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Review: One More Kazuo Miyagawa Double Feature

Today marks the end of Japan Society’s Kazuo Miyagawa retrospective, and I simply couldn’t resist squeezing in one last double feature before the curtains closed. For their big finale, the programmers chose a trio of films directed by some of the famed cinematographer’s most frequent collaborators: Kenji Mizoguchi, Kon Ichikawa, and Masahiro Shinoda. Since I’d already seen Mizoguchi’s Street of Shame, I decided to skip it in favor of the latter two screenings: Ichikawa’s Odd Obsession and Shinoda’s Ballad of Orin.

This mini-marathon ended up being the perfect conclusion to the event, beautifully showcasing the qualities that made Miyagawa such a creative genius. In Odd Obsession (which revolves around an aging, impotent curio collector’s increasingly unscrupulous attempts to provoke his faithful wife into an affair with a younger man), the camera adopts the protagonist’s voyeuristic point-of-view, creeping through claustrophobic hallways, peering around corners, and slowly pushing in on minute details—thus making the viewer an accomplice to his depraved behavior. Ballad of Orin, on the other hand, focuses on a variety of natural landscapes—snow-blanketed beaches, verdant mountain trails, sprawling fields of tall grass that dances gracefully in the breeze—emphasizing the vagabond lifestyle and low social status of our heroine, a blind itinerant musician expelled from her guild for “lewdness.”

The fact that these two movies have such distinct visual styles stands testament to the immense talent of the artist behind the lens. Miyagawa tailors his voice to fit the material; his true trademark is the obvious effort he puts into each and every project, whether he’s shooting an epic melodrama, a dark comedy, a cool gangland thriller, an unconventional documentary, a Buddhist allegory… or a borderline softcore porno.  

[Originally written April 28, 2018.]

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