Contracted as a teen to Shōchiku studios in 1924, Kinuyo Tanaka came of age during the first golden age of Japanese cinema, acting for major directors including Yasujirô Ozu, Mikio Naruse and Kenji Mizoguchi. As Japan emerged from the destruction of WWII, societal roles for women radically shifted.

Tanaka seized this opportunity, moving from superstar actor to directing commercial films.

‘I have never considered acting unsatisfying. But I love cinema and realised I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to become a director. I guess my ambitions came to the surface.’

Leveraging her experience as an actor, working for various directors, and inhabiting multiple personas, Tanaka’s films gracefully shapeshift across genres. Irrespective of their diverse styles, when viewed collectively, these six films offer a unique perspective on a nation grappling with the scars of war, social upheaval, and modernisation: all seen through the lives of its female citizens.

Programmed and notes by Kristy Matheson.

Presented in partnership with Janus Films. This retrospective was conceived by Lili Hinstin and generously supported by the University of Edinburgh.


View all films in the Social Studies: Six Films by Kinuyo Tanaka strand here.