Kinoshita Keisuke (1912-1998)


When they both died in 1998, Japanese media treated film directors Kurosawa Akira and Kinoshita Keisuke as equally important cultural figures. In the English-speaking world, Kurosawa was and is far more prominent. The Criterion Collection has made films directed by both available and is streaming 42 Kinoshita films on Hulu. In a two-month binge I went from never having seen a Kinoshita film to having seen 42. (There are another nine that are not available.)

Lacking a university education, Kinoshita was not allowed to start as an assistant director at Shochiku Studio, the company that distributed all his films (I think), even after it ceased to be/have a studio.

Kinoshita was drafted in 1940 and deployed to China, demobilized for illness (like the father in “Army” in an earlier Japanese war). Both Kurosawa and Kinoshita directed their first films in 1943, both from novels famous in Japan, Sanshiro Sugata (aka “Judo Saga”) and Port of Blossoms. There is the setting in the past that recurred in Kurosawa films and the comic elements (the two con men who get swept up for real in what was supposed to be their con) in the maiden voyages of both directors.


Kurosawa later wrote a script (The Portrait) that Kinoshita directed. The one Kinoshita reciprocated with became “Japanese Tragedy,” after the assistant Kurosawa wanted to promote did not feel up to directing it. The two of them along with Kinoshita’s protégé Kobayashi and with Kichikawa Kon formed a production company, Shiki no kai (The Four Horsemen Club). The failure of “Dodesukaden,” directed by Kurosawa in 1970 (the only Kurosawa movie I actively dislike) ended that venture. After the other three had died, Ichikawa directed the screenplay the four had collaborated on as “Dora heita” (alleycat) in 2000. (It is a period piece resembling “Yojimbo,” so seems like second-rate Kurosawa.)

I have been especially interested in the attitude towards what the Japanese call “the Pacific War” (though for them, much of it took place conquering areas of Asia; Japan did not participate in the First World [sic.] War”). I detect some satire of patriotic fervor in “Port of Blossoms” and even more in “Army” (which was produced by the Japanese army), along with the famous finale of anticipatory grief on the part of the mother whose son is marching off in uniform. The militarists are excoriated in “Jubilation Street” with the villain being a colonel or general who expropriates military stores to begin black market profiteering on the day of surrender in “Morning for the Osone Family.” Much later, in “Children of Nagasaki” (1983) responsibility for prolonging the war with no hope for victory is squarely laid on the Japanese military command. The 1960 “The River Fuefuki” set at the end of the 16th century shows the roots in Japanese character of making war with no prospect of winning that is also, I think, directed at the overlords who drafted and deployed Kinoshita.

There are also portrayals of rural intolerance for families relocated from Tokyo in “A Record of Youth” (1952) and “Legend of a Duel to the Death” (1963) and the portrayal of a silenced dissident in Kinoshita’s most popular move, the 1954 “24 Eyes.” . There is poined social criticism in many others, including especially “Apostasy” (Haksi, 1948), “The Ballad of Narayama” (1958), “My Son! My Son!” (1979), and “The Young Rebels” (1980), along with many portrayals of class differences having painful effects on life chances (particularly matrimonial ones).

Though admiring the look of Kinoshita movies, I have recurrently expressed my dismay at the musical scores his brother (Chûji) provided  — along with expression of admiration for the cinematography their brother-in-law, Kusuda Hiroshi provided, realizing the visual intent of Kinoshita Keisuke, who himself began as a photographer. “I had to have someone who would do exactly as I wanted,” Kinoshita told Audie Bock. Perhaps even more importantly was someone who understood what he wanted


like the comedies the best, and “Spring Dreams” (1960) the most of these, followed by “A Broken Drum” (1949), “Carmen Comes Home” (1951, the first Japanese film in color), and the black comedy “Danger Stalks Near” (1957).

Though Kurosawa had a large range, it is for movies set before the Meiji Restoration (starring Mifune Toshrio and/or Nakadai Tatsuya along with Shimura Takashi) for which he was and is known (in the west). Kinoshita directed (usually from his own scripts) more films set in the present or recent past than Kurosawa, and in a wide range of genres, including a two-part ghost story, the aforementioned comedies, war films, “women’s pictures” (josei eiga, bittersweet romances and aha mogo, “(venerated self-sacrificing) mother films”), tragedies, quasi-documentaries, a quasi-kabuki film (Narayama), war movies, social problems (melo)dramas.

