This year, we celebrate the 100th birthday of Toshirō Mifune (1 April 1920 – 24 December 1997). His grandson Rikiya Mifune kindly accepted to answer a few questions about his famous grandfather and his legacy as well as about events related to his centenary.

Andrea Grunert – You were nine years old when your grandfather died. What is the first thing which springs to mind when you think of him? Which memories do you value most? 

Rikiya Mifune – By the time I was born Toshirō was already semi-retired, so he was pretty much an ordinary grandfather figure. I have scattered memories of him taking me to places such as aquariums, but I still remember the times where we would sit together on the couch at home watching kids shows. He would sit still with great posture like a Samurai and would speak to me in his bold and manly voice. At this point I had no clue that I was sitting next to a man with such an extraordinary life.

Andrea Grunert – It seems to me that much has happened on the website of Mifune Productions in the last three or four years. It became so vibrant. Is this due to your commitment?

Rikiya Mifune – I guess activities have become more international since the production of the first feature documentary film on Toshirō – “Mifune: The Last Samurai” – which was directed by Steven Okazaki in 2016. From that point on, one thing led to another and this year, being Toshirō’s centennial, more opportunities to celebrate his legacy have surfaced.

Andrea Grunert – How do you contribute to keep your grandfather’s memory alive? 

Rikiya Mifune – I try to find as many opportunities for his films to be presented in theaters both domestically and internationally. This year, we digitalize Toshirō’s first international film “Animas Trujano” [a film, Toshirō Mifune made in Mexico with director Ismael Rodriguez], which has not been presented in Japan ever since its original release in 1961. 

Andrea Grunert – What kind of commemorations are held in Japan for his centenary?

Rikiya Mifune – The National Film Archive of Japan is currently hosting a special screening program consisting of 27 of Toshirō’s films, along with a “Rashomon” exhibition celebrating its 70th anniversary. We are also developing a special television documentary about Toshirō for the end of the year.

Andrea Grunert – Until today Toshirō Mifune is an icon of world cinema. What makes him so outstanding? 

Rikiya Mifune – He was an actor who could physically express both dynamic and sensitive human emotions. I think being born in a foreign country as well as his traumatic experience as a survivor of the war broadened his horizons as an actor.

Andrea Grunert – How is he remembered in Japan? How important is he for young moviegoers?

Rikiya Mifune – I think young people have heard the titles of his films, but never actually seen them. As Japan heads towards a more international direction, I believe that Toshirō’s accomplishments will be rediscovered again. 

Andrea Grunert – Toshirō Mifune could be called saigo no samurai. But wasn’t he much more than that? I have the feeling that his versatility is not fully recognized by film critics and film historians.

Rikiya Mifune – To avoid this kind of fixed image, Kurosawa [Akira] purposely gave Toshirō diverse roles but I guess the image of the samurai remains strong. However, when Toshirō worked with international directors, he wouldn’t hesitate to challenge and correct the depiction of the Japanese people. The way that he fought for honor and respect may been comparable to a samurai.

Andrea Grunert – Your family still has the coat Toshirō Mifune has made of an army blanket. Can you tell the story of that coat?

Rikiya Mifune – After the war, when the military was discharged, all the soldiers received 1 yen and 50 sen along with a thick military blanket. Toshirō sewed this blanket into a jacket and pants with pockets, belt loops and stitches in an extraordinary tailor quality. The precise details reflect Toshirō’s sensitive personality.

Andrea Grunert – Is your grandfather also a model in everyday life? I learned from people who met him or worked with him how modest and generous he was. And I am impressed by the importance given to societal issues such as poverty or inequality which the films and series produced by Mifune Productions in the 1970s and 1980s address. 

Rikiya Mifune – There is a lot to respect, but his qualities are nor simple or easy to follow. He was a man of perseverance, self-sacrifice and extraordinary effort.

Andrea Grunert – What are your personal projects for 2020, other than related those the centenary?

Rikiya Mifune – One day I hope to produce a Toshirō Mifune memorial museum to preserve and pass on his legacy. 

