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TCM Imports - March 2019
Remind Me

The Garden of Women

Set in a stifling upper-class woman's university in Kyoto, where students are taught the "virtues" of womanhood as well as the dangers of Communists and of dancing with men, The Garden of Women (1954) remains a powerful critique of a patriarchal society that crushes women's souls.

The film is also notable as the third of 12 made together by director Keisuke Kinoshita and actress Hideko Takamine over the course of 28 years. Kinoshita, despite being less-known in the United States, was considered one of the top directors in post-World War II Japan and was regularly compared to masters Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa. He was known for long, panoramic establishing shots and for his moving stories of women. In 1984, he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun from the Japanese government for his contributions to cinema.

Takamine, a popular and beloved actress in Japan for practically her entire life, made her screen debut in 1929 at the age of five and grew up as Japan's answer to Shirley Temple. She successfully transitioned to teen roles, then adult parts, and grew into one of the great actresses of Japanese cinema. She became Kinoshita's muse with their first collaboration in 1951, Carmen Comes Home, the first Japanese feature to be made in color. (Concurrently, she was also the creative muse of director Mikio Naruse.)

In a 1990 New Yorker profile of the actress written by Phyllis Birnbaum, film historian Donald Richie said, "Many of Takamine's heroines were typical of the women who had grown up after the war. Like so many Japanese women, they wanted more out of life, but couldn't get it. The war may have been over, women found, but they weren't better off... So the kind of roles Takamine played fit the zeitgeist [and] may have even made that zeitgeist."

Takamine told New York Times writer Chris Chase in 1983: "I've been in all kinds of crazy movies, some good, some not good, but through all of them I've tried to hold to one principle. I wanted my films to be family films, not movies a teenage girl has to sneak out of her house to go and see."

In the same interview, however, Takamine also denounced her profession, telling Chase that she regretted her career "every day. I hated it. For 50 years I hated it, but a sense of professional pride drove me on." To Birnbaum she poured out her feelings even more, revealing that her bitterness had formed as a child actress when her mother would apply heated makeup to her face and pressure her to succeed. "That hurt, really hurt," she said of the makeup. "I hated it. That's why I didn't like working in films. I was miserable all the time. I can't remember a single instance when I thought I liked my work. It's all the aftereffects of my childhood."

Director Kinoshita told Birnbaum that the first shot he had ever made with a movie camera was of Takamine. It was while he was working as a camera assistant on My Cheek Near Yours. "It was 1933," he recalled, "and she must have been about nine... I'll never forget what a wonderful little actress she was even then." Directing her as an adult, he found that "at the beginning of a film, I'd give her a little advice, but after that she was quick to understand a character. I'd just stand back and enjoy myself, waiting to see how she'd interpret the role. That's the most charming thing about her, her intelligence."

The duo's best-known and most commercially successful film was the one they made immediately following The Garden of Women: 24 Eyes (1954). Their final collaboration was My Son! My Son! in 1979, after which Takamine retired from the screen.

By Jeremy Arnold