Saturday, October 02, 2010

Minato no Nihon musume

[Ragazze giapponesi al porto / Japanese Girls at the Harbor] (Shochiku, JP 1933) D: Hiroshi Shimizu; ass. D: Takeshi Sato, Isao Numanami, Tai Ogiwara, Yasushi Sasaki; SC: Mitsuru Suyama; DP: Taro Sasaki; AD: Takashi Kanasu; cast: Michiko Oikawa (Sunako Kurokawa), Yukiko Inoue (Dora Kennel), Ureo Egawa (Henry), Ranko Sawa (Yoko Sheridan), Yumeko Aizome (Masumi, a barwoman), Tatsuo Saito (Miura, a painter), Yasuo Nanjo (Harada, a gentleman); 35 mm, 1956 m, 78' (22 fps); from: National Film Center, Tokyo. In Japanese with English intertitles on print. Viewed at Cinema Verdi, Pordenone (GCM) with e-subtitles in Italian and Antonio Coppola on the grand piano, 2 Oct 2010

From the GCM Catalogue: "Justifiably Shimizu’s best-known silent film, Minato no Nihon musume is one of the masterpieces of Shochiku’s Kamata style, with its visual flamboyance and creative fusion of Japanese and Western themes, styles, and techniques. Shimizu’s talents as a director of full-blooded melodrama are seen at their height in this story of jealousy, violence, and sexual transgression, and the emotional power of the basic plotline is intensified by the director’s expressive imagery. His mastery of composition and montage and his remarkable formal experimentation all contribute to the impact of the drama, and the film also benefits from superb performances by Michiko Oikawa, Yukiko Inoue, Ureo Egawa, and Ozu’s regular actor Tatsuo Saito. Writing at the time of release, critic Fuyuhiko Kitagawa commented that Oikawa and Saito’s roles as lady of the night and painter respectively “show Shimizu’s unique sensibility”. The film, based on a story by Toma Kitabayashi, unfolds mainly in the cosmopolitan port of Yokohama, and focuses on the lives of two women, Sunako and Dora. The former is in love with Henry, but after he falls in with a group of gangsters, he is seduced by Yoko Sheridan, who is shot by the jealous Sunako. Sunako flees Yokohama and becomes a prostitute, while Henry marries Dora and settles down to a stable life. But after Sunako returns to Yokohama, the paths of the two women cross again… The shoot took four and a half months, an unusually long time for Shimizu, who had achieved a reputation as a fast worker. Due to Michiko Oikawa’s other acting commitments, filming was interrupted for a time, during which Shimizu realized his first sound film, Crying Woman in Spring (Nakinureta haru no onna yo, 1933). Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano has written that the film “deploys the contrasts of fallen and married women, Japanese and Eurasian bodies, and Yokohama streets and domestic spaces”. To achieve authenticity, Shimizu toured Yokohama’s red-light district in the company of author Kitabayashi. Shooting both in the studio and on location, he revels in the atmosphere of a multicultural city characterized by ocean liners, Christian churches, Western-style painting, and mixed-race characters. Yukiko Inoue, who played Dora, was herself half-Dutch, and Ureo Egawa, playing Henry, was partly of German descent. Michiko Oikawa, the actress who plays Sunako, was a Christian. Nevertheless, as William M. Drew writes, “For all the film’s incorporation of Westernized elements, it remains profoundly Japanese in much of its poetic imagery as well as its prevailing ethos.” It is one of the outstanding works of Shimizu’s career, and of the Japanese silent cinema as a whole. ALEXANDER JACOBY & JOHAN NORDSTRÖM." - The first Hiroshi Shimizu film I have seen. The print quality is fair, the blackest levels are missing. Shimizu has a strong visual approach in framing, camera movement, and editing. He keeps inventing bold, striking ideas. The feeling is melancholy. The structure of the film is symmetric. It begins and ends in the harbour, the ship sails away, there are the farewells, the streamers, the horizon, and the seagulls. This is a poetic film about loneliness, emptiness, and alienation. - There are at times affinities with Mizoguchi and Naruse, but Shimizu is an original.

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