Tokyo (Japan)/Hilden (Germany), 11 October 2020

Kikyo-01

by Andrea Grunert

Kikyō (Kikyo – The Return, 2019, a television film) is a film about the homecoming of an old gambler, Unokichi, called “Funeral Uno” and played by Nakadai Tatsuya. It is Nakadai’s third collaboration with director Sugita Shigemichi, the two others being Yūshun (1988) and Hatashiai (A Duel Tale, 2015, a television film). Kikyō is a jidai-geki set in the yakuza milieu in a provincial town in the first half of the 19th century. The rather slow pace is appropriate to the film’s contemplative narrative of an inner journey, which is supported by carefully framed landscape shots, beautifully lit interiors and close-ups of faces that reveal a wide range of human emotions. Frequent shots of the moon or of the mountains connect the world of human being with nature and with its aura of majesty and eternity. This spiritual dimension of the film is also conveyed in the gentle piano music composed by Kako Takashi.

Kikyō is a film about death as well as about life and how a man can live a decent life. In the first shots, an old man is spitting blood. Addressing the reflection of his face in a receptacle filled with water, he says: “Funeral Uno is dying. You are dying.” This aging yakuza has returned to his hometown Kiso-Fukushima (1), where he learns that he has a daughter, born a few months after his departure thirty years ago. Flashbacks to Unokichi’s painful past, which continues to haunt him, interrupt the linearity of the narrative. Memory is reconstructed in fragments and only gradually reveals the old man’s trauma. In a recurrent nightmare he relives a night in a dilapidated temple where he and his mistress had once found shelter. Every time he awakes from this horrible dream, his hands are outstretched, and the significance of this gesture does not become clear until the end of a series of flashbacks that reconstruct little by little what happened in the temple that night. A different flashback reveals that Unokichi and the woman ran away together after Unokichi had killed her enraged husband – a friend of his – in a fight that ensued when the friend discovered his wife’s adulterous relationship.

There are several fight sequences in the film, showing that Nakadai – born in 1932 – is still in great physical shape. The gush of blood in the scene when the boss (Nakamura Atsuo) of the Kyuzo family is killed creates an intertextual link in Nakadai’s acting career. It has been a standard feature of jidai-geki and chanbara since Kurosawa Akira’s Tsubaki Sanjurō (Sanjuro, 1962), in which blood spurts from Hanbei’s (Nakadai’s) breast in his final duel with Sanjurō (Mifune Toshirō).

Unokichi’s confrontation with his past is also a confrontation with the present, in which the past still lingers. He learns that Oaki, the woman he had wanted to marry, died heartbroken many years ago. Obeying the orders of his clan, Unokichi went to Edo (today’s Tokyo) as a young man, but instead of returning home after three years as planned, he became a drifter after he had killed his mistress’s husband. Thirty years later, the discovery that he has a daughter – Okuni (Tokiwa Takako) – brings back a wave of memories. Kikyō portrays the difficult relationship between a man and his daughter who has grown up with hatred for her absent father. In a long sequence, Okuni vents her anger and her despair, but finally she takes on the task of caring for the old man.

The topic of the dysfunctional family is also central in other films in which Nakadai has been cast during the last decade – Haru to no tabi (Haru’s Journey, 2010), Hatashiai and Umibe no Ria (Lear at the Shore, 2017). Kobayashi Masahiro, who directed two of these (Haru to no tabi and Umibe no Ria), wrote the script for the third (the jidai-geki Hatashiai) and is also the co-scriptwriter of Kikyō. In Haru to no tabi, Hatashiai and Kikyō, all connected by the motif of a journey, the elderly protagonists have to come to terms with misdeeds and bad decisions in their lives for which they desperately seek reconciliation. At the end of his life, Unokichi takes on responsibility for others, not unlike the haya-zumi (freeloader) Sanosuke in Hatashiai, who sacrifices his life for the freedom and happiness of a young couple. In Kikyō, Unokichi is determined to prevent Okuni’s husband Genta (Ogata Naoto) from being killed by his (Unokichi’s) old rival, the boss of the Kyūzō clan, who not only wants to take control of the territory of Unokichi’s former clan but also tries to seduce Okuni and wants her as his mistress. Both Unokichi and Sanosuke fight their old enemies, who represent a menace to the younger generation. Unokichi is determined to kill the yakuza boss in a duel and insists on doing so alone. He says to Genta, who planned to kill Kyūzō himself: “Don’t waste your life. Life should be used for people.” This advice, repeated at the end of the film, emphasizes the importance attached to individual responsibility, a topic that is at the core of many films with Nakadai, including those directed by Kobayashi Masaki, Kurosawa Akira and Gosha Hideo. Nakadai himself continues to take on roles in films which offer critical statements on social and humanitarian issues, addressing social injustice and celebrating human feelings.

