best film:  Kinuyo Tanaka has as many as five films that flirt with the top five of their respective years’ top ten as Must-See films or higher. On the most recent top 500 films of all-time list, A Hen in the Wind landed just thirteen (13) slots ahead of Sansho the Bailiff. That is not all, The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu, and The Ballad of Narayama are all films that will require real consideration around the same slot when the list updates. So by an eyelash, though Takana is best known for her work with Mizoguchi, it is an Ozu’s film that wins out as the finest film she was a part of. A Hen in the Wind is the simple story of Tokiko Amamiya (just a brilliant Tanaka) who has to prostitute herself to pay for the hospital bills of her son while her husband is away at work. Ozu has loftier artistic goals in mind than just a simple drama- he weaves the story in with his trademark pillow shots and his dedication to background as well as foreground.



It is not part of Ozu’s cutaway brilliance or background/foreground dedication (on display here) but one of the strongest scenes in A Hen in the Wind is a long scene where Tanaka takes over and stares into the mirror realizing what she has to do to make ends meet for her son.



best performance:  There is no one definitive right answer here. Mizoguchi’s The Life of Oharu may slightly edge out the others but the competition is stiff, and the tiebreaker may just be how central Tanaka is to the film in comparison with some of the others where she shares some of the main duties as the main player. It also feels fitting that her best performance selection come from a Mizoguchi film.



The Life of Oharu- Kinuyo Tanaka leads the way in the best female performance of the year category in 1952. Tanaka is Mizoguchi’s titular character- a tragic victim.



stylistic innovations/traits:   Tanaka’s top five can compare with some of the best actors historically- that is her strength. Tanaka made over 200 films in her career which started as a teen in silent films and went right into the 1970s just before her death at the age of sixty-six (66). It is worth noting she had range to play older (like in Narayama beyond the age that she actually ever reached in her life)  The three-year stretch with Mizoguchi from 1952 to 1954 will be studied for centuries. Looking at her collaborators below, it is clear she had the respect and admiration of the absolute masters of Japanese cinema.



The Ballad of Narayama- set in a remote village, Kinuyo Tanaka (playing way older, and she is fantastic here) plays Orin. Orin is approaching 70-years old and in this village the tradition is that the elders are carried up to a mountain and left to die.



directors worked with:  This is just impressive- Kenji Mizoguchi (3), Yasujirō Ozu (2) and Akira Kurosawa (1). How is that for a Japanese actor working during this era?



top five performances:

  1. The Life of Oharu
  2. A Hen in the Wind
  3. The Ballad of Narayama
  4. Sansho the Bailiff
  5. Ugetsu



archiveable films

1948- A Hen in the Wind
1952- The Life of Oharu
1953- Ugetsu
1954- Sansho the Bailiff
1958- Equinox Flower
1958- The Ballad of Narayama
1965- Red Beard