Between 1943 and 1963, Kinoshita directed two or three films a year (except in 1945, the year of the atomic bombs and the end of the war). Between 1965 and 1978, he made only two, the Japanese film history in general and Shochiku in particular, having collapsed, and after directing another six between 1979 and 1988, he did not direct any during the last decade of his life. Kurosawa and Kobayashi also had great difficulties in getting support to make the movies they wanted to make (Ichikawa did what others wanted, not having his wife-scenarist, Wada Natto, to adapt material and provide input on what he shot.)

His films were largely edited in the camera. “After doing my own writing, directing of actors and camera setups, I’d rather have a little time left to eat, drink, and talk about movies with my friends” than do the mechanical work of cutting, he also told Bock.

Kinoshita was a major auteur (writing and directing what to a significant extent were family projects) and I am grateful to Hula for making much of his output available with well-subtitled streaming videos.

On to Kobayashi, whose first films had considerable involvement from the Kinoshitas, in the fourth of my surveys here of Japanese humanist film directors.

The quotations are from Audie Bock’s 1978 book Japanese Film Directors.

In addition to a set of Kinoshita’s first five movies, Criterion has released “24 Eyes” and “The Ballad of Narayama” on disc. Oddly they have not made the one that was Oscar-nominated (Immortal Love) or one of the two that was Golden Globe nominated (“The Rose on His Arm”; the other was “24 Eyes.”)

©2016, Stephen O. Murray


12 thoughts on “Kinoshita Keisuke (1912-1998)”

  1. I’m very surprised that you’ve seen so many Kinoshita’s films.
    I would like to recommend you his ‘KOGE”(one of his masterpieces) and “THIS YEAR’S LOVE” (very funny comedy). I’m so sorry they are not available in your county.

    I’m not understand English well so it takes long time to read your blog (not only so that I might not understand what you wrote correctly. Sorry), so I’ve not yet read all of them.
    But I can’t resist to write to you.
    There is difficulty when foreign people understand foreign culture.
    So I’ll give you some tips that helps you to understand Kinoshita’s films.

    1.Colour of wild Chrysanthemum
    When Japanese imagine “Wild Chrysanthemums”, we think of not yellow but pale purple or white. See photos

    2. Kazabana
    I’m sorry some foreign movie web sites express “Kazabana” as “Snow Flurry.
    But ”Kazahana” is correct. Both “kazahana” and “Kazabana” use same Chinese characters, but we pronounce them “KAZAHANA” . The first Chinese character means “wind” and the last one means “flower”. It means a kind of snow which fall with wind and melt in the air before they landed.

    3 music of “Twenty-Four Eyes”
    When Kinoshita made this film, He asked his brother Chuji( He is 100 years old now. He is still very healthy and clearheaded!) “Chiji, this time I don’t need your music”. So he use music which were familiar to Japanese people especially they often sing and listen in their school days…almost of Japanese didn’t (don’t) know “Annie Laurie,” “Auld Lang” (and so on) were foreign songs as they have Japanese words (sometimes they were changed its meaning (not by Chuji! but other songwriters before….In short , almost of Japanese don’t know original meanings… include Kinoshita(probably)
    In this film they recorded (lines and songs) and shot at the same time at the site (the first attempt in Japan!). So Kinoshita had to write lots of note to his scenario though usually he never such behavior.
    In Japan ,‘HOTARU NO HIKARI(Auld Lang)’ is a parting song too, but there is no ‘drink liquor’ in the words. In it, student who is departing(graduate) school look back his school life and wishing happiness to friends.

    4 “Danger Stalks Near” and “Years of Joy and Sorrow”
    I take you haven’t seen “Years of Joy and Sorrow”.
    To tell the truth, “Years of Joy and Sorrow”. and “Danger Stalks Near” are films which are like head and tail of a coin. If you enjoy “Danger Stalks Near” more, You should see “Years of Joy and Sorrow”. Kinoshita made “Danger Stalks Near” as parody of “Years of Joy and Sorrow”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for reading and for trying to explain some context. There are only seven Kinoshita movies available on DVD in the US. In a two-month span I watched all 41 Kinoshita films streaming on Hulu and wrote about them more or less in chronological order. I’d love to see “Years of Joy and Sorrow,” especially since I like Kinoshita’s comedies the best.

    Though his brother Chûji’s musical recycling and recycling and recycling (of Bach in one movie, of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” in another and “Auld Lang Syne” (which means “Old Long Since,” though I doubt very many English-speakers know that!) in “24 Eyes”) amps up sentimentality. Japanese viewers may not recognize the thefts, but if these seem to natives to be Japanese songs, the way they are repeated must be aural clichés in Japan, too.

    “Kazabana” was the IMDB rendering of the Japanese title. I didn’t criticize the translation, as I have the titles of some other Japanese movies, mostly from the Chinese characters, though I am aware that the meanings of the Chinese characters has not always been carried over in Japanese usage.


