Kazuo Miyagawa was a Japanese cinematographer. He was incredibly forward thinking and visually creative, drawing on his knowledge of traditional Japanese art, such as sumi-e, and applying it to film photography which ultimately resulted in some of the most revolutionary cinematography of the 1950's.
Miyagawa-san was born on the 25 February 1908 in the Kyoto prefecture, southern-central Japan. He was a life-long student of the arts, starting with tradition Japanese sumi-e ink painting in which depth and visual rhythm has to be created without the use of color.
It would appear that Miyagawa also had a very thorough understanding of the physical and chemical properties of film. He reduced the bleach during color film processing of Otôto (Her Brother) which left a thin layer of the silver-halide salts on the film. This premature abortion of the films color processing meant less color dye was absorbed and the remaining silver created a strong contrast, almost like constraining your levels in Photoshop. This unique method of film processing was labelled bleach bypass in the west.
When trying to compose a shot, one should always be aware fo three things: Balance, Focal Perspective and Visual Rhythm. Kazuo Miyagawa's framing was exceptional and note that it was very rarely symmetrical but almost always perfectly balanced. One of my favourite snaps of Oshidori Utagassen (above) shows how superb his negative/positive balance was, even within perspective compositions.
Our camera technology has grown in leaps and bounds since old chunky 35mm's of the 1950's, but old school, die hard mathematical applications worked in 1950 just as well as they work today. Notice how the scene is composed so that the woman's faces line up almost perfectly with the rule-of-thirds, sub-consciously drawing the audience's attention.
Illumination must have been quite a challenge given the lack of our modern portable electronic technology. Miyagawa used mirrors as his light boxes to illuminate his scenes with natural light. The light flickered, glimmered, bent and was generally incredibly harsh but it did a great job at highlighting the actors and their respective characters.
He was also well known for his boundary pushing tracking techniques. Long sweeping brush-like panning and smooth crane shots which de developed while working with Kenji Mizoguchi who prefered longer tracked shots as opposed to rapid editing.
One of my favourite scenes in Rashomon shows the miniature silhouette of the rider being juxtaposed with an epic god-light background.
This was shot in 1950, no CG, no fancy cameras just perfect weather and great cinematography.
Kazuo Miyagawa won three Blue Ribbon's over the cource of his career.