One of Japan's most popular filmmakers after World War II, Keisuke Kinoshita (1912-1998) was a prolific director, writer, and producer, specializing in sentimental dramas and comedies and the use of innovative, expressionistic sets.
Rarely have any of Kinoshita's fifty or so films been shown outside of Japan, but in that country he was a well-known director who pioneered the use of color in film and repeatedly touched on domestic themes that resonated with Japanese audiences. Despite his conventional plots and subject matter, Kinoshita was often willing to experiment with avant-garde techniques.
As a child, Kinoshita was a hopeless movie buff. His father was a grocer in the town of Hamamatsu in the Shizuoka prefecture of Japan. His parents wanted him to learn a trade, so he went to a technical high school, but Kinoshita was completely focused on making movies. He enrolled in the Oriental Photography School in order to learn how to become a cinematographer and break into movies.
At first Kinoshita made only halting strides toward attaining his dream. He applied at one of Japan's biggest movie studios, Shochiku, hoping to be an assistant cameraman, but he was hired to work in the lab processing film. It took awhile before he was allowed to become an assistant cinematographer for the director Yasujiro Shimazu.
For three years, Kinoshita served as Shimazu's assistant cinematographer, but he was often so engrossed in watching acting rehearsals that he would not do his job properly. Another assistant, Kozaburo Yoshimura, who would go on to become a famous director himself, recommended that Kinoshita learn to become a director. It took another two years before a position was available as Yomishura's assistant. For six years, Kinoshita worked under Shimazu, learning much about filmmaking but suffering from Shimazu's dictatorial impulses.
In 1943, Kinoshita's first two directorial efforts were released: Ikite iru Magoroku (Magoroku Is Alive) and Hanasaku minato (Blooming Port). The latter was a formulaic comedy about a clash between sophisticated urbanites and rural naifs, but it displayed Hinoshita's love for simplicity and honesty. Since World War II was dominating life in Japan, Hinoshita tried to fit in, directing a wartime propaganda film called Rikugun (Army), but it was decried by military censors for being insufficiently doctrinaire.
A prolific director, Kinoshita made 12 more films in the 1940s, focusing mainly on domestic dramas and comedies in efforts like Osone-ke no ashita (Morning for the Osone Family) (1946), the first film he produced as well as directed. Despite its clichéd subject matter, the film was unusual because it was shot almost entirely on a set inside a house. Many of his films featured honest, simple women as the central protagonists, including Onna (Woman) (1948), which was shot entirely outdoors on a rocky hillside.
In 1950, Kinoshita wrote his first film, Konyaku yubiwa (Engagement Ring), and he wrote most of the subsequent films he directed. His films became popular during the 1950s, and he continued to direct and release an average of two movies a year. His characters were often optimistic and kind.
Kinoshita's Karumen kokyo in kaeru (Carmen Comes Home), which he directed in 1951, was the first feature film in Japan shot entirely in color. This satirical domestic comedy was followed by Karumen junjo su (Carmen Falls in Love) (1952), one of many instances in which Kinoshita followed a title character (always a woman) through more than one movie.
In 1953, Kinoshita abandoned his customary light-hearted fare for a disturbing social drama, Nihon no higeki (A Japanese Tragedy). Its protagonist is a middle-class woman forced by economic straits to offer her household goods and her body on the black market to support her children; now older and estranged from her adult children, she tries to arrange good marriages for them, but is rebuked because of their shame and vanity. On the website Strictly Film School, reviewer Acquarello calls the film "a bleak, affecting, and insoluble portrait of postwar existence … a relevant and insightful account of the personal toll of war and the slow, agonizing process of recovery.… In the end, a lone image of [the protagonist] Haruko in long shot standing at the top of a train station staircase as commuters hurriedly rush past captures the emotional desolation of the individual human struggle against a formidable and unrelenting tide…" In this film, one of Kinoshita's best, the director uses newsreel footage, flashbacks, and frequent shots of trains in motion to heighten the realism.
In his next film, Nijushi no hitomi (Twenty-Four Eyes) (1954), Kinoshita adapted a popular novel into a heartrending drama about a teacher and her twelve students, whom she first teaches during a relatively happy time and then again encounters years later during a period of economic depression and strife. Acquarello notes: "Filmed from a low camera angle, and using exquisitely composed crane, long, and medium shots, Keisuke Kinoshita visually conveys a sense of distance that, in turn, reflects the innocence of the children's perspective." He calls it "a haunting, compassionately realized, and profoundly affecting portrait of humanism, innocence, and the personal toll of war." That Kinoshita was able to combine such compelling drama with his successful comedy-dramas and reach mass audiences in Japan is a measure of his range and ability as a master director in touch with his native land and its contemporary problems.