Both Hatashiai and Kikyō are set in a social environment determined by rigid codes of behaviour – the world of the samurai (Hatashiai) and that of the yakuza are similar with regard to questions of honour and obedience. Moreover, Kikyō and also the three other films with Nakadai that are mentioned above deal with universal themes such as guilt, remorse and the desire for redemption. Unokichi says that since the killing in Edo he has lived “a dead life” and that he and his mistress have travelled on “a hellish road”. The protagonist’s inner torment is conjured up in the recurring nightmare sequences in which two things figure – a painting that represents a Buddhist vision of hell and a candle suddenly extinguished by a draught. At the end of the film, Unokichi is ready to face his past. A flashback reveals exactly what happened in the temple. Past and present are connected via the editing. The final shot in this flashback shows not young Unokichi whose hands have killed once again, but Unokichi as an old man. In the next shot, twenty-eight years later, Unokichi, is looking at his outstretched hands, those of a strangler, before folding them in praise of Amida Buddha.

Despite the advanced stage of his illness, Unokichi is still strong in body and mind, repudiating the claim by one of the gamblers who, with no respect for the elderly, says that an old man will not be of any use in a battle between the two yakuza clans. Unokichi demonstrates his swordfighting skill on several occasions in the film. His strength and quickfire reactions are almost superhuman when he fights a man who has molested Okuni. In his accomplished acting, Nakadai shows what people of his age are still capable of. His presence and performance – as always outstanding and very personal – contribute greatly to this film’s multifaceted portrait of its aging protagonist, infusing Kikyō with a particular charm and forcefulness. Close-ups of his face reveal the intensity of the protagonist’s emotions. He beams when he sees Okuni for the first time, unaware at that moment that she is his daughter but surprised by her resemblance to the woman he once wanted to marry, and then, when he learns that he has a daughter, his face becomes expressionless as if he has put on a mask. There are several monologues delivered by Unokichi – some of them off-screen – which highlight Nakadai’s complex skill with his voice, a voice that is sometimes sharp and commanding in tone and sometimes sad and bleating, for example when after killing his old nemesis, Unokichi says to himself: “Bastard Kyūzō. Everyone is dead. How lonely …”.

Not unlike the yakuza Nakadai played in Gosha Hideo’s Kagerō (Heatwave, 1990), who is tormented by his inner demons after murdering a fellow gambler in full view of the man’s little daughter, Unokichi is consumed with guilt, a guilt that only his death can atone for. When he leaves his hometown for a second time, Unokichi’s smile is that of a man in harmony with himself who has accomplished his task, calmed the spirits of the dead, and can now die peacefully. The final shots are those of the old yakuza disappearing into the landscape while chorale-like Western style music is heard and the sun’s rays seem almost otherworldly, reminiscent of religious images in both Asian (Buddhist) and European (Christian) traditions. The strong suggestion of redemption is supported acoustically (by the music) and visually (by the photography) conveying a message of redemption that is universal.

Kikyō – The Return. Japan, 2019. Director: Sugita Shigemichi. Screenplay: Sugita Shigemichi and Kobayashi Masahiro, based on the novel Kikyō by Fujisawa Shuhei. Actors: Nakadai Tatsuya, Tokiwa Takako, Kitamura Kazuki, Ogata Naoto, Nakamura Atsuo, Tanida Ayumi, Satō Jirō, Hashizune Isao, Tanaka Misato, Maeda Aki, Mita Yoshiko and others. Produced by Jidai-geki Senmon Channel/TBA

1.Kiso-Fukushima, located in today’s Nagano Prefecture, is an ancient post town on the Nakasendo Highway, which connected Edo with Kyōto.

