On the Criterion Blu-ray for Sansho the Bailiff (Sansho dayu) (1954), actress Kyoko Kagawa explains what she learned about acting from Kenji Mizoguchi, the master Japanese director of Ugetsu and The Life of Oharu:
Mizoguchi taught me the fundamentals of acting: the attitude one must take towards preparing for a role, and also not to act from your head. Strip away everything that’s unnecessary and become as purely– In other words, become your character. Understand your character’s feelings and express them precisely. When you think about it, that’s obviously what’s expected of an actress, but it’s also the most difficult thing.
Mizoguchi was an influence on many filmmakers, from Jean-Luc Godard to Andrei Tarkovsky to Akira Kurosawa. What Kagawa describes sounds like nothing so much as The Method, popularized by Lee Strasberg at The Actor’s Studio and actors like Marlon Brando and Robert DeNiro. But the acting in Sansho reminds me of the more extreme acting seen in Stanley Kubrick films.
On the DVD and Blu-ray bonus features for Eyes Wide Shut, Nicole Kidman talks about Kubrick’s philosophy of acting:
Stanley always was waiting for something to happen. He wasn’t as interested in ‘naturalistic’ acting, as he was in something that, for whatever reason, surprised him or piqued his interest. That’s when he would go, “Ah, okay. Now we’re onto something.” And he was always interested in exploring things. There was no right and wrong in relation to making a film, a performance. … It was about exploring all facets of it, so that he could go into the editing room, and edit it.
Mizoguchi favored many takes, like Kubrick, but he seemed to have what he wanted in mind. He was known to reshoot a whole scene just because of a small detail. For example, in Sansho, the scene where the slave traders take away the mother on a boat. The original version of the scene had some backlit lighting in a shot. Mizoguchi decided it wouldn’t match with the other shots, and ordered a re-shoot, despite the difficulty of rescheduling the actors.