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Tomu Uchida: Japanese Genre Master

September 8, 2007 - September 29, 2007

The Outsiders, September 22
© Toei

Film festivals and archives exist not only to spotlight new films or preserve canonical classics, but to join together to discover and "rescue" important bodies of work that might otherwise be forgotten. This series of the films of Japanese genre master Tomu Uchida, drawn from a retrospective originally presented by the Tokyo FILMeX festival in collaboration with Japan's National Film Center, is a dramatic case in point, offering a rare chance to see the work of a director barely known in the West.

Born in 1898, Uchida joined a theater troupe in his youth, perfecting a sense of stagecraft and theatrical aesthetics that would become the backbone of his films. He turned to directing in the late 1920s; comedies and police actioners dominated his early production, but Uchida also developed a fledgling realist aesthetic rare in the industry at the time. In 1945, he fled Tokyo and joined the leftist Manchuria Film Association, spending ten years there. His return to Japan heralded a new outburst of creativity, as he applied his talents to everything from social critiques to theater adaptations, samurai movies to gritty noir. His late-fifties output in particular could serve as a sampling of nearly every genre and pleasure that Japanese cinema can offer, and also as a snapshot of the country's postwar aesthetics, concerns, and imaginings. "Uchida crystallized the social, political and artistic passions of an epoch crucial to modern Japan," critic Max Tessier wrote, "and did so with a vitality and a love of cinema we search for in vain in the films of today."

Jason Sanders
Associate Film Notes Writer

Saturday, September 8, 2007
6:30 p.m. A Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji
Uchida's samurai "road movie" provides key insights into Japan's postwar populist and pacifist tendencies. "Both progressive and nostalgic, humanistic and nationalistic, peaceful and violent."—Craig Watts

Saturday, September 8, 2007
8:30 p.m. Yoshiwara: The Pleasure Quarter
A disfigured merchant finds love with a prostitute in Edo's infamous red light district. "Enthralling . . . the finale is a real jawdropper."—Midnight Eye

Thursday, September 13, 2007
7:30 p.m. Chikamatsu’s “Love in Osaka”
A love affair between a courtesan and a gentleman turns tragic in this classic Kabuki tale, brought to life in Uchida's gorgeously stylized adaptation. "An absolutely beautiful piece of cinema."—Midnight Eye

Saturday, September 15, 2007
6:30 p.m. The Mad Fox
Japanese folk tales meet Kabuki theater meet crazed cinematic excess in Uchida's story of a fortune teller and his lover, a fox spirit. A film of "wild and fabulous artifice."—Alexander Jacoby

Sunday, September 16, 2007
3:00 p.m. Policeman
Introduced by Sharon Hayashi. Judith Rosenberg on Piano. A rookie policeman suspects his old friend of a crime in this high-energy, visually inventive silent crime saga. With short History of Crab Temple.

Sunday, September 16, 2007
3:00 p.m. Policeman

Thursday, September 20, 2007
7:30 p.m. Twilight Saloon
Life and love in a Japanese dive bar. "Exuberant and inventive . . . A remarkably warm-hearted and accessible evocation of the postwar period."—Midnight Eye

Saturday, September 22, 2007
6:30 p.m. The Master Spearman
A disillusioned samurai retreats into simple pleasures, but cannot escape his warrior destiny, in "perhaps Uchida's strongest critique of samurai codes."—James Quandt

Saturday, September 22, 2007
8:30 p.m. The Outsiders
Uchida's masterful 'Scope epic, shot in the mountains of Hokkaido, about the reclusive Ainu people. "An undeniably exhilarating visual experience."—Midnight Eye

Saturday, September 29, 2007
6:30 p.m. A Fugitive from the Past
A murderer finds that secrets are never hidden forever in Uchida's spectacular 'Scope film noir, one of the best Japanese crime films ever. "The director's masterpiece without doubt."—Positif

Curated by Mona Nagai.

We thank the National Film Center, Tokyo, and The Japan Foundation for making this series possible. We would especially like to acknowledge the generous cooperation of Hisashi Okajima, Akira Tochigi, and Yoshiro Irie, National Film Center; Yoshihiro Nihei, The Japan Foundation, Los Angeles; James Quandt, Cinematheque Ontario; Bert-Jan Zoet, International Film Festival, Rotterdam; Yosuke Kawana and Steve Goldman, Consulate General of Japan, San Francisco; Alan Tansman, East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley; and Duncan Williams, Center for Japanese Studies (CJS), UC Berkeley.

The series is cosponsored by the Consulate General of Japan, San Francisco.

Film notes are adapted from notes by James Quandt, originally written for International Film Festival Rotterdam and Cinematheque Ontario.