Yoshimitsu Morita: Director best known for 'The Family Game'

 

For Yoshimitsu Morita, who has died of acute liver failure, arguments around his career as a film-maker have long centred around his film, The Family Game (1983), which centred on a dysfunctional family in 1980s Japan. This was not his only No 1 film in the annual Kinema Junpo poll, and was by no means his highest-grossing film. But it was the film his critics, and often his public, compared him to, when judging his later work. Had he become, as the critic Mark Schilling bemoaned in the 1990s, just a purveyor of "date movies"? Were not some of his later films also multi-layered, postmodernist critiques of contemporary life? Or did his success, in having a continuous career in the film industry, derive from delivering accessible, commercial films for audiences he knew?

For Morita certainly served more than one audience. Family Game could be presented as an early teen gross-out film, but its remarkable distancing effects provoke a deeper engagement, which has given scope for a series of academic treatments. And a number of his later films aimed well beyond a teenage audience. Lost Paradise (1997) adapted a romantic tragedy that had just finished newspaper serialisation; the setting might have been contemporary, but this form of adaptation goes back to cinema's heydays of the mid-20th century, and his story reached to the beginnings of Early Modern Japanese theatre.

If Morita could still pull a mature audience back into cinemas to watch a middle-aged amour fou, it questions received wisdom as to the causes of the decline of cinema-going. But Lost Paradise was atypical in that it was virtually his only film in which he is not credited as scriptwriter; usually he was sole author of his scripts.

In later years Morita gained notice and critical success with some thrillers. His Copycat Killer (2002) approached the multiple layers of Family Game, with which it makes interesting comparisons. One of Family Game's awkward insistencies was that we heard only the collateral noises of human bodies, even when these bodies were listening to a named piece of music. The silence of the Numata family apartment in Family Game was replaced in Copycat Killer by a hyperactive soundtrack, as, seemingly, all the new media bombard us at once. But Copycat's music mocks 24/7 media, just as persistently, in its lyrics. If Nigel Kneale in the UK could presciently satirise reality TV in the form of "The Live Life Show" in his The Year of the Sex Olympics, but fail to prevent the monster's phenomenal growth, then Morita began where Kneale finished, with a live murder show. The soft ending might disappoint those who had been drawn by the frenetic surface, but leaves the viewer with little doubt as to where Morita stands.

Morita had started out as a DJ before he began making his own 8mm films – some 18 short films in the early 1970s. These became feature-length and got attention with Live in Chigasaki (1978). His first 35mm film, Something Like Yoshiwara (1981), was followed by a couple of soft-porn films for the Nikkatsu studio, which then financed Family Game for the independent Arts Theatre Guild. And Then (1985) adapted a novel by Soseki Natsume, for which he embraced pastiche to invoke the late Meiji (roughly, Edwardian) society and its repressive surface morality.

He subsequently made a number of "idol films", flimsy vehicles for pop talent that were not well received; but the overall range of Morita's work has been considerable. In (Haru) (1996), Morita was earlier than most in spotting online romance as a medium for questioning identity.

His thrillers followed, including Keiho and The Black House (both 1999). After the uninspiring Inseparable, Morita found better form with a two-handed comedy, The Mamiya Brothers, in 2006. This seemed to reinvent the long-running Tora-san formula (which involved a kind-hearted vagabond unlucky in love) for a younger generation with some success by replacing the single protagonist with two brothers, just as untutored in love. They were endearing foils for some slapstick humour that had visual reminders of much earlier cinema. Morita remade Kurosawa's Sanjuro in 2007. His last film is due for release next year.

Yoshimitsu Morita, film director and scriptwriter: born Tokyo 25 January 1950; died Tokyo 20 December 2011.

Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
arts
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
Voices
voices Furore is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion, says Nigel Farage
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Arts & Entertainment
tv
Sport
sport
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
News
peopleJay Z and Beyoncé to buy £5.5m London townhouse
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Student
student
News
<b>Rebecca Adlington</b>
<br />This, the first British swimmer to win two
Olympic gold medals in 100 years, is the eversmiling
face of the athletes who will, we're
confident, make us all proud at London 2012
peopleRebecca Adlington on 'nose surgery'
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence - Oxford An opportunity f...

Projects Financial Analyst - Global Technology firm

£55000 - £62000 per annum + outstanding benefits and bonus: Pro-Recruitment Gr...

Reception Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Reception teacher required for an Outs...

Commercial B2B Pricing Specialist - Global Bids and Tenders

£35000 - £45000 per annum + excellent company benefits : Pro-Recruitment Group...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents