She starred with Kazuo Hasegawa in the 1951 drama film The Tale of Genji, an adaptation of the eponymous 11th century classic Japanese literary work, written by Murasaki Shikibu.
In 1955, Michiyo Kogure starred in the 12th century historic drama Shin Heike Monogatari, a movie on which she played Fujiwara no Taishi, the mother of Taira no Kiyomori (played by Raizō Ichikawa), a renowned samurai and military strategist of the Heian period, known for pioneering samurais as a government ruling class.
Two years later, she starred again in a movie with Raizō Ichikawa, the 1957 film Freelance Samurai, directed by Kenji Misumi. Another period piece – though this time fiction – on this movie, Michiyo Kogure starred as Kosuzu Hanabusa, a woman that gets enamored of Momotarō (the character played by Ichikawa), a Ronin that discovers that he has a twin, the noble hereditary leader of a dynasty, and uncovers a plot from a rival clan to kill him.
Her most relevant roles, though, were as Taeko Satake, in the 1952 movie The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice, directed by legendary Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu, and as Miyoharu, the main character in the 1953 film A Geisha, directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, another virtuous talent of Japanese cinema.
These are two exceedingly marvelous and splendorous movies, that I think deserves to be highlighted, and meticulously analyzed. They are certainly among the best films that I have ever seen. Both are touching, humane, gracefully artistic and deeply poetic, and the performances delivered by Michiyo Kogure on these two majestic motion pictures display exceptionally fantastic, wonderful, consistent and discreet, yet monumental interpretations of vivid, intense, beautiful and fragile characters.
In The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice, Michiyo Kogure starred as housewife Taeko Satake, an unhappy woman, that gets bored and disillusioned with her life. She becomes unsatisfied and disappointed with her husband, Mokichi Satake (played by Shin Saburi); he is a kind and hard-working gentleman, but she eventually starts to despise him, becoming tired of his somewhat calm and serene nature, that she interprets as lethargic and condescending. She arranges all kinds of excuses to pass the largest amount of time possible with her female friends, going to spas and trips, and her husband – acknowledging her free-will temperament and indulgent personality –, let her do exactly what she wants.
Eventually, Mokichi has to go to Montevideo on a business trip, but Taeko leaves, without informing him of her precise whereabouts. Mokichi sends a telegram to her asking her where she is, and asking her to join him, informing her about his immediate trip. She ignores his solicitations, though, and does not go to the airport to accompany his departure, nor to say goodbye, like all other families traditionally do. After a few hours, though, Mokichi comes home. He informs Taeko that was a problem on the airplane, so all the passengers had to disembark, and were scheduled for the next flight. He will be leaving tomorrow.
More solicit and emphatic, Taeko asks Mokichi if he needs anything, and he says he is tired, but also hungry. She offers herself to go to the kitchen, to take some food, and she joins him in the meal. Both go to the kitchen together, to pick up all the necessary things to eat. Taeko asks forgiveness for her husband for leaving without informing him where she was going, and promises not to do that anymore. Then, in a very beautiful, touching and emotional scene, she says she feels guilty, and is profoundly sorry for the terrible and difficult behavior she has displayed lately, towards him. He warmly accepts her apologies, and the two reconcile.
In the final scene of the movie, we see Setsuko talking to her friend from earlier, the one upon which she complained about arranged marriages. It leaves the audience to decide if they are just good friends, or if they are – or will become – a couple.
A marvelously fantastic masterpiece, The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice has a dense and consistent history, sidelined with profoundly dramatic, but gracefully humane elements. The impeccable direction of Yasujirō Ozu, that knew how to capture in detail – though with an expressively dynamic vivacity – the splendid dichotomy of relationships, exposed with veracity and formidable vitality the exceptional layers of the human behavior, in a very cohesive and sensible story.
With an astounding cinematography, and exceedingly wonderful visual qualities, as well the phenomenal versatility of Michiyo Kogure – who inserted a subtle, though profoundly existential density into her character – The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice certainly can be considered one of the greatest movies ever made in the history of Japanese cinema. Its aggrandizing virtues display such a glorious level of excellence and refinement, both in the creative and technical elements, that its astounding perfection in all aspects is simply undeniable.
