and they come in my view for the wrong places (and not only as tourists but also to marry - Kobe is a popular wedding ceremony destination!).

What I mean with the "wrong places" is that Japanese visitors throng to the Ijinkan, the foreigner's houses in Kitano, or to Kobe's Chinatown – both solid tourist traps, without anything of historical value to attract the serious visitor. No wonder that most foreign tourists prefer to remain among the temples of Kyoto.

That being said, there are several extremely interesting destinations in the wider Kobe area (incl. Ashiya, Takarazuka and the Hanshin area between Kobe and Osaka) that are worth giving up your Zen garden for and traveling the short distance to this port city, but these are not very well known (and perhaps a bit specialist in nature). But if you are interested in sake, architecture, literature or art, they are certainly worth your time!

Here they are:

[Kikumasamune Sake Brewery Museum (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

1. For sake buffs: Nada Gogo - Sake breweries and brewery museums
Wedged between the green Rokko Mountains and the blue waters of Osaka Bay, the sake area of the Five Nada Districts stretches from Nishinomiya to Kobe (skipping Ashiya), with in all several tens of large and small breweries. Today, it is not such a beautiful area as it has been densely built up in a haphazard way with flats, outlets and warehouses, but you will forget this once you stand inside the breweries which often feature buildings in historical style.

In the Edo-period, it became clear that the Nada area was optimally suitable for sake brewing due to the climate (cold winds blowing down from the Rokko mountains in winter); the water (the famous Miyamizu, the iron-less, mineral-rich water found in certain wells in Nishinomiya); the streams running down from the mountains which made rice polishing by water mills possible; the availability of good rice in the immediate vicinity; and, finally, being at the seaside with good natural harbors which made transport of the sake to Edo (Tokyo) easy.

Several breweries in the area operate small museums that offer visitors a glimpse into the history, traditions and methods of the craft of sake brewing. They also give visitors ample opportunity to find out what makes Nada sake special — and to taste the difference. I will publish a full guide to the Nada Gogo on this blog, so here are just two highlights from among the museums with exhibits of traditional sake brewing tools: those of Kikumasamune and Sawanotsuru, both housed in traditional wooden buildings.

The Kikumasamune Sake Brewery Museum is located in the Mikage district. Kikumasamune was founded in 1659 by the Kano family. One of the largest breweries in Japan, it already started exports to the U.K. in 1877. Its dry-tasting sake is representative of the sake of Nada. In the museum grounds you can see a well (with the traditional mechanism for hoisting up buckets of water) as well as the water mill for rice polishing (in the Edo-period, these mills made a higher rice polishing ratio possible, which led to a clearer taste of Nada sake and therefore an advantage in the competition with other breweries which still used hand-polishing). Inside, the museum illustrates the entire brewing process with such implements as brewing vats, koshiki (steam baskets) and a sake press.

[10 min walk south of Uozaki St on the Hanshin line; 9:30-16:30; CL New Year holidays; free].

[Sawanotsuru Sake Museum (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

The Sawanotsuru Brewery, too, is one of Japan's largest brewing companies. It was one of the first Nada brewers to start producing ginjo sakes and is known for its deep-tasting products in the dry Nada-style. The Sawanotsuru Sake Museum was carefully rebuilt after being toppled in the 1995 earthquake. During the reconstruction, part of the site was excavated and an old sake press was discovered, with large ceramic pots set in the ground to receive the pressed sake. Besides a large number of impressive brewing vats and huge sake presses, particularly beautiful is also the replica of a koji room, with the small koji boxes neatly stocked against the wall.

[10 min walk southwest from Oishi St on the Hanshin line; 10:00-16:00; CL Wednesdays, Obon holidays, New Year holidays; free]

[Entrance Yodoko Guest House (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

2. For architecture buffs: Yodoko Guest House or "Yamamura Residence" by Frank Lloyd Wright
A private residence designed by world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), the only private residence he designed in Japan. Now called "Yodoko Guest House," as its owner is Yodogawa Steel Works, its original name was "Yamamura Residence." The house was constructed from 1918-1924 as a summer villa for the well-heeled sake brewer Yamamura Tazaemon (of the Sakuramasamune Brewery in Uozaki, Kobe).

[Sitting room (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

The four floors of the house have been set into the hill in symmetrical steps, so that the house is nowhere taller than two stories. From all levels there are wonderful views of Kobe Port and Osaka Bay. The house has not been built from concrete, but from blocks of soft-textured Oya stone. The design is ingenious, and the decoration inside is marvelous as well, with mahogany framework, characteristic light fixtures and square copper plates with a delicate leaf design. See my separate post about this wonderful and magical place, designed by an architect who was in love with Japan.

