An essential voice of post-war Japanese cinema, director Yûzô Kawashima is surprisingly unknown outside of Japan, where his 1957 comedy Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate is considered one of the country’s greatest films. Coming to artistic maturity in the 1950s before tragically dying at the age of 45 in 1963—at which point he had already made 47 features—Kawashima forms a key bridge between the classical cinema made in Japan before the Pacific War and the Japanese New Wave of the 1960s, one of whose key figures, Shohei Imamura (Vengeance Is Mine), served as assistant director and screenwriter under Kawashima.
Working at the Nikkatsu studio, in the 1950s Kawashima crafted numerous melodramas and comedies that brilliantly reflected the changing social standards and morals of a nation trying to recover from both the war and American occupation. Ably directing large ensembles in a mixture of adult romance and drama on the one side and ribald comedies on the other, Kawashima proved himself a studio director with an acute sense of Japanese society, eager and willing to explore the limits of what is permissible and what is transgressive. We are proud to present a large retrospective devoted to Kawashima’s work in the 1950s, with many films rarely if ever screened outside of Japan, and most shown in brand new restorations.