WEDDING RING

 

by Andrea Grunert

In this year that marks the centenary of Mifune Toshirō’s birth (he was born on 1 April 1920 and died on 24 December 1997), I am still surprised how much his versatility is overlooked. He is celebrated as an international star and as an icon inextricably linked to the figure of the samurai, as in the documentary Mifune: The Last Samurai (USA/Japan, Steven Okazaki, 2015), but this tends to obscure the great creativity with which he approached all his roles. It is true that Mifune was often typecast – as a samurai or as a senior army or navy officer. However, even in his most stereotypical roles, he succeeded in creating fleshed-out individuals, employing a great variety of expressive means to make them convincing and appealing. Mifune started his career in gendai geki (1) such as Ginrei no hate (Snow Trail, Taniguchi Senkichi, 1947) and Yoidore tenshi (Drunken Angel, Kurosawa Akira, 1948), in which he played the young rebel, captivating Japanese filmgoers with his unusually intense acting style (2). In the early years of his career he was sometimes cast in romantic roles – as the young and sexually inexperienced peasant who finds love quite by chance in the third episode of Naruse Mikio’s Ishinaka sensei gyōjōki (Conduct Report on Professor Ishinaka, 1950) or the bank employee in love with a married woman in Tsuma no kokoro (A Wife’s Heart, Naruse, 1956). Film critic Satō Tadao calls Mifune the “classic example of the tateyaku” (3), the strong male in kabuki theatre (4), and states: “Since his debut in 1947 he has appeared in approximately one hundred and twenty films. However, as far as I remember, he has only played three or four love scenes, in which he was so terribly miscast that they are a clear case of the exception proving the rule.” (5) I disagree with Satō’s claim. There is a clear romantic element in the character of some of the heroic swordfighters Mifune played in numerous jidai geki (6) in the 1950s and early 1960s (7). Both here and in those films in which he was cast as the young lover, he explores the many facets of his roles through his vivid and inventive acting style, heightened by his charisma and sex appeal. This is especially true for Kinoshita Keisuke’s Konyaku yubiwa (Wedding Ring aka Engagement Ring, 1950), a film in which Kinoshita deals with love and passion in a surprisingly light-hearted manner. The topic of unfulfilled love has rich potential for tragedy, but Kinoshita chose instead a mixture of melodrama and comedy. In this film, Mifune plays a doctor, Ema, who falls in love with Noriko, the wife of one of his patients. Tanaka Kinuyo is cast as Kuki Noriko and Uno Jūkichi as her husband Michio. Konyaku yubiwa gives Mifune the opportunity to display his youthful charm in the role of a kindly young man (8) and to show his talent for comedy and for emotional intensity.

Context and characters

The focus in Konyaku yubiwa is on the three main characters and the relationships between them. At a formal level, the elegant switches between close-ups and landscape photography indicate the link between the private and the public sphere and the symbolic relevance of personal experience as a social microcosm. Most of the action takes place in the seaside town of Ajirō, in the southern part of Atami (9), and at the Kukis’ mansion in this resort. The viewer is given a few glimpses of the bustling life in Tokyo, where the Kuki family owns a jeweller’s shop. There are impressions of everyday life such as the shots of passengers leaving a train at the station or on the crowded bus going to Ajirō. The many close-ups and medium close-ups of the main characters are a clear indication that the emphasis is on human beings. Their story and their feelings give insights into Japanese society recovering from wartime destruction. A number of shots evoke an idyll untouched by the violence of war – the coastline scenery with cherry trees in bloom, the park with plum trees, the picturesque inn, the beach in Ajirō. The Kukis live in an elegant mansion, implying business success. However, this idyll is undermined by hidden fears, sexual frustration, repressed desires and jealousy. Michio, suffering from tuberculosis (10), is weakened from his illness. His tanka poems reveal his pessimistic world view as does the sad expression on his face, captured by the camera in a number of close-ups. Obsessed by his inability to lead a normal married life, he is plagued by self-doubt, making him the epitome of the defeated Japanese male, helpless and emasculated. Male vigour and youthful strength are represented by the handsome and rugged Ema, who is bursting with energy. Mifune’s muscular body, showcased in the scenes in which Ema wears swimming trunks, contrasts with Michio’s emaciated face and obvious physical weakness.

