Five Films from the 1950s


The 1950s is looked back on as a golden age for Japanese cinema, producing a host of great films from major directors. This was also the first time films from Japan came to the attention of an international audience after Rashōmon, directed by Kurosawa Akira, won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951.

Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai) 1954, Kurosawa Akira

Among the string of classics with which Kurosawa Akira made his name, none is better remembered than this epic, in which a village hires samurai to protect them against bandits. Shimura Takashi plays the unflappable samurai leader and Mifune Toshirō the clownish wannabe; spectacular action sequences abound.

Tōkyō monogatari (Tokyo Story) 1953, Ozu Yasujirō

A perennial critics’ favorite on the BFI Sight & Sound Poll, the film tells the story of a couple who have lost their place in the preoccupied lives of their grown-up children. Ozu regular Hara Setsuko plays the couple’s widowed daughter-in-law who shows them kindness, one of the roles in which she won the hearts of the Japanese public.

Gojira (Godzilla) 1954, Honda Ishirō

In the original monster stomper, Godzilla is woken by nuclear testing and sets out to smash up Tokyo. Tanks and planes cannot contain him, but the scientist who has invented a secret “Oxygen Destroyer” is wary about giving humanity a new and powerful weapon if he uses it against Godzilla.

Ugetsu monogatari (Ugetsu) 1953, Mizoguchi Kenji

As war sweeps sixteenth-century Japan, displaced villagers contend with ups and downs in fortune and supernatural elements in Mizoguchi’s eerie and beautifully shot masterpiece. Based on Ueda Akinari’s classic book of the same name, sometimes translated as Tales of Moonlight and Rain.

Nobi (Fires on the Plain) 1959, Ichikawa Kon

Japanese soldiers stranded without supplies on the Philippines island of Leyte in 1945 struggle to stay alive while waiting for the Allies to complete their victory. Funakoshi Eiji brings a certain grim comedy to his performance as the main character, a private suffering from tuberculosis. Based on the novel of the same name by Ōoka Shōhei.

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film Ozu Yasujirō Kurosawa Akira Godzilla