    1. Thanks for your reply.
      I need time to write about music about Twenty-Four Eyes. I’ll write again later.

      According from a talk of Koji Yokobori who was an assistant director of Kinoshita, The black friend in ‘Father’ is Charles Boyde (sorry I don’t know the exact spelling). He is not a professional actor but liaison soldier of USA army and appeared another Japanese film too.
      Kinoshita was going to China as soon as he finishes ‘Father’ to shoot his next film ‘SENJO NO KATAKI YAKUSOKU (the solemn promise at battle field)’ which is a joint production with China. According from a talk of Shigeru Wakita who was a producer of this film, The persons in charge of China respected Kinoshita very well and understood what he want to make, but suddenly an objection was occurred and they required to change the last scene of his scenario. They said Chinese people cannot have buried a Japanese soldier’s body. so… the production was over.
      Kinoshita was eager to make this film to express friendship between a Japanese and a Chinese under the war. Shochiku didn’t want to spend much money to make “non profitable” war movie. He was not able to make the film without cooperation of China.

      In other your writings, you used ‘Brother-in-low’ to Hiroshi Kusuda.
      Kusuda was brother-in-low indeed, but the reason that Kinoshita worked with he is not such one.
      Kusuda was a lacking-university-education person too. So Kinoshita knew his hardship very well. He promised him ‘Someday when I become a director, I’ll ask you to do my Cameraman’
      Before becoming a director, Kinoshita was living with his brother Chuji and sister Yoshiko. Kusuda used to visit Kinoshita’s house on his spare time and know his future-wife Yoshiko there.

      “Years of Joy and Sorrow” is loved by Japanese people very much.
      In Spain, they also have its DVD and they rated 6.9 (Febrary 2016: Film Affinity)
      I think this film is not so bad as your country’s critics said.
      Its Kinemajunpo ranking in 1957 was the third best.
      Kinoshita loved nameless-honest-common people, not spectacular heroes.
      Do you know this famous episode? Kinoshita wanted to make ‘The Ballad of Narayama” But Shochiku didn’t show little enthusiasm as it needed huge budget. They made a suggestion to Kinoshita“ If you made a big hit movie at first, we’ll allow it” .So he made “Years of Joy and Sorrow”! I heard then cinemas had been full with people(from children to adult)to see this film.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As I said, were it available here, I’d love to see“Years of Joy and Sorrow.” It has a very high rating on IMDB.

    Kinoshita claimed credit for camera setups. I think that Kusuda provided great and varied cinematography, which I have lauded in many of my postings. That he understood what the director wanted was, I think, why Kinoshita was satisifed. I didn’t mean to suggest nepotism, and I similarly assume that the music that often annoys me (and other western viewers who have expressed themselves on the subject) was what Kinoshita Keisuke wanted. (I’ve just watched the penultimate Ozu movie which has a group sing of “Oh My Darling Clementine”; I don’t know if the words were translated or some other words supplied, though it goes on and on.) I wonder if Japanese assemblages in private dining rooms at restaurants have (now or ever!) such group singing. It is certainly very alien to me!

    There is very little about Kinoshita available in English. I know there is a documentary film about him, but that isn’t available either. I am, therefore, very glad to have supplementary information from his homeland.


  4. Thank you for your reply.
    I’m very glad that you have interest to Kinoshita.!
    Appearing below is what I wrote before you wrote on 29

    About songs in “Twenty-four Eyes’ again
    I know “Auld Lang Syne”. But It was only ten years ago when I know the meaning of its words. I learned it from an English teacher. Until then, I hadn’t known it.
    “Hotaru No HIKARI” (It means “Light of Fireflies”:Japanese version “Auld Lang Syne” , same melody with different words) is a song for parting. The Japanese words was made in 1881 and published as one of songs for elementally school children’s song text book. Not Chuji’s change, nor plagiaris!!!!!

    So all of Japanese treat “Hotaru No HIKARI” as a good-by music. Even today, you can still listen this sad “Hotaru No HIKARI” melody when department stores and super markets are closing the doors (or amusement parks are closing the gates) at evening and when passenger boats are leaving from harbours.. It might sound strange for you, but it is Japanese usual life!

    When I saw the name of song “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” which you mentioned, I was very upset as I didn’t know it, So I looked up it in YouTube. As soon as I listened to the melody, I realized it was “HOSHI NO SEKAI(The World of Stars)”. Like “Auld Lang Syne”, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” has turned into completely different song, The Japanese words were made in 1910 ( before Chuji was born!). The words is about thousands of twinkling stars in the night sky, it is not a hymn anymore. This song also published as one of songs for junior high school students’ song text book.

