Transcending the Inevitable: Japanese Screen Legends and Their Works with Masters
"Teaism...inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life."
Kakuzo Okakura’s beautiful definition of Teaism at the beginning of The Book of Tea calls to mind the sensibilities of the actresses we honour in this program.
|Setsuko Hara in Ozu's Late Spring|
Hailed as the 'Eternal Virgin' of Japanese cinema, Hara’s reserved and agreeable manner masked deeper, internalised feelings; for her, passive acceptance became a form of resistance. Alternately, Takamine — in her determined and somewhat nihilist characters — epitomised quiet defiance, always responding to life’s ridicule with an ambivalent shrug or sneer. Tanaka probably offered the most comprehensive of performances in a wide range of roles; committing blood and soul, she was the one who had the ability to absolve.
More broadly, collectively these films comprise an Eastern, or more specifically Japanese, form of existentialism. While Ozu, Naruse and Mizoguchi did not deliberately set out to say something about existentialism in making these films, we can see their characters attempting to express their will and identity, throughout their journeys coming to accept what has been thrust upon them and ultimately attaining an enlightened understanding of life and self. Though all of these films feature women as central characters, these are not situations exclusive to women — most of their dilemmas are universally understood and felt.
Mikio Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is perhaps the prime example: Takamine’s ascent each evening, simultaneously donning her bar hostess’s persona, represents the quintessentially modern rendition of Sisyphus. From Late Spring onwards, all of Hara’s roles in Ozu’s films portrayed a quiet resistance against social obligation and expectation; their last film together, The End of Summer, saw this resistance transcend into a content acceptance of an ever-changing world. In her most recognised work with Mizoguchi, The Life of Oharu, Tanaka endures a convoluted journey to find and define love and herself, culminating with a choice to include all in her generosity and compassion.
|Kinuyo Tanaka in Mizoguchi's Life of Oharu|
Special thanks to The Japan Foundation, Shochiku, Toho, Kadokawa Corporation and the Hong Kong International Film Festival for making this program possible.
35mm prints courtesy of The Japan Foundation.
DCPs courtesy of Shochiku and Hong Kong International Film Festival.
Talk with Kiki Fung and Chris Fujiwara
Sunday 27 Nov, 3.30pm, Centro Cinema 3