Black and White . 25 minutes

Shochikiu Production
Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai


Mohara Hideo

Ozu's only documentary was commissioned by the Japan Cultural Association to promote indigenous culture abroad. Kagamijishi is a lion dance in kabuki, about a court dancer who becomes possessed by a lion mask, and transforms from coy young maid to a fierce being with flowing mane. Shot in two parts, the dancing scenes were filmed in June 1935 using synch sound by the Tsuchihashi system. The silent, second part, shot in May 1936, takes place in the dressing room and shows the celebrated leading man Onoe Kikugoro IV reciting a poem. At the preview, guests commented on the unnatural expressions of the dancer and the authorities decided to withdraw the film.

Thoughts from Ozu
Even when Onoe Kikugoro IV is still and motionless, we can still sense his femininity. Even when his back is turned to the audience, all he has to do is spread his legs a little, and twist his buttocks slightly, and he would look every inch the woman.


The dancing scenes were shot in June, 1935. The scene in the dressing room was shot in May, 1936. The Association for the Promotion of International Culture (Kokusai Bunka Shinko-kai), founded in 1934, planned to film outstanding performances of Japanese culture and to present them abroad. Shochiku was requested to do a documentary about the lion dance 'Kagamijishi' of the actor Kikugoro Onoe. Originally, this dance lasts more than one hour, but considering that this film was to be presented to foreigners, the stage parts were condensed to about 20 minutes. Previously, Ozu had admired the art of Kikugoro. Fortunately, the actor Hiroshi Tojo of the Kamata studio was a relative of Kikugoro. Therefore, Ozu visited Kikugoro for the first time in June of 1934. They met quite often afterwards. Consequently, when Shochiku received the request to make a film, the director Ozu was asked to do this documentary. The filming of the stage part started on June 26, 1935, late at night (actually, it already was June 27) and lasted until the morning. Ozu's crew was busy with An Inn in Tokyo, but the shooting was interrupted to make this film. Two talkie cameras and one silent camera were used. The recording was made using the Tsuchihashi Sound System, since the result of Mohara's studies could not be waited for. (By the way, the recording of Ozu's three sound film was always made by the Tsuchihashi Sound System.) However, technical limits in the synchronous sound recording of that time and the restrictions caused by the leadership of the Kabuki people resulted in Ozu not being satisfied with the cinematic structure of these scenes. However, Ozu's style appears clearly in the scenes outside the stage that were shot later. After the completion, a preview of this film was held at the Imperial Hotel on June 29, 1936. The guests pointed out the unnatural expressions of the actor playing a woman's part, because it became evident through the lens. Troubles arose around the policy of not releasing the film in Japan and the problem of sending it abroad or not. The fact that Ozu had directed this documentary was almost not considered in these discussions. The intelligentsia of that time and the cultural elite regarded cinema as not important enough to talk about. In fact, cinema was not accepted as art.

Film Images
Video of Kagamijishi
(via huli2005)