Kinoshita touched on the tradition of Kabuki theater in his 1955 film, Nogiku no gotoki kimi nariki (She Was Like a Wild Chrysanthemum), in which all his characters wear masks. His willingness to experiment with technique is evident in Narayama Bushiko (Ballad of Narayama) (1958). He uses a theatrical stage setting, jarring spotlights, vivid colors, and intentionally anachronistic images to adapt a popular novel about family, duty, and custom. Acquarello calls it a "… portrait of love and humanity struggling against the rigidity of tradition, obedience, and sense of duty … a haunting allegory on the perils of blind allegiance, martyrdom, and repression—a humanist reflection of the profound introspection, cultural erosion, and ideological ambivalence of postwar Japan."
Kinoshita's heyday was the 1950s, but during that time critics did not embrace his sentimental style, even though Japanese audiences responded positively. He made nine more films in the 1960s, but none of them were acclaimed, and only five more films in his declining years, from 1976 to 1988. He also produced Akira Kurosawa's worldwide hit Dodes'ka-den in 1970.
Eventually Kinoshita was hailed as one of Japan's foremost directors, for his wide range and innovative techniques within the context of popular contemporary films. In 1991, he was awarded an honor from the Japanese government for his contributions to national culture. In 1999, a panel of Japanese critics named Kinoshita's Nijushi no hitomi (Twenty-Four Eyes) as one of that country's ten greatest films of all time.
"Keisuke Kinoshita," All Movie Guide,http://www.allmovie.com/cg/avg.dll?p=avg&sql=2:97490~C (January 2, 2004).
"Keisuke Kinoshita," Internet Movie Database,"http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0455839/ (January 2, 2004).
"Keisuke Kinoshita," Strictly Film School,http://www.filmref.com/directors/dirpages/kinoshita.html (January 2, 2004).
"Keisuke Kinoshita," Yahoo! Movies,http://movies.yahoo.com/shop?d=hc&id=1800130311&cf=&cfbiog&intl=us (January 2, 2004).
"Kinoshita, Keisuke." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kinoshita-keisuke
"Kinoshita, Keisuke." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kinoshita-keisuke
Nationality: Japanese. Born: Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, 5 December 1912. Education: Hamamatsu Engineering School; Oriental Photography School, Tokyo, 1932–33. Military service, 1940–41. Career: Laboratory assistant, Shochiku's Kamata studios, 1933; camera assistant under chief cinematographer for Yasujiro Shimazu, 1934–36; assistant director, Shimazu's group, 1936–42; chief assistant to director Kozaburo Yoshimura, 1939; director, from 1943; left Shochiku, began as TV director, 1964. Awards: Kinema Jumpo Best Film of the Year, for The Morning of the Osone Family, 1946, 24 Eyes, 1954, and The Ballad of Narayama, 1958. Died: 30 December 1998, in Tokyo, Japan, of stroke.
Films as Director:
Hanasaku minato (The Blossoming Port); Ikite-iru Magoroku (The Living Magoroku) (+ sc)
Kanko no machi (Jubilation Street; Cheering Town); Rikugun (The Army)
Osone-ke no asa (Morning for the Osone Family); Wagakoiseshi otome (The Girl I Loved) (+ sc)
Kekkon (Marriage) (+ story); Fujicho (Phoenix) (+ sc)
Onna (Woman) (+ sc); Shozo (The Portrait); Hakai (Apostasy)
Ojosan kanpai (A Toast to the Young Miss; Here's to theGirls); Yotsuya kaidan, I-II (The Yotsuya Ghost Story,Parts I and II); Yabure daiko (Broken Drum) (+ co-sc)
Konyaku yubiwa (Engagement Ring) (+ sc)
Zemma (The Good Fairy) (+ co-sc); Karumen kokyo ni kaeru (Carmen Comes Home) (+ sc); Shonen ki (A Record ofYouth) (+ co-sc); Umi no hanabi (Fireworks over the Sea) (+ sc)
Karumen junjo su (Carmen's Pure Love) (+ sc)
Nihon no higeki (A Japanese Tragedy) (+ sc)
Onna no sono (The Garden of Women) (+ sc); Nijushi nohitomi (Twenty-four Eyes) (+ sc)
Toi kumo (Distant Clouds) (+ co-sc); Nogiku no gotoki kiminariki (You Were like a Wild Chrysanthemum) (+ sc)
Yuyake-gumo (Clouds at Twilight); Taiyo to bara (The Roseon His Arm) (+ sc)
Yorokobi mo kanashimi mo ikutoshitsuki (Times of Joy andSorrow; The Lighthouse) (+ sc); Fuzen no tomoshibi (ACandle in the Wind; Danger Stalks Near) (+ sc)
Narayama bushi-ko (The Ballad of the Narayama) (+ sc); Kono ten no niji (The Eternal Rainbow; The Rainbow ofThis Sky) (+ sc)
Kazabana (Snow Flurry) (+ sc); Sekishun-cho (The Bird ofSprings Past) (+ sc); Kyo mo mata kakute arinan (ThusAnother Day) (+ sc)
Haru no yume (Spring Dreams) (+ sc); Fuefuki-gawa (TheRiver Fuefuki) (+ sc)
Eien no hito (The Bitter Spirit; Immortal Love) (+ sc)
Kotoshi no koi (This Year's Love) (+ sc); Futari de aruita iku-haru-aki (The Seasons We Walked Together) (+ sc)
Utae, wakodo-tachi (Sing, Young People!); Shito no densetsu (Legend of a Duel to the Death) (+ sc)
Koge (The Scent of Incense) (+ sc)
Natsukashiki fue ya taiko (Lovely Flute and Drum) (+ pr, sc)
Suri Lanka no ai to wakare (Love and Separation in SriLanka) (+ sc)
Shodo satsujin: Musukoyo (My Son) (+ sc)
Kono ko o nokoshite (The Children of Nagasaki; These Children Survive Me)
Yorokobi mo kanashima mo ikutoshitsuki (Times of Joy and Sorrow; Big Joys, Small Sorrows)
By KINOSHITA: articles—
"Jisaku o kataru," [Keisuke Kinoshita Talks about His Films], in Kinema Jumpo (Tokyo), no.115, 1955.
