Diandra’s Five Favorite Classic Cinematographers
Masao Kosugi (小杉正雄)
Pale Flower (乾いた花) (1964, directed by Masahiro Shinoda, 篠田 正浩)
Your enjoyment of this film depends on how much you can stomach listless gambler ennui from bare sketches of characters, although leads Ryo Ikebe and Mariko Kaga are alluring together and apart. Pale Flower’s accomplishment is melding deep slow-burn noir atmosphere and Japanese New Wave immediacy. Shinoda’s co-screenwriter, listed as Masaru or Ataru Baba, “was incensed at how much of the movie wasn’t in the screenplay… because of how visual its storytelling is, with Shinoda drawing out subtexts and nuances that fill in its somewhat limp dialogue.” .
The movie’s release was delayed after “Baba branded Shinoda himself as an “anarchist” and deemed the film nihilistic.”  Masao Kosugi’s light and camera work render Masahiro Shinoda’s meticulous direction with vitality that emanates from any screen.
Samurai Spy (異聞猿飛佐助) (1965, directed by Masahiro Shinoda)
While the best Shinoda film I’ve seen so far (Double Suicide, or Shinju: Ten no Amijima) also has amazing visuals, it was not lensed by Kosugi. Kosugi’s distinct skill for chiaroscuro and framing is evident in Samurai Spy, and makes the slog through stretches of exposition and slo-mo worth enduring. While the 17th-century spy convolutions deserve better dialogue, there’s some great ninja vs. samurai action as well as fitting themes for the period setting.
A fog whiteout sequence in particular is jaw-dropping.
Killers on Parade (夕陽に赤い俺の顔) (1961, directed by Masahiro Shinoda)
My favorite of the Shinoda-Kosugi collaborations I’ve seen is a bonkers genre-blasting crime caper written by avant-garde director Shuji Terayama. Shuffling between moody shadows and eye-popping color, there are sight gags galore while characters burst into ballads or spontaneous classic-form poetry.
The movie isn’t available on DVD in the USA, although Criterion streams it on Hulu Plus. A fan did put together a fake Criterion cover for the film here. Give the opening scene a try, though the quick mod-ish shots give only a faint taste of the images to come. Compared to the other films in this post, Killers on Parade is light-hearted, and shows that even predominantly high-key comedies can have moments of visual radiance.
Who are your favorite cinematographers?