Kinuyo Tanaka (1909-1977) has long been recognised as one of the great actresses of Japanese cinema, with a career that spanned five decades of national film. Although she is often discussed in relation to her screen image as a moga (modern girl), or with regards to her collaborations with the leading filmmakers, the multi-talented Tanaka was also Japan’s second female director, after Tazuko Sakane. The 26th Leeds International Film Festival, UK, held from November 1-18, features a retrospective of Tanaka’s work that includes some of her triumphs in both professional capacities. Yasujirō Ozu’s A Hen in the Wind (1948) casts Tanaka as a wife who struggles to take care of her son as she waits for her husband to return from war, while Mikio Naruse’s Mother (1952) finds her playing a matriarch who tries to keep her family together in difficult economic circumstances, and Kenji Mizoguchi’s Sansho the Bailiff (1954) takes place in feudal Japan with Tanaka as the wife of a governor whose defence of the rights of farmers leads to tragedy for his loved-ones. Tanaka’s directorial credits are represented by The Eternal Breasts (1955), an account of a modern-minded woman who is afflicted with breast cancer, and Girls of Dark (1961), in which a prostitute tries to re-enter legitimate society when her profession is criminalised. There will also be a half-day workshop on Tanaka with presentations from Japanese films experts. This retrospective has been arranged in collaboration with the Mixed Cinema Network/Centre for World Cinemas, University of Leeds, and curated by Michael Smith, who contributed an essay on Tanaka’s career to the recently published Directory of World Cinema: Japan 2 (Intellect, 2012).
This year’s LIFF also features a number of new Asian films that are worth seeing. Wang Xiaoshuai’s 11 Flowers (China, 2012) is a coming-of-age drama set during the Cultural Revolution, while Shûichi Okita’s The Woodsman and the Rain (Japan, 2011) is an offbeat comedy about the production of a zombie movie in a mountain village. Documentary enthusiasts should be stirred by Anand Patwardhan’s Jai Bhim Comrade (India, 2011), which examines how years of oppression have affected the inhabitants of Mumbai’s slums. There is also an emphasis on animation: Kei’ichi Sato’s Asura (Japan, 2012; our review here) deals with a savage orphan who must fight to survive in a barren wasteland, while Yeon Sang-ho’s The King of Pigs (South Korea, 2011; our review here) tackles the issue of school bullying, and Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children (Japan, 2012) is a fairy-tale about a family with a dark secret. Not a new film, but certainly new to UK screens, is Chang Yong Bok’s rarely-seen martial arts curiosity Somi, the Taekwon-do Woman (Japan/North Korea), in which two peasants seek revenge on the tyrannical government that ordered the deaths of their respective parents. This unique co-production was brought to the UK in September by the Zipangu Festival, which has also partnered with LIFF to present a great double bill of monster movies by genre specialist Ishirô Honda: King Kong vs. Godzilla (Japan, 1962) and Matango (Japan, 1963). Full programme information and ticket ordering facility are available at the LIFF website: http://www.leedsfilm.com/