Ema is not the only character with contagious vitality. Noriko is an active woman who runs the family business, something that the men in the Kuki family are unable (Michio) or unwilling (Michio’s father) to do. This is a rather unusual role for a Japanese woman, despite the fact that during the war women had to replace men in factories and do other typically male jobs and despite the efforts of the Occupation forces to strengthen the role of women in Japanese society, who for centuries had been suppressed in a rigid patriarchal system. (11) During the week, Noriko even lives alone in Tokyo in order to fulfil her duties at the Kukis’ large jeweller’s shop. It is on one of her trips back home that she and Ema first meet. In a crowded bus, Ema, standing next to the seated Noriko, catches a glimpse of her. But instead of her face, the camera focus is on the wedding ring (12) on her finger. The ring and Ema’s shoes are the two objects that repeatedly appear, symbolizing the development of the relationship between the doctor and Noriko. The ring marks Noriko as taboo for Ema, and this situation is at the core of the complicated relationships between the three protagonists and the film’s moral discourse. Close-ups of the ring figure in the sequence in which Noriko first touches Ema, though she does so only playfully, and on several other occasions when she has already decided against deepening her relationship with the doctor. However, there is a significant moment during a trip back to Tokyo when she has – accidentally, as she claims – left the ring at home, a ring which she treasures so much that, during the war, she had hidden it from the military when they were confiscating luxury items as contributions to the war effort. Facing hardship because of her love for Michio, she now finds herself on the threshold of adultery. Torn between love for Michio and the desire inflamed in her by Ema, she reveals her feelings to the doctor, saying that she no longer looks forward to the week-ends spent with her sick husband.

The wedding ring is a symbol and a constant reminder of conjugal fidelity; and Ema’s shoes also play an important role in the relationship that develops between Ema and Noriko. In the first sequence of the film, Noriko smiles when she notices Ema’s old white sneakers, shown in close-up. When they meet in Tokyo, she offers him elegant leather shoes, finding them more appropriate for a doctor. When they meet again, she is surprised to discover that he still wears his sneakers, which he explains by saying that they are more comfortable. Following a further meeting with Noriko, who is clearly flirting with him, the confused Ema, struggling with his emotions, is heading for the station, the sneakers shown in close-up. The next shot is another close-up, now of Ema wearing the new shoes and walking in the opposite direction, towards the Kukis’ mansion. This acceptance of the gift suggests his acceptance of his feelings and hints at the possibility of adultery.

The two objects not only have dramatic and symbolic meaning but also serve to avoid excessive sentimentality and function as effective and economic narration. With its clever blend of melodrama and humour, Kinoshita’s film reveals a wide range of feelings and great human complexity. The first deliberate physical contact between Noriko and Ema is when she runs after him, bringing him the notebook with her husband’s tanka poems – really just a pretext to talk to the doctor again before he leaves for Atami. Taken aback by Noriko saying: “Your hands are so strong,” Ema replies with a big smile: “No, these are gentle hands.” Noriko playfully taps his hand, which he pulls away quickly, looking bewildered. A close-up of Ema’s face reveals his inner turmoil when he continues walking toward the trains station. However, after this scene the doctor starts to wear the new leather shoes. Noriko’s sexual desire is fully revealed in the scene in which she stares at Ema’s jacket, drenched with sweat. She touches her face with her hands as if in agony and then hides it behind them before plunging it into the garment and breathing in deeply the smell of Ema’s body. Ema’s confusion about his feelings for Noriko reaches a peak during their last meeting, when the young man, a look of despair on his face, asks Noriko if he can cry in her lap. His jacket is a symbol and a substitute for his body; but despite their attraction to each other, Noriko’s and Ema’s mutual desire will not lead to fulfilment. In the moments of intimacy  – in the train, at the beach, in the park, in the inn – they reveal their feelings for each other but also their concern for Michio and, in Noriko’s case, her love for him. Desire is always accompanied by feelings of guilt, which are expressed not only verbally but also in the acting. “I can hear my heart beating very fast,” says Ema after swimming in the sea, pointing out that he has not had an opportunity to go swimming for a while and is therefore a bit “rusty”. Addressing these words to Noriko with a bright smile, they may suggest a deeper meaning. Noriko, hardly able to suppress her desire, seems to take this remark as an invitation and touches his naked shoulder. Then follows a cut to Ema’s face in close-up, looking embarrassed. Noriko, seemingly hurt by his reaction, takes a few steps back. Looking at each other, their faces have an expression of both desire and shame.

