Mansaku Itami's bitingly satirical films rebuked the tired conventions of the samurai genre and, along with Daisuke Ito and Sadao Yamanaka, reinvented the period film. Like Yamanaka, Itami was one of the leading popularizers of tendency films, a genre specific to Japanese cinema which sympathetically depicted the plight of the poor. Whereas Yamanaka emphasized pathos of their condition with an unprecedented level of realism, Itami used razor-edged comedy to savage Japan's feudalistic culture and social conditions.
Itami was encouraged by his boyhood friend, Daisuke Ito, to take up writing screenplays and later he was hired by Ito, along with Hiroshi Inagaki, as an assistant director. In 1928, he joined an independent production company run by producer Chiezo Kataoka and wrote the scenario for Inagaki's first feature, Tenkataiheiki. In 1932, Itami directed his first major work, Kokushi Muso, a scathing comedy filled with satire and non sequitur. Another film of note is Kakita Akanishi. Instead of depicting the hero as a nihilistic ubermensch as seen in Daisuke Ito's epic, the protagonist here is wittily portrayed as a samurai who has all the flaws and virtues of an ordinary man. Itami showed little in the way of elaborate costumed duels that were de rigueur for the genre, instead he shifted from suspense to satire that exposes the absurdities of the culture's rigid conventions. In 1937, as Japan waged war in China while Nazi Germany grew increasingly threatening, J.O. Studio assigned Itami, as their top director, to co-direct the Japanese-German collaboration, The New Earth, with the German director Arnold Frank. Itami's irreverent sensibility meshed poorly with the heavy-handed Nazi sympathizer. Franck was uncompromising in his script, which detailed the life of a young Japanese man who renounces Western democracy in favor of the traditional feudal family system, in spite of gross misinterpretations (in Itami's eyes) of Japanese culture. Itami's career was cut short due to health reasons. He died after directing his last film, Kyojinden, in 1938. His son, Juzo Itami, became one of the leading directors of the 1980s and 1990s.