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Utamaro and His Five Women

歌麿をめぐる五人の女 (Utamaro o meguru gonin no onna)
Japan 1946. Dir: Kenji Mizoguchi. 95 min. 35mm

35mm PRINT | Mizoguchi’s first postwar masterpiece is one of cinema’s great biographical works about artists — often mentioned in the same breath as Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev! It is set circa 1800 in Edo-period Japan, where legendary painter and woodblock portraitist Kitagawa Utamaro (Minosuke Bando) finds creative inspiration not in the classical arts but in the courtesans of Edo’s brothels — and finds himself in trouble with powerful figures as a result. The five women of the title are Utamaro’s models, one of them played by the great actress Kinuyo Tanaka. The screenplay is by Yoshitaka Yoda, who wrote or co-wrote virtually all Mizoguchi’s major works; Yoda later claimed to have unconsciously modelled this portrait of an artist on Mizoguchi himself. The director’s renowned sympathy for the plight of women is very much in evidence in this exquisitely beautiful film, perhaps his most erotic work.

REVIEWS

"One of Mizoguchi’s best."

New Yorker | full review

"[A] remarkable film ... In style it's much like Mizoguchi's later work, but less emotional, more formalized, more mysterious, and a great deal more daring aesthetically."

Time Out | full review