Great Cinematographers, Part 5: Kazuo Miyagawa

Kazuo Miyagawa (1908-1999) worked on many classics of Japanese cinema, collaborating with such renowned directors as Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujirô Ozu, Kon Ichikawa, Kihachi Okamoto and Masahiro Shinoda. Miyagawa’s accomplishments, especially with the film Rashomon, made him a pioneering cameraman and an inspiration to DPs everywhere.

Rashomon (1950, dir. Akira Kurosawa) – The famous Woodcutter segment shows Takashi Shimura walking through a forest. On paper that might not sound like much, but the combination of the visuals and the Ravel-inspired music by Fumio Hayasaka (who also composed scores for the other two films cited in this post) makes this scene unforgettable. That famous low-angle shot of Shimura walking across the log bridge has been replicated in other films (ex. Dirty Harry) and the revolutionary shots where the camera focuses directly at the sun broke new cinematic ground.

Ugetsu (1953, dir. Kenji Mizoguchi) – The male protagonist of the film, played by Masayuki Mori (the husband in Rashomon), falls under the spell of an enchantingly beautiful woman played by Machiko Kyô (coincidentally the wife from Rashomon). The elements of the seduction at the lake and on the plains are all the more alluring because of the haunting atmosphere created by Miyagawa.

Sansho the Bailiff (1954, dir. Kenji Mizoguchi) – My favorite Mizoguchi film, Sansho is beautiful in a painful way, dealing with man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man. A family is literally torn apart and Miyagawa is there to capture the characters in all their torment.


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