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May 4 – 13, 2018

Umetsugu Inoue, Japan’s Music Man

Although Japanese filmmaker Umetsugu Inoue made movies in a number of genres, he may be best known as a specialist in musicals. He began making musicals at Nikkatsu Studios in the 1950s, eventually catching the eye of the famed Shaw Brothers, who hired him to apply his magic touch to Hong Kong movies in the late 60s. Though this retrospective includes just a handful of the more than one hundred movies he made in his career, it features three newly subtitled classics, a restored print of a film he made using the rare Konicolor process and one of his standout Hong Kong efforts. – Tom Vick, Curator of Film, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution

Curated by Tom Vick and generously funded by the Inoue & Tsukioka Movie Foundation.

Special thanks: Sabrina Baracetti, Thomas Bertacche, Roger Garcia and Mark Schilling—the Far East Film Festival, Udine, Italy and the National Film Archive of Japan, Tokyo.

Friday May 4 at 7pm
Sunday May 6 at 7pm

The Stormy Man
(Arashi o yobu otoko)

Directed by Umetsugu Inoue. With Yujiro Ishihara, Kyoji Aoyama, Mie Kitahara
Japan 1957, DCP, color, 101 min. Japanese with English subtitles

The film that made Yujiro Ishihara a star and the Nikkatsu studio solvent, The Stormy Man stars Ishihara as Shoichi Kokubu, a young drummer who employs both his hands and his fists in the Ginza jazz world. His younger brother Eiji supports his ambitions and helps find him a manager in Fukushima Miyako, who is as sassy and smart as she is gorgeous. Their mother, however, is stubbornly opposed to Shoichi’s choice of careers—a constant source of pain for him and of annoyance for the audience.

Miyako takes Shoichi into her spacious Western-style house, where he can practice without disturbance. She also begins to take a more than professional interest in him, while maintaining her all-business facade. He feels the same tug—but his first priority is to beat Charley Sakurada, the best drummer in the Ginza and an arrogant wit with gang connections.

Released in the peak New Year’s season, The Stormy Man became the third biggest box-office hit of 1957. It also solidified Inoue’s reputation as a maker of hit musicals. For its young audience, who clapped and cheered as Ishihara sang “Ore wa dorama, yakuza na dorama” (“I’m a drummer, a no-good drummer”), the film was an event, a generational marker, and a much-revived classic. Today it still packs musical excitement—and presents Japan’s premier movie star at his most charismatic. Inoue remade the film for Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong as King Drummer (1967). - Adapted from Mark Schilling in Asia Sings! A Survey of Asian Musical Films.

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Friday May 4 at 9pm
Sunday May 6 at 4pm

The Winner (Shori-sha)

Directed by Umetsugu Inoue. With Yujiro Ishihara, Mie Kitahara, Keiji Itami
Japan 1957, DCP, color, 98 min. Japanese with English subtitles

Umetsugu Inoue’s first film with Yujiro Ishihara, The Winner tells the story of a punk kid who tries boxing as a lark, gets the tar punched out of him and starts training for real. His manager is a former contender who sees the boy as way to realize a championship dream that he himself could never fulfill.

Inspired by the 1948 classic The Red Shoes, Inoue added a subplot about an up-and-coming ballerina who falls in love with the boxer. Her graceful solo dance, presented in a thirteen-minute cut, with a young Akira Kobayashi as a transfixed spectator is one of the film’s highlights.

Another high point is the climatic fight scene that Inoue filmed with more than two hundred cuts over four days. To save time and money, he shot the entire scene from one side, changing the colors of the two corners to create the illusion that the action was unfolding in 360 degrees. Ishihara’s opponent was a former champion boxer, but Ishihara, blessed with athletic ability and quick hands, gave as good as he got.

The Winner lived up to its name at the box office and proved, to Inoue’s satisfaction at least, that Ishihara could carry a film. (The studio bosses would need a bit more convincing.) It also established the template—action with musical interludes—for dozens of Nikkatsu films to come. – Adapted from Mark Schilling in Asia Sings! A Survey of Asian Musical Films.

