Teinosuke Kinugasa

Scen.: Hiroshi Muneta, Teinosuke Kinugasa. F.: Mitsuo Miura. M.: Koichi Iwashita. Scgf.: Takashi Matsuyama. Mus.: Kosaku Yamada. Int.: Ennosuke Ichikawa (Uesugi Kenshin/ Kaiga Magokuro), Denjiro Okochi (Takeda Shingen), Kazuo Hasegawa (Hyakuzo il servitore), Takako Irie (Chiyono), Isuzu Yamada (Oshino), Yataro Kurokawa (Anayama Izunokami), Musei Tokugawa (Ichibei), Sadao Maruyama (Terasaki Tamenobu), Unpei Yokoyama (Jinkichi), Soji Kiyokawa (Hanbei). Prod.: Shingi Morita, Minesuke Kiyokawa per Toho. 35mm. D.: 119’. Bn.

“The Battle of Kawanakajima”
© 1941 TOHO CO., LTD. All Right Reserved.
Foto © National Film Archive of Japan

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

By 1941, Imperial Japan’s political and military goals increasingly shaped the content of films. Peter High tells us that “[Suketoshi] Fuwa and other government bureaucrats had, since the late 30s, been demanding the transformation of the old sword drama genre into authentic ‘history films’. The film industry responded by producing a number of serious-minded works apparently inspired by this ideal.” The transformation is exemplified by Kawanakajima kassen, the account of a battle and the preparations for it, set apart in its austerity and seriousness from the more populist jidaigeki Kinugasa had made hitherto.
Kinugasa, in his forties, was judged too old for active service, but (alongside fellow director Kiyohiko Ushihara, a year his junior) had been despatched to China to document the advances of the Japanese Imperial Army. He returned feeling what he described as a new “sense of responsibility”. Screenwriter Hiroshi Muneta (1909-1988) had fought in China and published a bestselling memoir of his time at the front. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film, as Darrell William Davis notes, “uses strategies typical of contemporary war films”. Yet it largely avoids the overt propaganda so common in Japan’s wartime cinema. Kinugasa strove to show the human side of war, and the ultimate mood is more tragic than heroic.
The historical Battle of Kawanakajima was fought in Shinano Province (present day Nagano Prefecture) in 1561, between rival warlords Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen, and was notoriously bloody: the Takeda army lost more than seven men in ten. Kinugasa filmed on location in Yamagata and Akita Prefectures (further north than the historical location), and imbued the landscapes, and the images of armies marching and fighting within them, with a visual splendour that Davis compares to Kurosawa’s late period films, Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985). The region’s tradition of horse breeding proved advantageous for shooting cavalry scenes, but Kinugasa also wanted to capture “the very local freshness of the Tohoku region in all aspects of climate and customs, with none of the old familiarity of the Kanto and Kansai regions where we have been producing period dramas up until now”.
Kawanakajima kassen was released at the end of November 1941. Little more than a week later, Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor.

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courtesy of Toho