Contradictory feelings

Ema acts as a catalyst, helping the couple to overcome the crisis in their married life. Noriko, feeling she is desired by a man, is blossoming again (13) and Michio awakens from his lethargy and self-pity. The first encounter between Noriko and Ema in the bus is interspersed by shots of cherry trees in bloom – a symbol of rebirth. This encounter is depicted in an almost comical manner – Ema, having lost his balance in the bus, stumbles and falls into her lap (14). The simple, jaunty tune which accompanies the bus trip contributes to the buoyant rhythm of this sequence, prefiguring the awakening of their feelings for each other. Throughout the film, these feelings are communicated superbly by the two actors. Mifune’s sense of timing, so much admired by Kurosawa (15), and his juvenile nonchalance are the most obvious features, and they make a perfect contribution to the dramatic as well as to the comic moments in the film. When they first meet in the jeweller’s shop, Ema pokes his tongue out at Noriko – a clear indication  that they have already became closer (a little later in the same sequence the dialogue confirms this impression). In another sequence at the shop, Ema expresses his concern for Michio, blaming himself for wishing him dead. His face twisted with grief and his gestures – his hands running through his hair and scratching his legs – reflect his inner torment. His facial expressions and gestures are both natural and appropriate, matching the character’s youthful attitude.

Ema is depicted as a sympathetic young man who not only arouses feelings in Noriko but is very much respected by both Michio and his father. His sneakers and clothes of rather poor quality contrast with the wealth of the Kuki family, and close-ups of his face reveal how much he is impressed by the huge mansion in which his patient lives and by the Kukis’ large and elegant jeweller’s shop. They represent the kind of wealth that is completely unfamiliar to him. At one point he criticizes Michio’s self-pity, calling him superficial because he has never known poverty. However, there is a strong bond between the two men, both of whom served in the war. Ema, who confesses that he is in love for the first time, may be inexperienced in matters of love, but he is a caring person who takes his responsibilities as a doctor very seriously and has a profound desire to cure people.

A happy ending

In the second-last sequence Noriko joins Ema at an inn. The meeting takes place in a small room where dinner is served for the couple. The sequence is dramatically and visually complex, built upon facial and body expressions as well as gazes. Ema accepts Noriko’s decision to stay with her husband, but reveals his own feelings in a highly emotional manner. The focus is on Ema whose intense facial expressions, gestures and movements (16) are emphasized by camera positions and editing, to show how much he is torn between passion and duty. Both actors deliver fine and very nuanced performances in this long sequence, combining strong emotions with more light-hearted moments. One example is when the couple enjoys beers and talks about Michio’s future and his cure in the mountains.

