Umetsugu Inoue: Japan’s Music Man
Umetsugu Inoue, Japan, 1957, 98 min., Japanese w/ English subtitles
Inoue’s first film with Yujiro Ishihara, The Winner tells the
story of a punk kid (Ishihara) who tries boxing as a lark, gets the tar punched
out of him, and starts training for real. His manager is a former contender who
sees the punk as way to realize a championship dream that he himself could
Inspired by the 1948 classic The Red Shoes, Inoue added a subplot about an up-and-coming ballerina (Mie Kitahara) who falls in love with the boxer. Her graceful solo dance, presented in a thirteen-minute cut, with a young Akira Kobayashi as a transfixed spectator is one of the film’s highlights.
Another high point is the climatic fight scene that Inoue filmed
with more than two hundred cuts over four days. To save time and money, he shot
the entire scene from one side, changing the colors of the two corners to
create the illusion that the action was unfolding in 360 degrees. Ishihara’s
opponent was a former champion boxer, but Ishihara, blessed with athletic
ability and quick hands, gave as good as he got.
The Winner lived up to its name at the box office and proved, to Inoue’s satisfaction at least, that Ishihara could carry a film. (The studio bosses would need a bit more convincing.) It also established the template—action with musical interludes—for dozens of Nikkatsu films to come.
Description adapted from Mark Schilling in Asia Sings! A Survey of Asian Musical Films.
About Umetsugu Inoue: Japan’s Music Man
Umetsugu Inoue (1923–2010) made movies in a variety of genres, but his musicals set him apart. The phenomenal box-office success of Inoue’s The Stormy Man saved Nikkatsu Studios from financial ruin in the late 1950s. A decade later, his musical films caught the eye of the Shaw Brothers, who hired him to lend cosmopolitan glamor to their Hong Kong productions. Though this retrospective includes a fraction of his body of work, three of the films—The Stormy Man, The Winner, and The Eagle and the Hawk—are debuting in newly subtitled digital versions. The Green Music Box is a one-of-a-kind 35mm print from the National Film Center in Tokyo, restored through the rare Konicolor process that Inoue used to make it.
– Tom Vick, Curator of Film, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution
Curated by Tom Vick and generously funded by the Inoue & Tsukioka Movie Foundation.
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