Rewriting Japanese Film History: Shibuya Minoru in Retrospect

Curator's Note

Making Japanese films from the past accessible outside Japan is a big undertaking, involving negotiating rights and screening fees, preparing subtitles, and striking new prints. There's also the effort of packaging films and generating interest in them. Usually this is done through the promotion of an auteur. At the 2010 Tokyo FILMeX in November, a retrospective of films by Shibuya Minoru (1907-1980) brought to light a director almost unknown in the West. None of his films have ever been available on VHS or DVD outside Japan, and overseas screenings have been rare. Shibuya is mentioned several times, usually rather unfavorably, in Donald Richie and Joseph L. Anderson's The Japanese Film; he gets only a single mention in Richie's A Hundred Years of Japanese Film and none at all in Noel Burch's To the Distant Observer.

Though attendance at the FILMeX retrospective was (I believe) disappointing, Shibuya's films did attract interest from foreign visitors, including Ulrich Gregor (founder of the Berlinale Forum) and Li Cheuk-to (artistic director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival), who were members of the FILMeX Competition jury; and it's no doubt partly because of FILMeX's ties to those festivals that the Shibuya retrospective will shortly travel to the Berlinale (February) and the Hong Kong International Film Festival (March-April). I played my own part in promoting Shibuya as an auteur by writing an essay on Shibuya for the FILMeX catalog and a piece on one of his films, The Radish and the Carrot (Daikon to ninjin, 1964), soon to be published at Moving Image Source.

The Radish and the Carrot is of special interest because it's linked to another, far more famous auteur, Ozu Yasujiro. The film was based on notes for an unfinished script that Ozu and Noda Kogo were working on shortly before Ozu's death in 1963, and it was marketed by Shochiku as the studio's "Ozu Yasujiro Memorial Film" (kinen eiga). The clip I selected suggests how different The Radish and the Carrot is from Ozu's films. The clip also represents the style and tone that characterize some of Shibuya's most distinctive films.


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