This screening will be preceded by "Kinugasa, Crossways and the Cinematic Avant-Garde in 1920s Japan", a visual presentation about the history of this film, by writer, curator and Zipangu Fest Festival Director, Jasper Sharp.
After the release of Japan's first avant-garde feature film, A Page of Madness (Kurutta ippeiji, 1926), director Teinosuke Kinugasa retreated to safer ground with a string of more commercial jidai-geki films before his next attempt at raising the art of the nation’s cinema. Set in Tokyo's Yoshiwara pleasure district, Crossways was described by its director as a "chambara without swordfights" and was heavily influenced by German Expressionism.
Rikiya is in love with the unattainable geisha O-Ume. Stealing a kimono his sister Okiku is making in an attempt to win her over, he heads over to visit her and declare his love. Unfortunately his rival for O-Ume's affections publicly humiliates him by tearing it to shreds in front of the baying crowd at the archery ground where she plies her trade and temporarily blinds him by flinging ash into his eyes. The irate Rikiya retaliates by lunging with his sword at his rival, who promptly falls to the ground. Believing he has committed a murder, Rikiya flees back to the lodgings he shares with his sister and awaits his fate.
Crossways is a visual tour-de-force, unfolding in such powerful sequences as the series of hallucinations that accompany Rikiya's nursing back to health by his sister - a disturbing series of superimpositions and dissolves of spinning archery targets and painted geishas parading around the gaudy streets of Yoshiwara's pleasure quarters.
Kinugasa barely waited until the end of its theatrical run before hopping on the Trans-Siberian Express with a print of the film in the hope of selling it in Europe. Crossways thus became the first Japanese film to be screened widely outside of Japan when it opened in Berlin, as Im Schatten des Yoshiwara (The Shadows of Yoshiwara). It showed several cities across Europe, including London in 1930, and is also known by the titles Crossroads or Slums of Tokyo.
Long overshadowed by Kinugasa's better-known avant-garde work A Page of Madness, Crossways is rarely screened today. Zipangu Fest is delighted to be partnering with Minima, considered one of the leading bands accompanying silent film in Europe, who have composed a new score that will be performed live for this special presentation.
Teinosuke Kinugasa (1896-1982) was among the first Japanese directors to make a name for himself overseas. Born the same year motion pictures arrived in Japan, after finishing his schooling he left home to join a traveling Shinpa theatrical troupe, where he specialized in playing oyama (female impersonator) roles. He made his stage debut in 1914 and within three years was contracted to Nikkatsu studios, making his screen debut in The Seven-Colored Ring (Nana-iro no yubiwa, dir. unknown, 1917). He continued to act in both male and female roles until 1923, but by 1920 was also working behind the camera, scripting and codirecting The Death of My Sister (Imoto no shi), in which he also played the female lead. After directing several further titles for the studio, beginning with Spark (Hibana, 1922), he left the company for Makino Education Motion Picture Studios, founded by the ex-Nikkatsu director and "father of Japanese film", Makino Shōzō, where he made about a dozen films, beginning with Two Little Birds (Niwa no kotori, 1922).
In 1926, Kinugasa embarked on his best-known silent film, A Page of Madness (Kurutta ippēji), scripted by the novelist Yasunari Kawabata, an avant-garde work unlike anything else made in Japan up to that point, which he produced himself. After Crossways (Jujirō), in 1928 Kinugasa traveled across the Soviet Union to Europe, making the acquaintance of the Russian filmmakers Vsevolod Pudovkin and Sergei Eisenstein in Moscow. He found a German distributor for his film in Berlin, where it played as Im Schatten des Yoshiwara (The Shadows of Yoshiwara).
After returning to Japan, Kinugasa kept up a steady output of films for the next four decades, initially at Shochiku, where he directed the first jidai-geki talkie, The Surviving Shinsengumi (Ikinokotta shinsengumi, 1932), and the first sound version of the classic tale The Loyal 47 Ronin (Chūshingura, 1932). He moved to Toho in 1940, where his work includes the period drama The Battle of Kawanakajima (Kawanakajima kassen, 1941), the war propaganda film Forward! Flag of Independence (Susumu dokuritsuki, 1943) and the melodrama Actress
In 1949, Kinugasa moved to Daiei studios, where he realized Gate of Hell (Jigokumon, 1953), a jidai-geki set in the 12th century but based on a 20th-century story by Kikuchi Kan. It was the second color feature made in Japan, and won the Palme d'Or at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival and Best Foreign Film award at the following year's Academy Awards, owing much of its success to the beautiful cinematography of Kōhei Sugiyama, Kinugasa's collaborator since the 1920s. Kinugasa's subsequent works include a color version of The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari, 1957), and several adaptations of the Meiji-era novelist Izumi Kyōka (1873–1939), including White Heron (Shirasagi, 1958) and Disheveled Hair (Midaregami, 1961). After directing over a hundred films, his last work was the Russian coproduction The Little Runaway (Chiisai tōbōsha, 1966), codirected with Eduard Bocharov and released in Japan by Daiei.
The above biography was truncated from the entry on Kinugasa in Jasper Sharp's recent book, The Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema (Scarecrow, 2011), of which more details can be found on the publisher's website: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810857957
Minima were established in 2006 exclusively to compose and perform accompaniment soundtracks to silent film. Using electric guitar, bass, cello and drums the band perform totally live with no pre-recorded music. Minima have played to a very broad range of audiences, at venues including the Barbican, Tate Britain, the Edinburgh Fringe, the Picturehouse chain of cinemas, Bristol’s Arnolfini gallery, BFI Southbank and the East End Film Festival.
Minima perform their original soundtracks to silent feature films as well as shorts and can perform improvised soundtracks. The band have recently written scores for contemporary filmmakers; they also offer masterclasses and workshops in live silent film accompaniment. For more information, visit the band's website at http://www.minimamusic.co.uk
Gardner, William O. (Spring 2004). "New Perceptions: Kinugasa Teinosuke's Films and Japanese Modernism". Cinema Journal 43 (3): 59–78.
Gerow, Aaron. A Page of Madness: Cinema and Modernity in 1920s Japan. University of Michigan: Center for Japanese Studies, 2008.
Sharp, Jasper. "Kurutta ippeji/A Page of Madness." In The Cinema of Japan and Korea, edited by Justin Bowyer, 11–22. 24 Frames series. London: Wallflower, 2004.
Sharp, Jasper. "A Page of Madness". Midnight Eye, March 2002. http://www.midnighteye.com/features/silentfilm_pt1.shtml