The protagonists return to their traditional roles in society, in accordance with the moral conventions that the film clearly advocates. What has happened to Ema and Noriko was only “a passing fever”. It is not simply that Ema wears his sneakers again. Their return to traditional roles is further emphasized by the fact that Noriko abandons her western-style clothes and wears a kimono in the last part of the film. She has also decided to give up her life as a businesswoman and accompany her husband to a sanatorium in the mountains. Both Michio and Ema have a traditional view of women as faithful wives, and during the very emotional dialogue in the park, it is Ema who speaks with the voice of reason (“We need to cool our hearts”) and asks Noriko to stop crying as others are already staring at them. However, traditional Japanese masculinity has undergone some changes. Ema as well as Michio are depicted as men who admire Noriko for her vitality and treat her with great respect, an attitude more in line with western romantic concepts of love than with Japanese patriarchal traditions (17). The guilt-ridden Michio shows great understanding for his wife, and despite his increasing jealousy, he encourages her to join Ema at the beach. However, it is Noriko who plays the active part in her relationship with the young doctor, emphasized by the expensive looking shoes she offers him. Ema is depicted as an inexperienced young man, troubled by feelings previously unknown to him. Noriko assures her husband that nothing improper has happened between her and the doctor, who “is a nice man with pure intentions”. Without challenging moral conventions, Kinoshita reveals through emotionally intense moments, all marvellously supported by his cast, the conflicts that can arise from adhering to such conventions. In Konyaku yubiwa, the conflicts are resolved, and Kinoshita’s film has a happy ending not only for Noriko and Michio, for whom there is great hope of being cured, but for Ema as well who has a new patient to take care of – the young female bus conductor shown at the beginning of the film – and sees his two friends off in a joyful mood.

Notes

1 Films and tales set in the contemporary world.

2 See Andrea Grunert “Mifune Toshirō: A Star with a Thousand Faces”, https://shomingekionline.org, 31 March 2020.

3 Tadao Satō, Currents in Japanese Cinema, New York, Kodansha International 1987, p. 19.

4 The term tateyaku means literally “standing role”. It refers to the role of the heroic male in kabuki theatre.

5 Satō, ibid., p. 19.

6 The term can be roughly translated as “period film”.

7 Mifune played heroes with romantic qualities in several historical films such as Miyamoto Musashi (Samurai, Inagaki Hiroshi, 1954) and its two sequels (1955 and 1956), Yagyū bugeichō (The Yagyu Secret Scrolls, Inagaki Hiroshi, 1957), Nippon tanjō (The Three Treasures, Inagaki Hiroshi, 1959), Yagyū bugeichō – sōryū hiken (The Yagyu Secret Scrolls – Ninjutsu, Inagaki Hiroshi, 1958) and Ōsaka-jō monogatari (Daredevil in the Castle, Inagaki Hiroshi, 1961).

8 This sympathetic character matches Mifune’s image as projected in numerous fan magazines such as Kinda Eiga and Eiga Fan throughout the 1950s.

9 Atami is a resort famous for its hot springs.

10 See William Johnston, The Modern Epidemic: A History of Tuberculosis in Japan, Cambridge, Mass., The Council of East Asian Studies/Harvard University Press, 1997. It was not until the newly developed antibiotic streptomycin became available in Japan in 1948 that tuberculosis could be cured. (Cf. Johnston, ibid., p. 287)

11 For more information on gender roles in early post-war Japan see Naoko Shibusawa America’s Geisha Ally: Reimagining the Japanese Enemy, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2006.

12 The diamond ring shown in frequent close-ups is Noriko’s engagement ring she wears on the outside of her wedding ring. However, in order to avoid any confusion about Noriko’s status as a married woman, I refer to it as “wedding ring”.

13 Michio comments on the fact that Noriko seems more beautiful than ever and he also observes that she no longer wears the same clothes most of the time and pays more attention to her appearance.

14 The comic moment in the bus when Ema is thrown into Noriko’s lap has its melodramatic counterpart at the inn when the desperate Ema asks Noriko if he can “cry in her lap”.

15 Akira Kurosawa, Something Like an Autobiography, New York, Vintage, 1983, p. 161.

16 For instance, while Noriko is kneeling in front of the dinner table, Ema leaves the table to sit down first at the windowsill and then on a chair at some distance from Noriko.

17 Mark McLelland points out that the attitudes in Japanese culture with regard to sex and gender that existed in the ‚opening‘ of Japan to the West remained unchanged for almost a hundred years. “Also odd [for the Japanese] was the extreme deference that Western men paid to their ‚ladies‘, at least in public. Although in the Confucian system men of lower status were able to show respect to high-status women without compromising their masculinity, the Western practice of ‚ladies first‘ in which men deferred to women in general seemed a peculiar idea, one that was still able to amaze Japanese people even in the early days of the American Occupation that was to take place almost a century later.” (McLelland, Love, Sex, and Democracy in Japan During the Occupation, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, p. 14)