Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Three from Japan

Every once in a while it's enjoyable to dip into some of the fine films that were made in Japan in the 1930's and early 1940's.

Here are three I watched recently:

Hideko The Bus-Conductor [1941]
Mikio Naruse made what film critics have called shomingeki [lives of common working class people] dramas. All of his films have an easy style with very tight scripts and good character development. With rather simple technique, in most of his films, he is able to convey a lot about his characters. Many of his films are like novellas. Hideko The Bus-Conductor is only about an hour long and not as complex as some of his films but memorable still.
Hideko (Hideko Takamine) is a young woman working as a ticket-taker on a slow bus line. She and her co-worker come up with a plan to turn the bus into a tour bus. They get a friendly writer [visiting from out of town] to compose a script for Hideko to read. They convince their penny pinching, crooked boss to agree to their plan and end up winning a potentially legal battle with him with help from the writer. Naruse captures the small town milieu with beautiful fog shrouded mountains in the background and the quiet roads that probably won't benefit from a tour bus. The ending is both sweet and ironic. Good film.

Our Neighbor, Mrs Yae [1934]
Just who is YasujirĂ´ Shimazu? Because I didn't know better I confused him with Hiroshi Shimizu who has four films on the Eclipse box set. But Shimazu was a wonderful director in his own right. Our Neighbor, Miss Yae is about a two families that live next door to each other. It just so happens one family has two boys and the other two girls. The younger sister (Yumeko Aizome) is in love with the older brother and she flirts with him often even though she is too young to marry. When her older sister comes to visit - due to marriage trouble - it causes a rift because she too fancies the older brother. Shimazu presents a slice of life in pre-war Japan that appears easy going but that has many modern issues such as divorce and extra-marital affairs. The film's style is elegantly effortless. The opening shot in particular is fine and some of the transitions are quite dynamic - such as when they all go to the city to see a movie. There is also a good scene at a baseball game. Not a perfect film but a good one.

The Lady and the Beard [1931]
Yosijuro Ozu is known by everyone as the filmmaker who made dramas about regular folks who struggle with trying to find love and fit into Japanese familial and societal obligation. A good number of his earlier [silent] films were light comedies with a much more rambunctious style than he had later in his career - when he never moved the camera. But these early films too dealt with this obligation - albeit in a less stringent way. The Lady and the Beard is a silent 'student comedy' about a bearded young man named Kichi who is independent and oblivious of what people and society expect of him - especially regarding his appearance. He is also a Kendo champion which comes in handy when he prevents a couple thieves - led by a woman gangster - from robbing a young woman. The grateful woman comes back into his life and tells him that if he wants to get a job he should probably shave the beard. In time, other woman fall for him including the female gangsters he once challenged. It's a simple but terrific film. The actor who plays Kichi is played by Okada Tokihiko who has a great physical presence.

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