Rediscovering Yasuzo Masumura at Karlovy Vary

Rediscovering Yasuzo Masumura at Karlovy Vary

It’s often hard to pinpoint when or why a certain formerly overlooked great director comes back on the international radar. Some of them hover on the margins for years, championed by a few, but not quite becoming common knowledge—yet. That’s been the case for Yasuzo Masumura, an important postwar Japanese director who, in the U.S. at least, has never had the widespread name recognition accorded Kenji Mizoguchi or Mikio Naruse, much less that of Yasujiro Ozu or Akira Kurosawa.

This seems to have been due in part to how different Masumura was from the Japanese directors who achieved the broadest fame in the West. Masumura trained under Mizoguchi and shared that great filmmaker’s abiding interest in women’s stories, but he approached them in a very different, blunt, and outwardly genre-focused way, as in the superb Irezumi (The Spider Tattoo), from 1966, which mixes classic women’s melodrama with coolly stylish horror. Over the course of a long career, Masumura brought his shrewd perceptions to a wide range of subjects and themes, tackling topics like corporate double-dealing in the comedy Giants and Toys (1958) and government espionage in the bleakly cynical Nakano Spy School (1966).

For a long while, such name recognition as Masumura had in the U.S. came from several erotic so-called “pink” films, like the famous Blind Beast (1969) and Music (1972). The latter had a small theatrical release in the U.S. in 1974, and was greeted with something less than critical enthusiasm (“when it isn’t being simply tedious, it’s both lurid and hilarious,” wrote Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times). That same year, the S&M-themed Warehouse was deemed “excruciating” by the Daily News.

Top of page: Black Test Car; above: Blind Beast
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