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 was a Japanesemarker film director. Tomu Uchida, whose name translates to “spit out dreams” is considered one of the less well known masters of Japanese cinema in the West, whose films are rarely screened and not widely available on DVD. His work from the 20s and 30s possess a leftist social commentary, while his post-war movies reveal a strong genre stylist with no immediately discernible themes, much like many golden-age Hollywood directors. Uchida effortlessly directed chamber dramas, comedies, and samurai epics, often in color, and with a forward-looking dose of irony. Uchida died in 1970 of cancer. In April 2008 the cinematek at the Brooklyn Academy of Musicmarker presented the first comprehensive retrospective of the long overlooked Japanese director in the US.


Filmography

1898 - 1939

“…a tremendously stylish gangster movie about the love-hate relationship between a cop and a criminal, once childhood friends.”—Senses of Cinema on Policeman

Uchida’s only surviving complete silent film is a masterpiece of Japanese silent cinema. With a muscular energy that predates Kurosawa, Uchida borrows from Hollywood gangster films and expressionist techniques in a gripping story of a young policeman tracking down an old friend who is now a criminal.

1940 - 1945

1945 - 1953 Manchuria

1953 - 1960



Uchida returned to Japan after a long hiatus with this light-hearted adventure about a samurai and his servants on a trip to Edo. In a sly bit of subversion, the peasants are more intelligent than the drunken samurai. The final battle in a courtyard amidst punctured sake barrels is an Uchida career highlight. “Both progressive and nostalgic, humanistic and nationalistic, peaceful and violent, Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji, like the Japanese experience in Manchuria, is an aggressive conglomeration of extremes."—Bright Lights Film Journal

Dealing with post-war fears in a lighter tone than A Hole of My Own Making, Uchida views a cross-section of Japanese life over the course of one night in a tavern. Dancers take the stage, a singing contest is held, and old soldiers reminisce. At the corner of the bar is an artist drowning himself in drink, who acts as the film’s narrator (and Uchida’s alter ego) in this gently humorous film. “Resembling a poetic-realist version of Casablanca (1942), the film is a naturalistic tour de force.” —Cinema-scope

One of Uchida’s most socially conscious films, The Outsiders looks at the Ainu, an indigenous people who live on the island of Hokkaido and were often portrayed as vicious savages (much like Native Americans in Westerns). As the hero of the film challenges an owner to prove his own Ainu heritage, the film raises questions about the necessity of preserving a culture. “Bold, beautiful, and packing a powerful dramatic punch, there is little else quite like it.” — Midnight Eye

Incorporating kabuki and bunraku puppets, this drama follows a young man who falls in love with a prostitute, vowing to rescue her from the brothel. Not content to adapt the play, Uchida makes playwright Chikamatsu a character in the drama who moves from observer to narrator to participant as the tragedy unfolds in postmodern fashion.

A wealthy businessman with a disfigured face seems unable to find love until he meets a conniving prostitute out to win his fortune. This dark melodrama’s sudden and violent end in a shower of cherry blossoms is one of the most impressive scenes in Uchida’s canon. “The violent climax is, once again, directed with breathtaking assurance; it is, in fact, perhaps the single most brilliant scene in Uchida’s oeuvre.”—Senses of Cinema

When a shogun kills himself, rituals dictate that his samurai must also commit seppuku; however one young ronin refuses to follow this code and retreats to the country, only to be lured back into the service of the spear. Uchida gently tweaks audience expectations, as a character bemoans a crowd’s bloodlust, only to reward them with a magnificently violent ending.

1961 - 1970

A full-on avant-garde classic that mixes kabuki and animation with location and studio work. A man tormented by the death of his wife meets her twin sister and a fox spirit who takes the form of his beloved. The story is just an excuse for Uchida to challenge the form and function of cinema in a gorgeous tribute to Japanese folk tales."...one of the weirdest films in any language….torture, murder and possible bestiality—is only the beginning of this hallucinatory fairy tale’s trippy charm.”—Now Magazine (Toronto)

An epic masterpiece often compared to Kurosawa’s High and Low, this grim examination of criminal life in post-war Japan is split into three sections: the criminal on the run, an interlude with a prostitute, and the final confrontation with police. The grainy widescreen cinematography results from Uchida’s unusual choice to shoot in 16mm and blow up to 35mm. “the director’s masterpiece without doubt.”—Positif. It was voted the 3rd greatest Japanese film ever made by Kinema Jumpo in 1999.

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