In the 1953 movie A Geisha, Michiyo Kogure plays Miyoharu – the title character –, that accepts Eiko (played by a then young Ayako Wakao, which would later become another famous Japanese actress) as a maiko, an apprentice of Geisha. Eiko is seemingly desperate, because her mother recently died, and her father is a very negligent parent. She also has an uncle, that she refuses to live with, as he constantly demands sexual favors from her. Since she has debts related to her mother’s funeral, she is desperate to earn some money. Initially having doubts concerning her potential, Miyoharu eventually becomes sympathetic towards the girl, and accepts her as an apprentice.
Initially, conforming the girl to Geisha standards proves to be a difficult task; Miyoharu becomes indebted by enrolling her in a prestigious school, and Eiko – who earns the apprenticeship name of Miyoei – gets drunk at parties, hardly behaving with any grace, elegance and sophistication. As the girl becomes somewhat solicited at parties and venues, her father tries to extort money and goods from Miyoharu. Eventually, she is contacted by a group of businessmen, that wants her to seduce a potential client – a man named Kanzaki (played by Kanji Koshiba) – in a deal that could bring her great prosperity. While this man becomes attracted to Miyoharu, another one, Kusuda (played by Seizaburō Kawazu) becomes fond of the young Miyoei.
Nevertheless, Miyoharu becomes disillusioned of the way the deal goes, and not interested at all in Kanzaki, subtlety avoids him. They never consummate, something that frustrates Kanzaki. To get matters worse, Miyoharu becomes severely worried when – at a party where all of them are – Kusuda stays alone with Miyoei in a room. The girl manages to avoid the man’s advances, though. Miyoharu never surrenders herself to Kanzaki, nor Miyoei to Kusuda. It becomes clear that Miyoharu wants to protect Miyoei at all cost, and does not want her to have sex against her will, and with such a young age, willing to go to great lengths to protect her from the vicissitudes of a life of geisha. Since the deal is broke, she starts to be sabotaged from venues, and all her other appointments are cancelled. Miyoei, eager to sacrifice herself for the honor of Miyoharu, decides to present herself to be taken by Kusuda, but this cannot happen without Miyoharu’s approval, that is not granted.
Knowing that she has to do something to improve their situation, Miyoharu decides to sleep with Kanzaki, as long as they made a deal, that consists in Kusuda forgetting Miyoei. The deal is arranged, and after that, things return to normal. Eventually, Miyoei gets suspicious, and asks Miyoharu if she slept with Kanzaki, saying that she will be very angry and disappointed if that would be true. Miyoharu confirms her suspicions, but says that she did that for her own well-being. She doesn’t care to anything that happens to her, but she is very protective of Miyoei, desperate to prevent her from the traumas and afflictions that comes with the profession. Willing to preserve her purity and innocence, Miyoharu acted to protect her, and soon thereafter, pupil and mentor reconcile, rejoicing at their reacquired good fortunes.
One of the greatest movies that I have ever seen – besides the marvelous, profound and incomparable acting abilities of Michiyo Kogure – this story of abnegation, altruism, love and sacrifice displays the preservation of innocence in a corrupt and lustful environment. We can easily think that the main character, Miyoharu, experienced hard times as a geisha, and never had anybody to defend her, to protect her or to stand for her. Exactly for this reason, she decides to protect the young Eiko at all costs, being a shield for the young girl against the miseries of life, determined to protect her from the horrible and disgraceful ordeals of existence, more specifically against the burdens, disillusions and disappointments inherent to the life of a geisha. So, she decided she would be to Eiko the protection that herself never had in her life.
Michiyo Kogure was one of the most talented actresses of her generation. With a versatile, but candid and sincere brightness, that transpired a mordacious, but at the same time exceedingly elegant vivacity in each one of the characters that she played, Michiyo Kogure deserves to be remembered by her splendorous and extraordinary talent, that so much glorious virtues and singular nuances aggregated to the movies in which she had participated. A lot of them displayed artistic vitality and extravagant beauty exactly because of her presence.
Unfortunately, Michiyo Kogure never became widely known outside Japan. Nevertheless, her virtuous talent has proved to be one of the greatest triumphs for the cinematic arts in her home country, whose eighty-nine movies that featured her graceful appearance certainly makes a consistent legacy, especially to people that appreciate classic Japanese cinema. Michiyo Kogure was born in January 31, 1918 and died at seventy-two years old, in June 13, 1990.