Actress Kinuyo Tanaka receives late praise as director

International spotlight shines the spotlight on the directing work of Kinuyo Tanaka, a legend of Japanese cinema best known for her acting roles in pre-war productions.

In recent years, efforts have been made to seek gender equality in the film industry and to reassess the achievements of female directors.

These activities led to new looks on the films directed by Tanaka (1909-1977) and to much praise.

Remastered editions of his films were shown at the Cannes Film Festival, Tokyo International Film Festival and other venues in 2021.

During a debate organized at the Tokyo filmfest in November, Christian Jeune, Deputy General Delegate of Cannes, declared that he had rediscovered Tanaka’s greatness as a director and did not understand why his films had remained obscure.

Long lines formed at the Lumière Film Festival held in Lyon, France in October whenever Tanaka’s films were screened, according to film journalist Mizue Hayashi.

“Citing her talents as a masterful director, the underlying theme of humanity and the diversity of its genres, some experts have placed her on the same level as master directors such as Jean Renoir and John Ford,” he said. she declared.

Tanaka was one of the biggest stars of pre-war Japanese cinema, appearing in classics such as “The Neighbor’s Wife and Mine”, “Flower in the Storm” and “The Life of Oharu”.

After the war, Tanaka became the second female director in Japan and shot six films from 1953 to 1962. But her efforts were little recognized at the time.

Last year, his six films were remastered in 4K digital.

“She portrays the sexuality of women in a delicate way in all of her works,” said Ayako Saito, a professor at Meiji Gakuin University who is familiar with Tanaka’s productions. “It’s possible that she wanted to express what she couldn’t through the characters she had played.

Tanaka received support from Keisuke Kinoshita and other great filmmakers in his first film, “Love Letter”.

The screenplay for “The Moon Has Risen”, which premiered at Cannes in 2021, was written by Yasujiro Ozu.

But perhaps her most beloved film is “Forever a Woman”, which stars Yumeji Tsukioka and is about a real tanka poet who died of breast cancer.

When Tanaka was filming “Love Letter” she said she hated being called a “director”, that the genre had nothing to do with being a director and that she wanted to portray male characters from the point of view. female view, according to Mika Tomita, senior researcher at the National Film Archive of Japan.

But in doing “Forever a Woman,” Tanaka bragged about wanting to express how women would feel as a woman herself, Tomita said.

“I could clearly see how the repressed feelings and depressed emotions had grown and peaked to tell this story,” Tomita said.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York will host a special screening of “Forever a Woman” at the end of January, while Tanaka’s six films will be released in French theaters from mid-February.

A scene from “Forever a Woman” with, from left to right, Ryoji Hayama and Yumeji Tsukioka ((c) Nikkatsu)


In the fall of 2021, film researchers and other experts created a website to shed light on Japan’s little-known female directors and showcase their work.

In addition to Tanaka, the website features Tazuko Sakane, the country’s first female director, Sachiko Hidari and Yuko Mochizuki.

Chika Kinoshita, professor at Kyoto University’s doctoral school specializing in the history of Japanese cinema, is leading the project.

Kinoshita said post-war film studios had a system in which only “male college graduates” were eligible to take a test required to become an assistant director. From this position, they could then be promoted to directors.

The system effectively deprived women of the opportunity to become feature film directors.

Under such circumstances, Sakane, who had worked as a screenwriter, along with actresses Tanaka, Hidari and Mochizuki, made their foray into directing relying on their cinematic expertise and the trust of their colleagues.

Kinoshita cited an example of how a director’s perspective is reflected in the finished product. In a scene from “The Far Road” directed by Hidari, a woman wipes stains off her kimono after her husband overturns a table in anger.

“By adding details about everyday life, the range of representations can be broadened,” said the professor. “It makes movies richer and more interesting.”

Kinoshita said she intends to cover the writers, costume designers and many other women involved in making films on the website.

(This article was written by Misuzu Sato and senior writer Noriki Ishitobi.)