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Keisuke Kinoshita
Keisuke Kinoshita.jpg
Keisuke Kinoshita (early 1950s)
Masakichi Kinoshita

(1912-12-05)December 5, 1912
Died December 30, 1998(1998-12-30) (aged 86)
Tokyo, Japan
Nationality Japanese
Years active 1933–1988

Keisuke Kinoshita (木下 惠介, Kinoshita Keisuke, December 5, 1912 – December 30, 1998) was a Japanese film director and screenwriter. While lesser-known internationally than contemporaries such as Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujirō Ozu, he was a household figure in his home country, beloved by both critics and audiences from the 1940s to the 1960s. Among his best known films are Carmen Comes Home (1951), Japan's first colour feature, Tragedy of Japan (1953), Twenty-Four Eyes (1954), You Were Like a Wild Chrysanthemum (1955), Times of Joy and Sorrow (1957), The Ballad of Narayama (1958), and The River Fuefuki (1960).


Early years

Keisuke Kinoshita was born Masakichi Kinoshita on 5 December 1912, in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, as the fourth of eight children of merchant Shūkichi Kinoshita and his wife Tama. His family manufactured pickles and owned a grocery store. A film fan already in early years, he vowed to become a filmmaker, but faced opposition from his parents.

When he was in high school, a film crew arrived in Hamamatsu for location shooting one day. He befriended actor Bando Junosuke when the latter came to his store for local products. Bando later helped him run away to Kyoto where most period films were made, but his grandfather came and took him back home the next day. His determination to become a filmmaker finally moved his parents into letting him pursue his career. His mother secured him an introduction to the Shochiku Kamata studios, where Ozu, Mikio Naruse, and other famous directors worked.

Without a university education, however, Kinoshita was not allowed to work as an assistant director and had to start as a photographer; he applied to the Oriental Photography School and graduated before he was finally admitted into Shochiku. There, he first worked in the film processing laboratory, then as a camera assistant, before he became assistant director for Yasujirō Shimazu and later Kōzaburō Yoshimura. In 1940, Kinoshita was drafted into the Sino-Japanese War and went to China, but returned the following year due to an injury.

Career as director

Kinoshita re-entered Shochiku and was promoted to director in 1943. Adapting a popular play by Kazuo Kikuta, he made the comedy The Blossoming Port with a large cast and budget. The same year saw the emergence of another new director, Akira Kurosawa, but it was Kinoshita who won the much coveted New Director Award at the end of that year.

Like many Japanese filmmakers in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Kinoshita directed a film which on the surface endorsed the expansionist policy of the militarist regime, Army (1944). Yet, the famous final scene showed a mother grieving her son's departure for the front instead of cheering him. Although it passed the censors, Kinoshita met with harsh criticism and was not allowed to direct another film until the end of the Second World War. He later argued, "I can’t lie to myself in my dramas. I couldn’t direct something that was like shaking hands and saying, 'Come die.'" He returned to his hometown Hamamatsu, where he waited for the war to end.

His first post war film was Morning for the Osone Family (1946) about a family torn apart by war and conflicts between its liberal-minded and pro-militarist members. The final scene, with the remaining family greeting the rising sun, was demanded by the American censorship board against Kinoshita's objections. In the following years, he worked in a variety of genres, including comedy, period and contemporary drama, ghost story, and thriller. Highly successful was the romantic comedy Here’s to the Young Lady (1949) starring Setsuko Hara.

In 1951, Kinoshita travelled to France to meet his idol, French director René Clair. As Kinoshita stated, another reason for the travel was to see his home country from a different perspective. The same year saw the release of the musical comedy Carmen Comes Home, Japan's first colour feature. Due to technical and financial reasons, a black-and-white version was also filmed and released. Carmen Comes Home was the first collaboration of Kinoshita with actress Hideko Takamine, who appeared in many of his later films. Early on, Kinoshita gathered a steady group of co-workers around him: Takamine, Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiko Kuga, Keiji Sada and Yūko Mochizuki had repeated starring or bigger supporting roles, while his brother Chuji (also credited Tadashi) scored, and cinematographer Hiroshi Kusuda photographed many of his films. His sister Yoshiko Kusuda, wife of Hiroshi Kusuda, wrote the screenplay for Farewell to Dream (1956).

The mid-1950s marked the release of two of Kinoshita's most acclaimed films, Twenty-Four Eyes (1954), a portrait of a school teacher who sees the dreams of her young pupils fall apart due to economical constraints and the war, and You Were Like a Wild Chrysanthemum (1955), a Meiji era period drama about the unfulfilled love between two teenagers. Also highly popular was the lighthouse keeper drama Times of Joy and Sorrow (1957), which was repeatedly remade in later years, including one version by Kinoshita himself. The Ballad of Narayama (1958), a highly stylised period drama about the legendary ubasute practice, was entered into the 19th Venice International Film Festival, but met with very mixed reactions.

