Umetsugu Inoue: Japan’s Music Man

MAY 19-20, 26-27

“A director who had a big impact on Japanese and Hong Kong pop cinema ... Inoue’s mix of music, action, and hot young talent became a template for a new genre, called Nikkatsu Action.”

“I’m a drummer, a no-good drummer / When I get mad, I start a storm.”

Although the prolific Japanese filmmaker Umetsugu Inoue made movies in a number of genres, he may be best known as a specialist in musicals. He began making youth-oriented musicals in the 1950s at Nikkatsu, the influential Japanese genre-cinema studio that launched the career of cult favourite Seijun Suzuki. (Suzuki was the subject of a Cinematheque retrospective in 2016; Nikkatsu productions were themselves the subject of a Cinematheque exhibition in 2008.) Inoue eventually caught the eye of the famed Shaw Brothers, who hired him to apply his magic touch to Hong Kong movies in the late ’60s. This mini-retrospective, offering just a handful of the more than one hundred movies Inoue directed in his career, features four shot-in-colour gems: three newly-subtitled classics starring acting-and-singing heartthrob Yujiro Ishihara — “Japan’s Elvis and James Dean rolled into one” (Mark Schilling) — and a restored 35mm print of a film Inoue made using the rare Konicolor process.


Acknowledgments: This touring program was curated by Tom Vick, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institute (Washington, D.C.), and generously funded by the Inoue & Tsukioka Movie Foundation. Special thanks to Sabrina Baracetti, Thomas Bertacche, Roger Garcia, and Mark Schilling of the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy. Series introduction adapted from Mr. Vick’s introduction for the Smithsonian. Film descriptions for The Stormy Man, The Winner, and The Eagle and the Hawk adapted from Mark Schilling, Asia Sings! A Survey of Asian Musical Films. Film description for The Green Music Box adapted from Il Cinema Ritrovato, Cineteca di Bologna.

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Recent Showings

In the movie that made him a star, Yujiro Ishihara, the Japanese Elvis, plays a rowdy young hoodlum out to make it as a drummer in the Ginza jazz world.
Inoue’s first film with Yujiro Ishihara tells the colourful story of a punk kid who gets serious about boxing after having the tar punched out of him.
A musical action film for children, Umetsugu Inoue’s film was the first theatrical feature shot in Konicolor, a vivid, three-strip colour process.
Inoue’s follow-up to The Winner has Yujiro Ishihara as a seaman who joins the crew of a rusty cargo ship to avenge himself on his father’s enemy.