Japanese Cinema and the Academy Awards

As part of the Japanese Cinema Blogathon hosted by myself and JapanCinema, I thought I’d take a look at how Japanese cinema has fared over the years with the Academy. As it happens, Japan has had its best luck with the Academy in the Foreign Language Film category, but there have been a few other nominations (and wins) for filmmakers and actors from the industry.

I was surprised to find out that no Japanese actor or actress had been nominated for acting in a film from Japan. One would think someone like Toshirō Mifune would have gotten a nomination for his outstanding performances. Sadly, that was not the case. In fact, only four Japanese actors and actresses have ever even received acting nominations, all in the supporting categories.

Sessue Hayakawa was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in 1957’s The Bridge on the River Kwai. He lost the award to Red Buttons in Sayonara. This was the only of the film’s eight nominations that it did not win. Sessue began working in his native Japan as early as 1914 in silent films and became one of the first Asian actors to gain fame in America. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Nearly ten years later, Mako received a nomination in the same category for his performance in 1966’s The Sand Pebbles. He lost to Walter Matthau in The Fortune Cookie. Mako became a naturalized American citizen in 1956 and began his acting career in 1959, a career that spanned nearly 5 decades. Mako also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [Edit] Thanks to Tracie for reminding me that Ken Watanabe was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for 2003’s The Last Samurai. He lost to Tim Robbins in Mystic River. I can’t believe I forgot about him!

Miyoshi Umeki was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1957’s Sayonara, winning the award. Umeki began her career in 1950 as a recording artist for RCA Japan. She made her film debut in 1953 and only made seven films as an actress. Almost fifty years later Rinko Kikuchi was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her completely mute role in 2006’s Babel. Kikuchi lost the award to Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. She made her acting debut in 1999 and has been in over 25 feature films.

There have only been two Japanese directors nominated for Best Director. The first was Hiroshi Teshigahara for 1964’s Suna no onna (Woman in the Dunes). He lost to Robert Wise for The Sound of Music. The other nominated director was Akira Kurosawa, who’s films had won several Academy Awards since the 1950s, for 1985’s Ran. He lost to Sydney Pollack for Out of Africa. Kurosawa also received an Honorary Oscar in 1989  “For cinematic accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched and entertained worldwide audiences and influenced filmmakers throughout the world.”

Several Japanese films have been nominated and/or won in various Tech categories. 1953’s Jigokumon (Gate of Hell) won the Best Color Costume Design  (for 1954, though, since that was the year it was released in America) as well as an honorary award for Best Foreign Language film (I’ll get to this category and its history in a bit). 1953’s Utgetsu was nominated for Best B&W Costume Design in 1955 (the year of its American release), but lost to I’ll Cry Tomorrow. 1954’s Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai) was nominated in 1956 for both Best B&W Costume Design and Best B&W Art Direction; It lost to The Solid Gold Cadillac and Somebody Up There Likes Me, respectively. 1961’s Yojimbo was nominated for Best B&W Costume design, losing to La Dolce Vita. 1980’s Kaegmusha was nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Foreign Language film, losing to Tess and Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, respectively. Lastly, 1985’s Ran was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning one: Best Costume Design (won), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Director, losing all three to Out of Africa.

Two of Hayao Miyazaki’s recent films have been nominated for the Best Animated Feature award (this category was introduced for the 2001 film year). 2001’s Spirited Away won the category’s second award (having been released in America in 2002). 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle (released in America in 2005) lost the category’s 5th award to Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

The category in which Japanese cinema has had the biggest impact for the Best Foreign Language Film. It has won four times, although the first three wins were honorary awards given before the competitive category was established in 1956. The three films to receive honorary awards were: Rashômon (1951), Jigokumon (1954) and Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1955). One film has won the competitive award: Okuribito (2008). The films that were nominated, but didn’t win were: Biruma no tategoto (1956), Eien no hito (1961), Koto (1963), Suna no onna (1964), Kwaidan (1965), Chieko-sho (1967), Dodes’ka-Den (1971), Sandakan hachibanshokan bohkyo (1975), Kagemusha (1980), Doro no kawa (1981) and Tasogare Seibei (2003)

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About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on March 15, 2011, in Blogathon and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Ken Watanabe was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 2003 for The Last Samurai.

  2. Heh, I talked a bit about Hayakawa on my Asians on American Media article.

    And I always thought Rinko Kikuchi should have won over Hudson that year — but I am biased. I didn’t think Babel was amazing, but her performance and Barraza’s blew me away.

    I am shamefully admitting that I’ve never seen a Kurosawa film – I have Seven Samurais ready to watch, but… it’s just… SO LONG. xD

    Also… wasn’t Letters from Iwo Jima nominated for Best Picture? Though not a Japanese production, it was all in Japanese and had a mostly Japanese-speaking cast.

  3. I think it is a shame Mifune has never won an oscar – he is so amazing. When you see him in an English language film he usually is playing some sort of dignified role such as an admiral. But if you see something like Throne of Blood you get to see his passionate side.

  1. Pingback: Japanese Cinema Blogathon To Aid Earthquake and Tsunami Relief | Japan Cinema

  2. Pingback: Japanese Cinema Blogathon: Let The Blogging Begin! « the diary of a film awards fanatic

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