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Special $5 Saturday Matinee Admission
Saturday May 5 at 3pm

The Green Music Box
(Midori harukani)

Directed by Umetsugu Inoue. With Ruriko Asaoka, Frankie Sakai, Minoru Takada
Japan 1955, 35mm, color, 90 min. Japanese with English subtitles

The first feature-length theatrical film shot in Konicolor, The Green Music Box is based on the eponymous novel by Makoto Hojo. A musical action film for children, the movie typifies Umetsugu Inoue’s creative use of color. It marks the debut of fourteen-year-old Ruriko Asaoka, whose character becomes entangled with a spy trying to steal her father’s secrets. The cast also includes the talented comedian Frankie Sakai. Asaoka would sustain a career in Nikkatsu action and melodrama pictures through the following decades, while Sakai brought his inimitable sly humor to a number of Yuzo Kawashima’s vibrant dark comedies. The restored 35mm Konicolor print is from the Collection of the National Film Archive of Japan, Tokyo. - Adapted from Il Cinema Ritrovato.

Also screening as part of the Saturday Matinee series.

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Saturday May 5 at 7pm
Sunday May 13 at 4pm

The Eagle and the Hawk
(Washi to taka)

Directed by Umetsugu Inoue. With Yujiro Ishihara, Rentaro Mikuni, Ruriko Asaoka
Japan 1957, DCP, color, 115 min. Japanese with English subtitles

In Inoue’s follow-up to The Winner, Yujiro Ishihara plays a seaman who joins the crew of a rusty cargo ship to avenge himself on his father’s enemy. Also on board is another new hand with a secret, played by a buff, shirtless Rentaro Mikuni. Ishihara’s bad attitude immediately gets him into trouble with the crew, which he escapes with his fists. He finds an unlikely ally in Mikuni, who has reason to dislike and distrust him. Ishihara also attracts the attention of the two women on board, a sultry stowaway and the captain’s high-spirited daughter—played by Ruriko Asaoka—who has already been claimed by the short-fused first mate.

The story, which Inoue first scripted when he was still an assistant director, does not play out in obvious ways, just as Ishihara’s character is hard to classify. He is neither a heartless toughie nor a pure-minded exemplar, but something new to Japanese films: a dirty hero with his own sense of justice and a way with song.

Inoue shot nearly the entire film aboard a real WWII cargo ship in Tokyo Bay, halting only when a typhoon threatened to send his ship, cast and crew to the bottom. The real pitching, rolling, and spray of seawater he captured add to the air of danger, excitement and, in the scenes of a cocky Ishihara singing to a wary-but-fascinated Asaoka, erotic tension. - Adapted from Mark Schilling in Asia Sings! A Survey of Asian Musical Films.

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Saturday May 5 at 9:15pm

Hong Kong Nocturne
(Xiang jiang hua yue ye)

Directed by Umetsugu Inoue. With Peter Chen Ho, Cheng Pei-pei, Chin Ping
Hong Kong 1967, digital video, color, 128 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

Hong Kong’s mighty Shaw Brothers studio lent a new sheen to the territory’s musicals in the mid-1960s when it brought in director Umetsugu Inoue from Japan. A standout among Inoue’s seventeen productions for Shaw is Hong Kong Nocturne, a lavish song, dance and drama confection that reworked his earlier Japanese film Tonight We’ll Dance against new backdrops.
Cheng Pei-pei, Lily Ho and Chin Ping star as the Chia sisters, the backup troupe for their musician father on Hong Kong’s nightclub circuit. When they become fed up with Dad siphoning away their salaries, the girls leave home to pursue ballet, screen stardom or marriage. The trio eventually overcome personal obstacles, band together, and aim to hit the big time in the televised Hong Kong Music Lovers a-go-go stage show.

Melodrama piles on thick and fast when a show-must-go-on plot takes root, but the Chia sisters and their friends remain happy to step out with spontaneous song. Wild flights of fantasy appear in one sister’s dreams, and the girls’ partnership with a budding composer brings a local theme to their ultimate production, a widescreen musical extravaganza on expansive, Broadway-style sets. Though the lead actresses did not lend their voices to the movie’s soundtrack—a job left to pros like singer Tsin Ting—the three display ample dance floor talents and remain a joy to follow as they struggle to fulfill their dreams of the spotlight. - Adapted from Tim Youngs in Asia Sings! A Survey of Asian Musical Films.

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