    I also learnt “Hotaru No HIKARI” and “HOSHI NO SEKAI” at music lesson at my school days.

    Though there is no detail mention about the songs and music in “Twenty-four Eyes” in the title-roll, all of songs (nursery rhymes, school music songs and marital songs) and instrumental music are very famous ready-made ones. They are well-known and very familiar to Japanese people. In Japan, no one think that they were composed by Chuji, even if there is no note on the film.

    I suppose that when Kinoshita made “Twenty-four Eyes”, he didn’t think of Western audience future.
    He used the nursery rhymes and the school music songs ( include foreign-based songs) as symbol of innocent childhood.
    I heard an episode. When “Twenty-four Eyes” had been distributed to foreign country in early time, the music had been replaced to other one. It seemed that there was someone who thought like you.

    Of course, If Chuji used western classical music (Schubert’s, Bizet’s etc.. ), audience then must have recognized it and been glad to listen their familiar music.. Then people got close to western classical music more than us today.

    You mentioned Bach. Does it mean ‘Children of Nagasaki?’
    I can’t remember which materials I read, but it probably expressed it ‘Bach-style oratorio’

    As long as I know (and remember)
    Last music of “Here’s to the Young Lady“ (when Setsuko Hara is going down the stairs to go to the station) is old great hit melodrama movie ”AIZAN KATSURA”’s theme song ,not Chuji’s. Kinoshita used it as parody.
    Song of “Tragedy of Japan” which Keiji Sada sings with the guitar” is very famous ready-made great hit song,
    not Chuji’s (which was used in Ozu’s ’Tokyo Story’. too wasn’t it?)
    Song of “Tragedy of Japan” which Yuko Mochizuki by herself is famous ready-made popular song which is based on Taiwanese fork song ,not Chuji’s
    Songs of “Woman” which were sang by street musicians in front of Hotel are very famous ready-made popular hit ones, not Chuji’s.
    (Of course, audience then knew them!)

    Chuji has composed for over 480 movies and TV dramas.
    The reason why Kinoshita asked Chuji was not favoritism towards to his brother.

    *Just for your information:
    Wikipedia(US) KAZA-HANA
    letter boxed KAZABANA
    cinephilazr(Fr) KAZAHANA
    Wikipedia(Germany) KAZABANA
    Wikipedia(Korea) KAZA-HANA


    1. It sounds like the songs are clichés in Japanese, if not the same cliché as in English. As I recall, the appropriation of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” was all instrumental.

      The Bach that stuck in my mind was actually from Kobayashi Masaki’s second movie, the tearjerker “Magorko,” which was still something of a Kinoshita movie, since he wrote the screenplay, and Chûji was credited for the music (most of which Bach wrote).

      IMDB undercounts (181), I’m sure, but a lot of the music in a lot of the soundtracks credited to Kinoshita Chûji seem to involve using music written by others.

      The Kinoshita movie with a soundtrack that seemed to bother western critics the most was the 1961 “Eien no hito,” though it didn’t bother me. What sounds like Ravel’s “Bolero” in Kurosawa’s breakout (to international recognition) “Rashômon” bothers me much more.


  5. sorry for my time lag,
    I’ve never seen Ozu’s ‘Tokyo twilight’ so I don’t know which scene he used (or what intention he had) “Oh My Darling Clementine”.
    I heard John Ford’s “Oh My Darling Clementine” had been very popular movie in Japan. And many people knew its English words through the film. But we have another “Oh My Darling Clementine”(same melody, different Japanese words) too. The title is ‘YUKIYAMA SANKA (celebration of snow mountain)” it is song of a tribute to alpinists which made in 1925 )
    See this video. Is this same as Ozu’s?

    This song was very popular.
    Relax! Any restaurants in Japan now don’t play “Oh My Darling Clementine” anymore.

    I’ve never seen “MAGOKORO”. But Kinoshita wrote about this film in his essay.
    When he was a school boy. He loved a girl of his next door, so he played his harmonium and sang to attract her attention. He wrote the scenario based on his memory of these days.

    Some people say Kinoshita was gay. But I think it is just a rumor.
    One of the books which Japanese Wikipedia quoted said ‘gay’. But I heard its contents are full of gossip of Japanese movie world. In the biography of Kinoshita, the author (Hideo Osabe) said “There is rumor. But I can’t find any evidence.”
    I’ve read Kinoshita’s words which an English web site quoted
    “I have always believed since I was a child that beautiful things were true”
    I think he loved beauty things and beauty mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YUKIYAMA SANKA must be what they were singing. Song lyrics frequently don’t get subtitled…

      The US Wikipedia says:
      “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.[3] His 1959 film Farewell to Spring (Sekishuncho) has been called “Japan’s first gay film” for the emotional intensity depicted between its male characters.”

