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Ginza Cosmetics

Ginza Cosmetics (1951)

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teaser Ginza Cosmetics (1951)

Ginza Cosmetics marked the beginning of the greatest period in Japanese director Mikio Naruse's career, and an important collaboration with leading lady Kinuyo Tanaka. A star since the 1930s (she was known as "the Bette Davis of Japan") and a favorite of director Kenji Mizoguchi, Tanaka found a sympathetic ally in Naruse, who offered new challenges and a change of direction in her career as she entered middle age. Naruse was known as a gifted women's director (his own muse was Tanaka's friend Hideko Takamine) who excelled at domestic dramas and the working class stories known as "shomin-geki," perhaps because they reflected his own poor, unhappy background.

Naruse was born in 1905 to an impoverished family, and his personal circumstances determined the arc of his career for a long time. Unable to pursue an education, he enrolled in a trade school, and at age 15, he began working as a prop man at Shochiku Studios. Unlike his contemporaries Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu, who quickly went from apprentices to directors, the diffident Naruse rose more slowly. Finally, after eight years as an assistant director, he got his chance to direct in 1930, at a time when Japan was still making silent films. Disappointed with his prospects and his assignments, he left Shochiku for the company that would become Toho. There, he made his first major film, Wife, Be Like a Rose! (1935), which won a prestigious award from Kinema Jumpo magazine. Naruse worked steadily throughout the prewar and war years, but accepted whatever assignments the studio offered, and it was not until the early 1950s that he began to produce the quality work for which he is best known.

In Ginza Cosmetics, Tanaka plays Yukiko, an aging nightclub "hostess" and single mother, struggling to get by in Tokyo's Ginza entertainment district. Taken advantage of by clients and co-workers, tired of her job but unable to come up with an alternative, Yukiko soldiers on, determined and practical. "Once you hit 40, you can't really do it," she says matter-of-factly about her profession. Then Yukiko meets a young man who awakens her long-buried intellectual and romantic longings. Almost as fascinating as the conflicting emotions visible under Yukiko's sensible surface are the glimpses of occupied and emerging postwar Tokyo, such as the Ginza clubs flaunting English and European names like "Vogue Cabaret," and "Bel Ami," the new construction over war ruins hinting at a future bustling Japan. According to scholar of Japanese film Audie Bock, Naruse, a loner and pessimist, drew on his own nightly forays into the Ginza more than he did on the film's source novel.

Tanaka's prolific career had begun as a teenager in 1924, and had included acting in Japan's first sound film and first color film, as well as working with all the major Japanese directors of the era. By the time she retired in 1976, shortly before her death, she had appeared in more than 250 films. In 1949, Tanaka became the first Japanese movie actress to make a goodwill trip to the United States, visiting her favorite American star Bette Davis at her home, and touring MGM studios and meeting stars and studio dignitaries. She returned to Japan inspired by her trip, and determined to become a director. Mizoguchi, her mentor and lover, was the head of the directors' union, and opposed her ambition to direct. It was Naruse who supported her and hired her as assistant director on one of his films so she could learn on the job. After directing six films, which were not commercially successful, Tanaka gave up directing and returned to acting.

Naruse worked steadily until 1967, but his work, with its simple, stripped-down style and bleak working class themes, did not receive many accolades in his native Japan, nor even distribution or attention internationally. He died in 1969, before his work was seen and admired around the world.

Director: Mikio Naruse
Producer: Motohiko Ito
Screenplay: Matsuo Kishi, based on the novel by Tomoichiro Inoue
Cinematography: Akira Mimura
Editor: Hidetoshi Kasama
Art Direction: Takashi Kono
Music: Seiichi Suzuki
Principal Cast: Kinuyo Tanaka (Yukiko Suji), Ranko Hanai (Shizue Sayama), Yuji Hori (Kyosuke Iwagawa), Kyoko Kagawa (Kyoko), Eijiro Yanagi (Seikichi Kineya), Eijiro Tono ((Hyobei Sugano), Yoshihiro Nishikubo (Haruo), Haruo Tanaka (Gonroku Shirai), Yoshio Kosugi (Eijiro Kasai)
87 minutes

by Margarita Landazuri

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