Archive | September, 2013

Japanese Star in the U.S.: “The Travels of Kinuyo Tanaka”

17 Sep

The Criterion Collection edition of Kenji Mizoguchi’s THE LIFE OF OHARU (1952) includes as a special feature a 31-minute documentary entitled “The Travels of Kinuyo Tanaka” (aka “Kinuyo Returns,” according to the subtitle for the Japanese title, and  “Kinuyo Tanaka’s New Departure,” as it’s called on IMDB). Tanaka plays the title character in THE LIFE OF OHARU and starred in quite a number of films for Mizoguchi (including WOMEN OF THE NIGHT and UGETSU), as well as films by such other great Japanese directors as Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa. She’s pictured here in THE LIFE OF OHARU, in which she plays a merchant’s daughter who experiences an extraordinary series of ups and (mostly) downs as she’s buffeted by fate and the wills of men more powerful than her in 18th century Japan:

“The Travels of Kinuyo Tanaka” was made in 2009 and compiles film footage taken during Ms. Tanaka’s goodwill tour of the U.S. in 1949. Some of the footage was 35mm black-and-white and some was 16mm color Kodachrome. A few scenes have sound, but most are silent with narration in Japanese recorded 50 years after the fact. Still photos are used a lot as well. Ms. Tanaka’s voice is heard very briefly during an interview (shot in color) on her return to Hawaii just before heading back to Japan and seen late in the film. Most of the film, in fact, covers the Hawaii leg of her trip, during which she visited Japanese-American communities; performed on stage; paid calls on local politicians, including the territorial governor and the (female) territorial senator; and soaked up some local Hawaiian color, including Hawaiian-style fashions and trips to the beach.

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Alan Ladd Centennial

3 Sep

Today marks the centennial of the birth of Alan Ladd (September 3, 1913 – January 29, 1964). Ladd was in many ways the quintessential movie star of the studio era. Although his stardom was nurtured by Paramount Pictures, the studio to which he was under contract throughout the 1940s, it was the audience that made him a star. Moviegoers clearly loved him and clamored for his movies. He struck such a chord with them in the 1940s and early 1950s that pretty much anything he made satisfied them. Paramount didn’t put a lot of money into his movies nor, with rare exceptions like the 1949 version of THE GREAT GATSBY, did they allow him to take on challenging roles and riskier subject matter. He specialized in a certain kind of medium-budget, mid-range action film in various genres that formed the foundation of the studio system: crime melodramas, westerns, war movies, and globe-trotting adventures. A sampling of titles should convey the type of movie Ladd appeared in: CHINA, CALCUTTA, SAIGON, SANTIAGO, BRANDED, RED MOUNTAIN, DRUM BEAT, SASKATCHEWAN, THE BIG LAND, HELL BELOW ZERO, HELL ON FRISCO BAY, APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER, CHICAGO DEADLINE, THUNDER IN THE EAST, DESERT LEGION, THE IRON MISTRESS. He often played the reluctant hero, a loner out for himself, devoted to his own self interest, who ultimately does the right thing and helps the underdog.

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