[10 min walk from the north side of Ashiyagawa Station on the Hankyu Line. There is a map on the website. Hours: Open on Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday and National Holidays. 10:00-16:00; fee]

[Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

3. Also for architecture buffs: Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum (Takenaka Daiku Dogukan)
If you have ever wondered with what technical means Japan's temples, castles and palaces were built (and who hasn't?), then it is a good idea to make your way to the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum in Kobe. This beautifully furbished museum offers an in-depth overview of carpentry tools, their development and how they were used to build Japan's wooden architecture. The museum owns more than 15,000 traditional tools and various materials concerning their use and development. It was set up by the Takenaka construction company which originated in a carpenter's shop established in 1612. Learn all about the ax (ono) and the adze (chona), chisel (nomi) and gimlet (kiri), saw (nokogiri), hammer (tsuchi) and plane (kanna), carpenter’s square (sashigane) and marking gauge (kebiki) and the all-important and beautiful ink pot (sumitsubo) for marking straight lines on various surfaces. This is the most beautiful tool you'll find in the museum: a thread wound around a wooden spool has a needle attached to its other end. The needle is stuck in the surface and the thread unwound to mark the straight line - as it unwinds, it passes cleverly through a small ink pot.

[3-min walk from Shinkobe St. (map on the English museum website); 9:30 – 16:30; CL Mondays (the following day when Monday falls on a national holiday ), New Year holidays, occasional days; fee.]

[Ishoan (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

4. For literature buffs: Ishoan - the residence of Tanizaki Junichiro
Tanizaki Junichiro, Japan's foremost 20th century author, lived from 1923 to 1943 in the Ashiya-Kobe area and Ishoan is the name of the house he rented from 1936 to 1943 (the name means "leaning on pine trees" but the trees are gone as the house originally stood on a slightly different spot). Tanizaki lived here with his third wife, Matsuko, her daughter from a previous marriage and her two sisters in a menage that must have resembled that of the The Makioka Sisters. In this house Tanizaki made his (first) modern-Japanese translation of The Tale of Genji and also started writing The Makioka Sisters. Much of the action in this novel is based on events in the lives of Tanizaki and his family in the late 1930s. I am not talking about the larger plot - the work was not autobiographical but purely a work of fiction - but about the small, seemingly inconsequential details of daily existence that together give life to the novel. The house also has many small interesting details. Note the dining room table which though small, can be extended - an example of the rational simplicity Tanizaki liked. The lamp hanging from the ceiling in the sitting room is a copy of the original and expresses Tanizaki's dislike of the bright lights you usually find in Western-style rooms: as stated in his In Praise of Shadows, he preferred half-dark and shadowy spaces, so the bottom side of this lamp is closed, and the light is only indirect. This house is a magical place (see my previous, detailed post for more details)!

[450 meters north of Uozaki St on the Hanshin line; or 150 meters north of Uozaki St on the Rokko Liner; or 900 meters south of Sumiyoshi St on the JR line; only open on Saturday and Sunday, now closed for repairs until February 2017; 10:00-16:00; free]

[Tessai Museum]

5. For art buffs: Tessai Museum
The Tessai Museum stands in the grounds of the popular Kiyoshikojin Seichoji Temple (one of the most interesting temples in the wider Kobe area, not because of its statues, architecture or gardens, but because it is a living temple and one of the few that has retained its fusion with Shinto and various folk beliefs). The museum houses a large collection of representative works of the last great Nanga or “literati painter,” Tomioka Tessai (1836–1924), a tradition that found its inspiration in the literati landscape painting of the Southern School (“Nanga”) in Yuan, Ming and Qing China. Important painters of this tradition in Japan had been Ike Taiga, Buson and Urakami Gyokudo.

Tomioka Tessai was born in Kyoto where he studied Chinese and Japanese classics. He championed traditional ways against the influx of Western ideas, also in painting, and traveled widely in Japan. He mostly lived and worked in Kyoto and was a very prolific painter with a total output of about 20,000 works. The works of his last years, after he had turned 80, are considered his best. Besides the literati style, he also worked in other styles as the “native” Yamato-e style, the folksy Otsu-e style and he made humorous haiga, haiku paintings. He was also a great calligrapher. His best works are large landscape paintings characterized by strong and free brushwork.

The collection is shown in rotating exhibitions of about fifty works each. The museum is a fitting tribute to this eccentric painter and the beautiful works he created.

[15 min walk from Kiyoshikojin St on the Hankyu Takarazuka line; 10:00-16:30; CL Mondays, irregularly for re-installation, summer / winter times, etc., so check in advance at; fee]

[Kosetsu Museum of Art (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

6. Also for art buffs: Small museums in the Hanshin area 
The area between Osaka and Kobe ("Hanshin area"), along the various train lines that connect both cities, is characterized by the presence of many interesting private museums, set up by entrepreneurs from Osaka, who also had their residences here. Although they possess interesting collections with rare art works, these museums are easy to miss as they are only open a few weeks each spring and autumn (therefore, be sure to check if the museum is open before going there!). Here follows a brief overview of the best small museums:

Hankyu Kobe line:
Mikage: Kosetsu Museum of Art
Sitting in a quiet street close to Mikage Station, this museum houses the small (about 500 pieces) but fine collection of Murayama Ryuhei (artistic name: Kosetsu), the founder of the Asahi Newspaper. There are Chinese paintings and ceramics, Japanese paintings, Buddhist images, swords, armor, tea ceremony utensils and Korean ceramics. Exhibitions are held twice a year in spring and autumn, when about 50 objects are on view. The quality of this small collection is excellent.
[5-min walk south-east from Mikage station on the Hankyu Kobe Line; 10:00-17:00; only open in spring and autumn, check in advance; no CL during exhibitions; fee;]

