[A clip from
The Water Magician

Along with Kurosawa Akira and Ozu Yasujiro, Mizoguchi Kenji is known throughout the world as one of the greatest directors of all time. The Water Magician (Takino Shiraito) was made in 1933 and is perhaps the best film he made as a young director. Like the stars of most of his work, this film's protagonist is a woman. The women in Mizoguchi's films are strong-minded women who refuse to be dominated by the men around them, and yet almost inevitably suffer for the men that they love. The scenario for The Water Magician was adapted from a tragic novel by Izumi Kyoka of the Shinpa style, popular during the late 19th century.

The film's heroine is portrayed by Irie Takako, who was then at the top of her career and tremendously popular for her beauty and talent. The protagonist is Takino Shiraito, a water magician known throughout the Hokuriku District for her skill and beauty. Water magicians used long-handled paddles to control and direct the force of powerful streams of water in order to create interesting patterns and configurations. They were once quite popular in the summer at fairs and exhibitions.

Okada Tokihiko plays the man that Takino Shiraito falls for. He is a typical nimaime. Male roles in Japanese films can be roughly divided into the two contrasting roles of the tateyaku and the nimaime. At the beginning of their careers, film actors are cast into one of these two roles and are rarely able to switch over to the other. The tateyaku are strong men, often samurai, soldiers and gangsters. They are leaders, driven by the force of their character. However. despite their power and ambition, they are incapable of showing affection to women, even the women that they love. As opposed to this, there are the nimaime, which literally means "second line," as the nimaime were always given second billing to the tateyaku. These men exude a boyish charm and timidness that make them irresistible, especially for strong-spirited women. However, as they have no inner force or emotional resources, they are incapable of making the women they love happy, and such stories inevitably lead to despair for the tragic couple. Okada Tokihiko was one of the leading nimaime of the 1920s and 1930s.

This film's benshi (narrator/commentator) was Matsuda Shunsui, known throughout Japan as "The Last Benshi." The Water Magician was one of Matsuda's favorite films, and the depth that he gives all of its characters and the soft tone of his commentary, and compassion for the heroine leave many a wet cheek in the audience. Of the over 40 recorded benshi performances that he left behind, The Water Magician is perhaps Matsuda's most representative masterpiece.

Download an excerpt of the movie in QuickTime format!
Running Time: 9 seconds
Compressed File Size: 1.2MB

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