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The Water Magician + short films

A woman in traditional Japanese dress.
April 20, 2024 - 7:30 pm
Live narration by benshi Ichirō Kataoka, Kumiko Ōmori and Hideyuki Yamashiro.

Admission is free. No advance reservations. Your seat will be assigned to you when you pick up your ticket at the box office. Seats are assigned on a first come, first served basis. The box office opens one hour before the event.

The Dull Sword

Namakura Gatana, Japan, 1917

An overly confident samurai looks for unsuspecting victims on which to try out his new sword but neither his targets nor his weapon prove willing to play along. The Dull Sword is the oldest known surviving example of moving image anime, simply drawn but highly expressive in its satirical take on period genre conventions.

DCP, silent, tinted, 5 min. Director: Junichi Kōchi. DCP courtesy of the National Film Archive of Japan.

A Straightforward Boy

Japan, 1929

Precocious children often take center stage in the works of Japanese master Ozu Yasujirō (I Was Born, But…, Good Morning) with this fragment of a silent comedy short offering an early glimpse of his felicity with childhood. Trouble abounds for a pair of kidnappers who underestimate the energies of their young abductee who quickly challenges their patience for the job. This version includes seven more minutes than the previously known extant versions thanks to a newly discovered print. 

DCP, silent, tinted, 21 min. Director: Ozu Yasujirō. Screenwriters: Tadao Ikeda, Chuji Nozu. With: Tatsuo Saitō, Tomio Aoki, Takeshi Sakamoto.

The Golden Flower

Japan, 1929

This charming example of stop-motion collage tells the story of a ceremonial dancer who encounters a demon serpent in the hills while on his way home after performing at a harvest festival. He escapes the encounter and returns with a group of villagers to destroy the creature but its spirit has the last laugh. Produced by studio Chiyogami Eiga-sha, The Golden Flower suggests the rich variety of styles being explored by early Japanese animators.

35mm, silent, 17 min. Director: Noburō Ōfuji. 

The Water Magician

Japan, 1933

The elements of director Kenji Mizoguchi’s mature style are evident everywhere in this galvanizing melodrama adapted from a novel by Kyōka Izumi. High-angle shots and sweeping camera movements lend a distinctly modern dynamism to the story of a woman (Takako Irie) who sacrifices everything she has to ensure the future of a young man (Tokihiko Okada) who captures her imagination. Irie delivers a powerful, moving performance as a theater performer whose good deed leads to tragedy as Mizoguchi (Ugetsu, The Life of Oharu) interrogates the shifting strata of Japanese society. Of course, benshi played an essential role in the original release of The Water Magician in Japan but the benshi of a generation later played an equally important role in the film’s restoration in 2006.

DCP, silent, 102 min. Director: Kenji Mizoguchi. Screenwriters: Kennosuke Tateoka, Yasunaga Higashibōjō, Shinji Masuda. With: Takako Irie, Tokihiko Okada, Ichirō Sugai. DCP courtesy of the National Film Archive of Japan.