By the mid 1960's, Kinoshita had turned solely to television work. Film historian Donald Richie saw the period war drama The River Fuefuki (1960) and The Scent of Incense (1964), which follows a troubled mother-daughter-relationship over a span of 4 decades, as the director's last notable works. Alexander Jacoby also found the 1960 satire Spring Dreams noteworthy, which he called "quirkily enjoyable".

Like directors of the previous generation as Ozu and Naruse, Kinoshita stayed loyal to one film studio (Shochiku) before turning to television, and often worked for Shochiku even in later years, while other directors of his generation as Yoshimura and Kaneto Shindō, and even the older Heinosuke Gosho, had started working independently for different studios by the early 1950s.

Although few concrete details have emerged about Kinoshita's personal life, his homosexuality was widely known in the film world. Screenwriter and frequent collaborator Yoshio Shirasaka recalls the "brilliant scene" Kinoshita made with the handsome, well-dressed assistant directors he surrounded himself with. His 1959 film Farewell to Spring has been called "Japan's first gay film" for the emotional intensity depicted between its male characters.

Kinoshita died on December 30, 1998, of a stroke. His grave is in Engaku-ji in Kamakura, very near to that of his fellow Shochiku director, Yasujirō Ozu.


Films directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Year English Title Japanese Title Romanisation Alternate titles
Films in the 1940s
1943 Port of Flowers 花咲く港 Hana saku minato
The Living Magoroku 生きてゐる孫六 Ikite iru Magoroku
1944 Jubilation Street 歓呼の町 Kanko no Machi
Army 陸軍 Rikugun
1946 Morning for the Osone Family 大曾根家の朝 Ōsone-ke no asa
The Girl I Loved わが恋せし乙女 Ikite iru Magoroku
1947 Phoenix 不死鳥 Fushichō
Marriage 結婚 Kekkon
1948 Woman Onna The Lady
The Portrait 肖像 Shōzō
Apostasy 破戒 Hakai
1949 Here’s to the Young Lady お嬢さん乾杯! Ojōsan kanpai! Let's Toast the Young Lady
The Yotsuya Ghost Story I & II 新釈四谷怪談(前後編) Shin'yaku Yotsuya kaidan (sengo hen)
Broken Drum 破れ太鼓 Yabure daiko
Films in the 1950s
1950 Wedding Ring 婚約指環 Kon'yaku yubiwa Engagement Ring
1951 The Good Fairy 善魔 Zenma
Carmen Comes Home カルメン故郷に帰る Karumen kokyō ni kaeru
Boyhood 少年期! Shōnenki A Record of Youth
Fireworks over the Sea 海の花火 Umi no hanabi Fireworks by the Ocean
1952 Carmen's Pure Love カルメン純情す Karumen junjōsu
1953 A Japanese Tragedy 日本の悲劇 Nihon no higeki Tragedy of Japan
1954 The Garden of Women 女の園 Onna no sono
Twenty-Four Eyes 二十四の瞳 Nijushi no hitomi
1955 The Tattered Wings 遠い雲 Tōi kumo Distant Clouds
She Was Like a Wild Chrysanthemum 野菊の如き君なりき Nogiku no gotoki kimi nariki You Were Like a Wild Chrysanthemum a.k.a. My First Love Affair
1956 Farewell to Dream 夕やけ雲 Yūyake-gumo Clouds at Twilight
The Rose on His Arm 太陽とバラ Taiyō to bara
1957 Times of Joy and Sorrow 喜びも悲しみも幾歳月 Yorokobi mo kanashimi mo ikutoshitsuki The Lighthouse
Danger Stalks Near 風前の灯 Fūzen no tomoshibi
1958 The Ballad of Narayama 楢山節考 Narayama bushi kō
The Eternal Rainbow この天の虹 Kono ten no niji
1959 The Snow Flurry 風花 Kazabana
Farewell to Spring 惜春鳥 Sekishunchō
Thus Another Day 今日もまたかくてありなん Kyō mo mata kakute arinan
Films in the 1960s
1960 Spring Dreams 春の夢 Haru no yume
The River Fuefuki 笛吹川 Fuefukigawa
1961 Immortal Love 永遠の人 Eien no hito The Bitter Spirit
1962 This Year's Love 今年の恋 Kotoshi no koi
Ballad of a Workman 二人で歩いた幾春秋 Futari de aruita ikushunjū
1963 Sing, Young People! 歌え若人達 Utae wakōdotachi
A Legend or Was It? 死闘の伝説 Shitō no densetsu Legend of a Duel to the Death
1964 The Scent of Incense 香華 Kōge
1967 Lovely Flute and Drum なつかしき笛や太鼓 Natsukashiki fue ya taiko
Films in the 1970s–1980s
1976 Love and Separation in Sri Lanka スリランカの愛と別れ Suri Ranka no ai to wakare
1979 Oh, My Son! 衝動殺人・息子よ Shōdō satsujin musuko yo My Son! My Son! a.k.a. Impulse Murder
1980 The Young Rebels 父よ母よ! Chichi yo, haha yo!
1983 Children of Nagasaki この子を残して Kono ko o nokoshite
1986 Big Joys, Small Sorrows 新・喜びも悲しみも幾歳月 Shin yorokobi mo kanoshimi mo ikutoshitsuki
1988 Father Chichi