      To my eyes there is only one overly intense young man of the five school buddies in “Sekishuncho,” the crippled one. I don’t see it as a “gay film.” But aside from handsome male assistants and Shirasaki Yoshio’s claim, that KK never married, was very devoted to his mother, and adopted three sons without a wife are at least suggestive.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Of course I don’t know Kinoshita personally.
    What I know about him is based on some books and some video of TV program.
    I might not have any qualification to say about his personal life.
    But I think the supporters of Kinoshita-is-a-gay rumor, fix the conclusion at first and then try to gather convenient evidence for their opinion. I don’t like the way they do.

    According from Shigeru Wakita who is ex-producer of Kinoshita, ”Studio is a place where legends are born and where lies are accepted as truth. We can’t find out from where is true or to where is lie.”

    Kinoshita was not university-educated person, very rich, called ‘genius” and had strong likes and dislike. I can smell of jealousy and antagonism in the film world then.

    Yoshio Shirasaka’s book is not a scientific book, I heard Its contents was his reminiscences with full of gossip.
    The US Wikipedia’s expression:“well-dressed” is “dressed in their clothes with same design” in original Japanese.
    Japanese Wikipedia (whose information are origin of US one, I think) ignore some important points.

    Shirasaka was scenario writer but he had never worked with Kinoshita.

    Kinoshita’s oldest adopted son married to Italian woman.
    His two younger adopted sons performed ‘grandson’ in “ Big Joys, Small Sorrows”
    Kinoshita also had several foreign foster children abroad.

    According from a book of Hideo Osabe,
    Kinoshita cried and cried all night when he knew that the girl who he wanted to marry, married to another man, when he was young. Then Chiji was very surprised because his brother was a person who hardly cries.
    Kinoshita had adopted sons but he also had adopted a daughter.

    Someone said “Kinoshita was a misogynist” but he was very good to a young woman who is next to his vacation cottage.
    One of Kinoshita’s assistant directors Koji Yokobori said ‘Kinoshita loved people who are talented or who are too much good-natured. irrelevant to whether good looking or not . He hated who tells a lie.”

    Another ex-assistant director Taichi Yamada said “Kinoshita wasn’t good at to talk to women and talked to men whom he hit it off with well so he had been tend to be misunderstood.”

    I’ve never seen “Sekishuncho” yet.
    I’ve read a Japanese blog whose writer declared himself homosexsual
    He thinks Kinoshita was a gay but “Sekishuncho is not a gay movie”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That Kinoshita was misogynist is preposterous on the evidence of the movies he wrote featuring sympathetic (and sometimes heroic) females.

      And, as I’ve said, I don’t see “Sekishuncho” as in any sense a “gay movie.”

      As I’ve also said, there is no Kinoshita biography in English, so I have little on which to base any surmise about his sexual orientation. However, a tale of a true love who died young and was never replaces/replaceable is a common feature of self-presentation by closeted gay men of earlier generations (than mine), so such a story makes it more likely that he was gay. What is the evidence that he was heterosexual?


  7. I’m afraid that you misunderstand me. I’m not going to start a quarrel. I just give you some information which you don’t know.
    It seems strange for you to know these fact. In Japan all female roll Kabuki actors are not homosexual and all male roll actresses of Takarazuka and her fans are not so.
    Kasho Takahata’s illustrations were loved very much among ordinary Japanese people when Kinoshita was young.
    See his ones
    I think only people who know Kinoshita is he himself, not us.

    Thank you for your replies what you have done.
    I hope you have chance to see Kinoshita’s again, with big screen of the cinema, You will have another impression about them.


  8. I don’t know what Kinoshita’s sexual orientation was, but for an unmarried man of that vintage, evidence of heterosexuality is required, and some mythical early love attested by no one else is not evidence.

    I am well aware that there are heterosexual kabuki actors and heterosexual Takarazuka fans as well as homosexual kabuki actors and homosexual Takarauka fans… and that the main consumers of bishonen comic books are straight-identified women.

    I’d like to see some of the Kinoshita movies that are unavailable here with absolutely zero expectation that there are any “gay movies.” I haven’t seen any that I actively dislike (as I do Kurosawa’s “Dodes’ka-den”). The range of genres was remarkable (I generally think of Kinoshita as the Japanese George Cukor, but perhaps the only Hollywood director with Kinoshita’s range was Billy Wilder.)


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