Hankyu Kobe line:
Mikage: Hakutsuru Fine Art Museum 
Kano Jihei, president of the Hakutsuru Breweries, founded the Hakutsuru Fine Art Museum in 1931 as one of Japan’s first private museums, housed in a traditional-style building. That building from 1934 is a delight: a two-storied building in Oriental style, its roof and other design features mimicking Momoyama architecture. The main part of the 1,300 pieces strong collection is formed by Chinese art, from bronzes to ceramics and paintings. Japanese items include archaeological treasures, decorated sutras, handscrolls and screens. The museum shows a selection of about 120 pieces in two thematic exhibitions a year. (Note that this museum is different from the sake brewery museum also operated by Hakutsuru and located near Hanshin Uozaki St)
[15-min walk northeast (and uphill) from Mikage St on the Hankyu Kobe Line; 10:00-16:30; only open mid-Mar - early Jun & mid-Sept - late Nov., CL Mondays - check in advance at; fee]

[Hakutsuru Fine Art Museum (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]

Hankyu Kobe line:
Ashiyagawa: Tekisui Museum
Tekisui (“Fresh Green”) was the artistic pseudonym of banker Yamaguchi Kichirobei, who founded the Yamaguchi Bank in Osaka, and after his retirement enjoyed his hobby of collecting tea utensils and tea ceremony objects. What adds color to the collection are the other interests of Tekisui: karuta or Japanese playing cards, clay dolls and hagoita or battledores. The collection consists of about 1,500 objects.

[10-min walk from Ashiyagawa station on the Hankyu Kobe Line (in fact, not far from the Yodoko Guest House); 10:00-16:00 (enter by 15:00); CL Monday, summer, winter - check in advance; fee;]

Hankyu Kobe line:
Shukugawa: Kurokawa Institute of Ancient Cultures
A collection of rare artefacts from China and Japan, set up by Kurokawa Koshichi, a financier from Osaka, to administer the collection of art and antiquities of his family. As the name indicates, it is primarily a research facility. Many of the 10,000 pieces owned by the institute are rare and unusual. They are from both China and Japan. In the Chinese section, we find oracle bones, jade and bronzes from the Shang and Zhou Dynasties; belt hooks, roof tiles and tomb slabs from the Han dynasty; and bronze mirrors from all periods. From the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties we have paintings and calligraphy, as well as inkstones, ink sticks, seals and rubbings. In the Japanese section we find bronze bells from the Kofun period and mirrors and roof tiles from all periods. There is also a large collection of swords and sword ornaments. Then we have a large group of sutras (Nara and Heian) and objects used in Buddhist rituals. Besides calligraphy, we also find paintings by Korin, Hoitsu, Kiitsu and Goshun.

[Take a bus from Hankyu Shukugawa St and get off at Kayando stop, then walk 800 m west (walk back in the direction from which the bus came and take the first road to the right - there is a sign also in English pointing here. Follow this road uphill). Or take a 10-min taxi from Hankyu Shukugawa St; 10:00-16:00; CL Mondays; only open during spring and autumn exhibitions, see website for dates:; fee]

Hankyu Takarazuka line:
Ikeda: Itsuo Art Museum
This museum houses the art objects collected by Kobayashi Ichizo (1893-1957), the founder of the Hankyu and Toho consortia of companies. The emphasis is on works related to the tea ceremony, as well as paintings by Buson and Goshun. Mr. Kobayashi was born in Yamanashi Prefecture and came to Tokyo where he joined the Mitsui Company after university. He founded his own company, the Hankyu Railway at age 34 and went on to establish the Hankyu Department Store and the Toho Movie and Theater Company not long afterwards. He set up several other business organizations as well. In the war years he served as cabinet minister, but a more enduring feat was the establishment of the Takarazuka All Girl’s Revue. From his forties he also took an interest in the tea ceremony and started a large collection of tea utensils, calligraphy and paintings for the tea room, lacquer ware and Buddhist objects. The total collection of Kobayashi Ichizo comprises 5,000 pieces, among which are fifteen important cultural properties.

[10 min walk from Ikeda St on the Hankyu Takarazuka line; 10:00-17:00; CL Mon (except NH), NY, BE (check in advance); fee;]

Hankyu Imazu Line (for Takarazuka)
Kotoen: Egawa Museum of Art
The small Egawa Museum exhibits the collection of Mr Egawa Tosuke, former chairman of thr Kofuku Bank. Set up in 1973, unfortunately the museum experienced some problems in the period after Japan's economic bubble burst, and had to sell off part of its holdings. But there is still enough to see. The collection is focused on paintings (suibokuga and Edo-period literati paintings, such as work by Ike Taiga) and implements for the tea ceremony. A small but fine museum.

[5 min walk from Kotoen St on the Hankyu Imazu line; 10:00-16:00; only open for exhibitions in spring and autumn, CL Mondays; fee;]