"A Wreath for Madame Kawakita" screens works of Japanese masters at HK Film Archive

Kawakita Kashiko, widely regarded as the "mother of Japanese cinema", is revered for her pivotal role in preserving the heritage of Japanese cinema and in fostering goodwill between cultures through film. While importing high quality foreign films for Japanese audiences, she also promoted the works of Japanese directors, such as Kurosawa Akira, Oshima Nagisa and Ichikawa Kon, to the west.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Madame Kawakita, the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA) will present "A Wreath for Madame Kawakita" from May 28 to July 12 at the Cinema of the HKFA and the Lecture Hall of the Hong Kong Space Museum, featuring 22 classic films from eight Japanese directors who received the Kawakita Award. The programme, curated by the Kawakita Memorial Film Institute with special support from the National Film Centre, Tokyo, and the Japan Foundation, has been touring London, New York, Tokyo and other cities. Many of the films will be shown in new prints.

Films to be screened are Kurosawa Akira’s “Rashomon” and “Ikiru”; Oshima Nagisa’s “Violence at Noon”, “Boy” and “The Ceremony”; Imamura Shohei’s “Intentions of Murder”, “Vengeance is Mine” and “Black Rain”; Ichikawa Kon’s “The Crowded Streetcar”, “Conflagration” and “Her Brother”; Shindo Kaneto’s “The Naked Island”, “Onibaba” and “A Last Note”; Suzuki Seijun’s “Tokyo Drifter”, Branded to Kill” and “Zigeunerweisen”; Yamada Yoji’s “The Yellow Handkerchief”, “Where Spring Comes Late” and “Tora-san’s Sunrise and Sunset” and Haneda Sumiko’s “Ode to Mt. Hayachine” and “Into the Picture Scroll: The Tale of Yamanaka Tokiwa”.

To tie in with the screening, a seminar entitled “Madame Kawakita and Japanese Cinema”, to be conducted in Cantonese, is scheduled for June 6 at 4.30pm in the Cinema of the HKFA. Admission to the seminar is free.

A legendary figure in Japanese cinema, Madame Kawakita did not act in a single film, nor did she direct any. Yet, as part of the Towa Shoji workforce -- first a secretary, then as wife of the company’s director, Nagamasa Kawakita - Madame Kawakita played a pivotal role in cultural exchange through film.

She imported important foreign films directed by such masters as Jean Renoir, Luis Bunuel, Ingmar Bergman, Jerzy Kawalerowicz and Satyajit Ray to Japan, significantly expanding the vistas of the Japanese screen. She also introduced the works of Japanese directors and opened the world’s eyes to Japanese cinema when it was virtually unknown. She not only organised film tours by talented directors, but also made substantial efforts to provide English subtitles.

Inspired by the European film archives, she spearheaded the founding of the Japan Film Council, now known as the Kawakita Memorial Film Institute, tirelessly collecting and preserving film materials and offering them to researchers while organising international touring retrospectives.

Recipient of the 2nd Kawakita Award in 1984, Kurosawa Akira is probably the best known Japanese director to the rest of the world. His classic “Rashomon” (1950) won the Golden Lion Award at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, lifting the curtain on the international recognition of Japanese cinema. His samurai films won not only awards, but also the hearts and minds of film lovers the world over. “Ikiru” (1952), one of his most accomplished early films, is profoundly touching and remarkably provocative. The film won Kurosawa the Special Prize from the Senate at the 1954 Berlin International Film Festival.

Oshima Nagisa is a key figure in the Japanese New Wave and recipient of the 3rd Kawakita Award in 1985. His “Boy” (1969) and “Violence at Noon” (1966) were based on real-life events. The former features a family who fakes accidents to extract compensation from drivers while the latter features Oshima’s skilful deployment of a complicated narrative with stylised mise-en-scene and flamboyant editing, providing potent depictions of post-war Japan. His masterpiece “Ceremony” (1971) took a wry and satirical look at Japanese attitudes through wedding and funeral ceremonies.

One of the most idiosyncratic and iconoclastic filmmakers in world cinema, Imamura Shohei explores the level of “Japanese consciousness” with films focusing on prostitutes, pimps and the lower classes. The earthy, fat housewife in his “Intentions of Murder” (1964) is full of strength and perseverance after being raped by a burglar, while the murderer in his “Vengeance is Mine” (1979) is portrayed matter-of-factly, never appealing for sympathy or contempt. An impassioned indictment of nuclear warfare, “Black Rain” (1989) is an exceptional film in Imamura’s cinema.

Ichikawa Kon is a versatile filmmaker who excelled in many different genres including animation, melodrama, comedy and documentary. He gained international recognition through works such as “Conflagration” (1958), which portrayed the psychological disintegration of a young temple acolyte. His “The Crowded Streetcar” (1957) is a light comedy laced with sharp social satire, highlighting the absurdity of the emerging post-war corporate culture.

Ichikawa is also known for his technical proficiency and diversity in styles and themes. To evoke the dark feeling of the Taisho era, the colour scheme in “Her Brother” (1960) was altered with a new silver retention technology which is still widely in use today.

A veteran director who made his directorial debut in 1951, Shindo Kaneto directed more than 40 films and wrote over 200 scripts. With no dialogue, only music and sound effects, “The Naked Island” (1960) is a touchingly expressive cinematic poem that captures the life and dignity of human existence. One of his most representative works, “Onibaba” (1964) is raw, primal and feverish in expressing the darkness that lurks behind a human facade. He directed the wry comedy “A Last Note” (1995) at age 83, paying tribute to old age with wistful touches.

Suzuki Seijun is one of the cinema’s most distinguished iconoclasts, responsible for a body of films informed by a vision of his very own. After remaining unknown for years outside Japan, the peculiarity of his cinema caught the world’s attention in the 1980s, quickly gaining a cult reputation with a dedicated following. “Tokyo Drifter” (1966) is an expressionistic pop-art action movie while his absurdist masterpiece “Branded to Kill” (1967) is full of style, emotion and vision. His first fully independent film “Zigeunerweisen” (1980) is a psychedelic kaleidoscope of a thriller featuring intellectual characters in a period setting.

Yamada Yoji is renowned for his skill in capturing the humour, pathos and vitality of common people. As one of the best chapters of the legendary Tora-san saga, “Tora-san’s Sunrise and Sunset” (1976) switches effortlessly between humour and melancholy. The tender drama “The Yellow Handkerchief” (1977), set in beautiful Hokkaido, was a commercial and critical success and recently remade by Hollywood. Yamada’s mastery of film art is evident in the touching road movie “Where Spring Comes Late” (1970) as he projects the epic from the personal with splendid Shochiku Grandscope photography and a lyrical rhythm.

Haneda Sumiko made award-winning documentaries on a variety of subjects. The leisurely paced “Ode to Mt Hayachine” (1982) captures the land and people in the Kitagami valley through the four seasons. With “Into the Picture Scroll: The Tale of Yamanaka Tokiwa” (2004), Haneda ingeniously animates a scroll painting into a captivating story accompanied by a score of joruri music.

All films are in Japanese with English subtitles. “Vengeance is Mine” has been classified as Category III and only ticket holders who are aged 18 and above will be admitted.

Tickets priced at $50 are available at URBTIX outlets. Half-price tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients.

Detailed programme information can be obtained in the “ProFolio 47” distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For programme enquiries, please call 2739 2139 / 2734 2900 or browse the websites: www.filmarchive.gov.hk or www.lcsd.gov.hk/fp.

Picture shows a film still of "Rashomon" (1950).
Picture shows a film still of "Rashomon" (1950).

Source: GovHK (www.gov.hk)