The films of Kenji Mizoguchi: authorship and vernacular style
Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis
This thesis explores the work of Japanese film-maker Mizoguchi Kenji (1898-1956) through an analysis of key film texts in their social, cultural and industrial contexts. Since coming to international prominence in the 1950s, Mizoguchi has been placed in western accounts of Japanese cinema, alongside Kurosawa and Ozu, as one of that country’s most celebrated auteurs. As we shall see, this positioning has tended to cast Mizoguchi in a certain critical light which has subsequently been challenged from different perspectives. Mizoguchi’s film career, which began in 1923, spanned the silent era and sound films, continued under Imperialist rule (1930-1945) and the American occupation (1945-1952), but gained world attention only in the last four years of his life. His life and films have since been the subject of academic studies, festival retrospectives and television documentaries, both in Japan and in the west (notably the United States). He is acclaimed, like Federico Fellini, Satyajit Ray and Ingmar Bergman, as one of the handful of film-makers who have had a profound influence upon world cinema, although in the west his reputation has remained under the shadow of his better-known countrymen Kurosawa and Ozu. This study will seek to critique rather than celebrate that legacy. But Mizoguchi’s career as a whole also has much to tell us about the history of Japanese cinema and its relationship to culture and society. And in re-focussing critical attention upon the context which informed his work, this thesis will offer a re-appraisal of his auteurist status, and suggest new ways of considering the issue of authorship.
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