Main themes and style

Although not limited to a certain genre, the two main veins of Kinoshita's work were comedy and melodrama. A major theme was the depiction of national history in personal terms, chronicling families or communities over a certain span of time. Also, his films often concentrated on the sufferings of children in oppressive circumstances, and showed a general sympathy with the socially marginalised. Working less on an analytical but an intuitive level, Kinoshita's films showed, according to Alexander Jacoby, an occasional simplicity and naivety, yet in the cases of Twenty-Four Eyes and You Were Like a Wild Chrysanthemum, they were among the most purely moving of Japanese cinema. Donald Richie also pointed out the satire and comedy of character in Kinoshita's comedy films, and an emotional earnestness which exceeded sentimentality in his serious films. Sometimes critical of his later work, Richie detected an increasing traditionalism in films like The Ballad of Narayama, The River Fuefuki and Scent of Incense.

Although he often adapted literary works from writers like Tōson Shimazaki, Kunio Kishida and Isoko Hatano, many of his screenplays were based on his original idea. Kinoshita explained his prolific output with the fact that he "can’t help it. Ideas for films have always just popped into my head like scraps of paper into a wastebasket." Some of his scripts were realised by other directors, including the acknowledged directorial debut of actress Kinuyo Tanaka, Love Letter (1953).

Kinoshita was also an avid stylist who experimented with cinematic form in his films. He used expressionist camera angles in Carmen's Innocent Love, daguerreotype-like framing of images in She Was Like a Wild Chrysanthemum, or partial tinting to evoke the impression of Japanese woodblock prints in The River Fuefuki. In A Japanese Tragedy, he interspersed newsreel footage, and drew upon kabuki stage effects in The Ballad of Narayama. The Snow Flurry told its story in a fragmented, nonlinear manner, preceding the New Wave.


In 1946 Masaki Kobayashi became Kinoshita's assistant and later formed with him, Akira Kurosawa, and Kon Ichikawa a directors group called Shiki no kai (The Four Horsemen Club). The goal was to produce films for a younger audience, but only one project was realised, Kurosawa's Dodes'ka-den (1970).

Director Tadashi Imai was an outspoken admirer of Kinoshita's work, and Nagisa Ōshima named The Garden of Women as the film which led to his decision to become a filmmaker himself in his 1995 documentary 100 Years of Japanese Cinema.

Honours and awards

Kinoshita received the Order of the Rising Sun in 1984 and was awarded the Order of Culture and Person of Cultural Merit in 1991 by the Japanese government. In 1999, he received the Blue Ribbon Special Award and the Mainichi Film Concours Special Award for his life achievement. His birth town Hamamatsu established the "Keisuke Kinoshita Memorial Museum" to commemorate him.

A retrospective on Kinoshita with 15 of his films was held at the Lincoln Center, New York, in 2012. In 2013, five of Kinoshita's films — Jubilation Street (1944), Woman (1948), Engagement Ring (1950), Farewell to Dream (1956) and A Legend or Was It? (1963) — were screened in the Forum section of the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.

Awarded films

Morning for the Osone Family
  • Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film
Carmen Comes Home
  • Mainichi Film Concours for Best Screenplay
A Japanese Tragedy
  • Blue Ribbon Award for Best Screenplay
  • Mainichi Film Concours for Best Screenplay
Twenty-Four Eyes
  • Blue Ribbon Award for Best Film and Best Screenplay
  • Mainichi Film Concours for Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay
  • Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film
  • Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film
  • voted at position #6 on the 2009 All Time Best Japanese Movies list by readers of Kinema Junpo
The Garden of Women
  • Blue Ribbon Award for Best Screenplay
  • Mainichi Film Concours for Best Director and Best Screenplay
The Rose on His Arm
  • Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film
The Ballad of Narayama
  • Mainichi Film Concours for Best Film and Best Director
  • Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film and Best Director
Immortal Love
  • nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film

See also

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