The older I get, the more I like watching films from the 1950s, the decade in which I was born, especially the mid-1950s. I like revisiting my favorites from that period and continually discovering new films from that time, be they westerns, dramas, crime movies, historical epics, musicals, sci-fi, horror, etc. It was a unique period for filmmaking, as Hollywood was undergoing a transition from the studio era, its ironclad contracts and ownership of theaters to one of independent production, independent theater chains, a loosening of the Production Code, more location shooting and greater acceptance by the public of foreign films. The old guard was still turning out exemplary work, as seen in the films of John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, William Wyler and King Vidor, all of whom had gotten their start during the silent era, while younger directors with bolder visions and new stylistic approaches had emerged during and after the war, including Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Elia Kazan, Anthony Mann, Vincente Minnelli, Nicholas Ray, Don Siegel, Samuel Fuller, Robert Aldrich, Douglas Sirk and Otto Preminger. In addition, a host of new talent was emerging from television, Broadway and documentaries and quickly finding their way to Hollywood, including Stanley Kubrick, Arthur Penn, Martin Ritt, Delbert Mann, Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer, and Robert Altman. These overlapping waves of directors offered an unprecedented talent pool the likes of which Hollywood has never seen since. It’s no coincidence that a group of French film critics developed the auteur theory around this time.
When I started attending Japanese film festivals in Manhattan back in the 1970s, there were loads of samurai films and films by major directors like Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and Ozu. The handful of color Japanese films from the 1950s shown back then were chiefly the few done by Mizoguchi and Ozu; the SAMURAI trilogy (1954-56) and other samurai films directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring Toshiro Mifune; and a few sci-fi films directed by Ishiro Honda, including RODAN and THE MYSTERIANS (although I first saw both of these on TV). Also shown back then was Teinosuke Kinugasa’s GATE OF HELL (1953), which I was led to believe at the time was the very first Japanese color feature (and an Academy Award winner for Best Costume Design and recipient of an Honorary Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film released in the U.S. in 1954).