Kenji MizoguchiJapan95 minutes1946B&WJapanese
The most erotic and autobiographical film of the great Kenji Mizoguchi, Utamaro and His Five Women was a favourite of Susan Sontag, who selected it for her Carte Blanche programme at TIFF Cinematheque. The film draws many parallels between Mizoguchi and the woodblock print artist who is its subject: both partook of the "floating world" of geishas, and both made their formidable reputations with portraits of women. Amidst the frenzied world of 17th-century Edo, with its raucous sprawl of brothels and bars, the printmaker Utamaro patiently, painstakingly devotes himself to his art; the "five women" of the title are his models, including a courtesan (the always amazing Kinuyo Tanaka) who kills her unfaithful lover. When Utamaro is arrested for outraging a local magistrate and is forbidden to draw for 50 days, art becomes, as it no doubt was for Mizoguchi, a matter of life and death. "If you want to know how we really treat what people like to call 'the art form of our times,' you may consider the case of one of that art form's very greatest practitioners, the late Kenji Mizoguchi.... [Utamaro] is, among other things, the exercise of an exceptionally active and intricate intelligence" (Roger Greenspun, The New York Times).