Tomo Uchida at the PFA

Matt Sussman September 19, 2007

It is interesting to track the online conversation formed by blog posts, program notes, and wrap reports that have followed each prior screening (first in Tokyo’s 2004 FILMeX, Festival, the at the International Film Festival Rotterdam) of the Tomu Uchida (1898-1970) retrospective that enters the homestretch of its run at the Pacific Film Archive this week.

That conversation tends to focus on whether or not Uchida’s films — as varied in subject matter as they are in style, tone and execution — merit the same sort of reverent revival treatment that has been given many times over to other Japanese filmmakers of his generation, namely, the canonically revered "holy trinity" of Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Mikio Naruse.

The PFA has titled their series Tomu Uchida: Japanese Genre Master, and Uchida’s "finger in every pot" approach to genre is what seems to cause critics to scratch their heads the most.

The breadth of Uchida’s filmmography includes silent police procedurals such as "Policeman" (1933), florid jidai geki period pieces like "The Mad Fox" (1962) or "Chikamatsu’s Love in Osaka" (1959), his better-known swordplay films like "The Drunken Spearman" (1960), and post-war social dramas such as "A Hole of My Own Making" (1955) that gently, rather than spitefully, commented on a changed Japan. As website Midnight Eye noted in their report on FILMeX, Japanese film scholar Donald Richie wrote in the festival catalog that "it is precisely this disparate scattering of styles and subject matter that has kept Uchida’s name from auteurist-obsessed film historians in the past."

On the other hand, Uchida’s case is not that unique. Cinema Scope contributor Quintin’s underwhelming characterization of the Uchida films screened at Rotterdam ("visually skilled but not brilliant, sometimes heavy-handed and naïve [