Interview with P. Vecchi, in Cineforum (Bergamo), August 1984.
Interview with A. Tournès, in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), November-December 1986.
On KINOSHITA: books—
Anderson, Joseph, and Donald Richie, The Japanese Film, New York, 1961.
Mellen, Joan, The Waves at Genji's Door, New York, 1976.
Bock, Audie, Japanese Film Directors, Tokyo, 1978.
König, Regula, and Marianne Lewinsky, Keisuke Kinoshita: Entretien,etudes, filmographie, iconographie, Locarno, 1986.
On KINOSHITA: articles—
"Keisuke Kinoshita," in Film Dope (London), September 1984.
Tournès, A., "Terres inconnues du cinéma japonais," in JeuneCinéma (Paris), October 1984.
Niogret, H., "Keisuke Kinoshita: Un metteur en scène de compagnie," in Positif (Paris), July/August 1986.
National Film Theatre Programme (London), March 1987.
Obituary, by Jon Herskovitz, in Variety (New York), 11 Janu-ary 1999.
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Keisuke Kinoshita's films are characteristic of the Shochiku Studio's work: healthy home drama and melodrama as conventionalized by the studio's two masters, Shimazu and Ozu, who specialized in depicting everyday family life. Kinoshita gravitated toward sentimentalism and a belief in the eventual triumph of good will and sincere efforts. It was against this "planned unity" that the new generation of Shochiku directors (for example, Oshima and his group) reacted.
Kinoshita was skilled in various genres. His light satiric comedies began with his first film, The Blossoming Port. Although ostensibly it illustrated the patriotism of two con men in a small port town, this film demonstrated Kinoshita's extraordinary talent for witty mise-enscène and briskly-paced storytelling. His postwar comedies include Broken Drum, Carmen Comes Home, Carmen's Pure Love and A Candle in the Wind, which captured the liberated spirit of postwar democratization. A Toast to the Young Miss was a kind of situation comedy that became unusually successful due to its excellent cast.
Among Kinoshita's popular romantic melodramas, Marriage and Phoenix surprised audiences with bold and sophisticated expressions of love, helping pioneer the new social morality in Japanese film. You Were like a Wild Chrysanthemum is a romantic, sentimental love story. The sentimental human drama became Kinoshita's most characteristic film. It is typified by 24 Eyes, which deftly appeals to the Japanese audience's sentimentality, depicting the life of a woman teacher on a small island. This was followed by such films as Times of Joy and Sorrow, The Seasons We Walked Together, and Lovely Flute and Drum. The Shochiku Studio was proud that these films could attract "women coming with handkerchiefs to wipe away their tears."
Films of rather straightforward social criticism include Morning for the Osone Family, Apostasy, A Japanese Tragedy, The Garden of Women, The Ballad of the Narayama, and Snow Flurry. These vary from rather crude "postwar democratization" films to films that deal with such topics as the world of folklore, struggles against the feudalistic system, and current social problems. Kinoshita was adventurous in his technical experimentation. Carmen Comes Home is the first Japanese color film and is sophisticated in its use of the new technology. In its sequel, Carmen's Pure Love, he employed tilting compositions throughout the film, producing a wry comic atmosphere. In A Japanese Tragedy, newsreel footage was inserted to connect the historical background with the narrative. You Were like a Wild Chrysanthemum, a film presented as an old man's memory of his youth, creates a nostalgic effect by vignetting with an oval shape and with misty images. The Ballad of the Narayama, except for the last outdoor sequence, takes place on a set that accentuates artificiality and theatricality, with the added effect of a peculiar use of color. Kabuki-style acting, music, and storytelling create the fable-like ambience of this film. The River Fuefuki is entirely tinted in colors that correspond to the sentiment of each scene (e.g., red for fighting, blue for funerals, and green for peaceful village life).
After the Japanese film industry sank into a depression in the 1960s, Kinoshita successfully continued his career in TV for a long period. His skill at entertaining and his sense of experimentation kept him popular with television audiences as well.
"Kinoshita, Keisuke." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/kinoshita-keisuke
"Kinoshita, Keisuke." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/kinoshita-keisuke