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By Film Threat Staff | September 8, 2005

The Museum of Modern Art presents an extensive exhibition, in conjunction with the National Film Center (NFC) of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, of 52 films spanning the classic years of Japanese filmmaking. Early Autumn: Masterworks of Japanese Cinema from the National Film Center, Tokyo which will be presented at The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters from September 14, 2005 through January 2006, includes many familiar and lesser-known works from the period 1929-70 by directors such as Kon Ichikawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, Teinosuke Kinugasa, Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Mikio Naruse, Nagisa Oshima, and Yasujiro Ozu. The exhibition also affords U.S. audiences the opportunity to view the works of many unheralded directors such as Heinosuke Gosho, Ishirô Honda, Koreyoshi Kurahara, Hiroshi Shimizu, and Sadao Yamanaka. The exhibition is organized by Mary Lea Bandy, Chief Curator, and Steven Higgins, Curator, Department of Film and Media; and Hisashi Okajima, Chief Curator, Akira Tochigi, Curator, and Hidenori Okada, Curator, National Film Center, Tokyo.
This is the first time in its history that the NFC has opened its archive to a fellow member institution of FIAF (The International Federation of Film Archives). Every print screened in the series is in 35mm and is newly struck from archival and/or studio negatives. In addition, new English subtitles have been created by the NFC for each film. Taken as a whole, this series will serve as a primer in the history of Japanese film for the uninitiated and will provide the veteran filmgoer with important new discoveries as well as the chance to see old favorites in fresh, clean prints. All films are in Japanese with English subtitles.

Early Autumn features work from the major studios and production companies that operated in Japan throughout much of the last century. Among the works in the exhibition are films from Daiei Studios, such as Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Jigokumon (Gate of Hell, 1953), and from Shochiku Ofuna studios, which is represented by, among other films, Masaki Kobayashi’s taut baseball drama Anata kaimasu (I’ll Buy You, 1956). The series also features work from directors such as Yasuzo Masamura, Nagisa Oshima, and Yoshishige (Kiju) Yoshida, who broke away from the studios to form what came to be termed the Shochiku Nouvelle Vague. Work from Shintoho Studios will also be screened, including what is considered the classic of the many adaptations of Nanboku Tsuruya’s play Tokaido yotsuya kaidan (Ghost Story of Yotsuya, 1959), directed by Nobuo Nakagawa.

Among the many rarities in Early Autumn are a pair of silent short films by Yasujiro Ozu: Wasei kenka tomodachi (Fighting Friends, Japanese Style) and Tokkan kozo (A Straightforward Boy), both from 1929, which illustrate many of the stylistic devices that the director would employ in later works. Also included is a rare cut of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Suna no onna (Woman of the Dunes, 1964): the international release version of the film is 122 minutes long, but this screening will be of the original 147-minute version which was distributed in Japan.

No Japanese series would be complete without some representation from Toho Studios, famous for the Godzilla series of films. Ishiro Honda’s Matango (Fungus of Terror/Attack of the Mushroom People, 1963), a Toho horror production, is an allegorical tale in which the Japanese memories of war merge with a sci-fi imagination, as starvation threatens shipwrecked survivors on an isolated tropical island. Kihachi Okamoto, who directed many action movies for Toho, is also represented with Nikudan (The Human Bullet, 1968), his commentary on the follies of war. Kon Ichikawa’s masterpiece Ototo (Younger Brother/Her Brother, 1960), a deeply moving account of the love between a brother and his older sister, children who rely on each other for support and affection as they live a desperate existence with their apathetic father and his paralyzed wife. The author of the autobiographical work it was based on, Aya Koda, was the daughter of Rohan Koda, one of the writers responsible for the rise of modern Japanese literature.

The exhibition also features Kenka erejii (The Born Fighter/Fighting Elegy, 1966) from cult director Seijun Suzuki, noted for his political allegories, Ko Nakahira’s Daiei Studios release, Getsuyobi no Yuka (Only on Mondays, 1964), and Tai Kato’s Hibotan bakuto: Hanafuda shobu (The Red Peony, 1969) for Toei Studios.

The series is also notable for bringing to U.S. audiences many actors of renown in their own country who are little-known outside Japan. Besides established names such as Raizo Ichikawa and longtime Akira Kurosawa collaborator Toshirô Mifune, the films of Early Autumn highlight the talents of actors such as Shintaro Katsu, Ryo Ikebe, Shigeru Amachi, Heihachiro (Henry) Okawa, and Atsushi Watanabe.

For more info, visit the MOMA website.

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