Sunday, October 03, 2010

Nanatsu no umi / Seven Seas

[Sette mari / Seven Seas] (Shochiku, JP, 1931-32) D: Hiroshi Shimizu; ass. D: Takeshi Sato, Isao Numanami, Tai Ogiwara, Eijiro Nagatomi; SC: Kogo Noda; DP: Taro Sasaki; cast: Yukichi Iwata (Shingo Sone), Kinuko Wakamizu (Miwako Sone), Hiroko Kawasaki (Yumie Sone), Hideko Takamine (Momoyo Sone), Haruo Takeda (Yunosuke Yagibashi), Utako Suzuki (Yagibashi’s wife), Joji Oka (Takehiko Yagibashi, the elder brother), Ureo Egawa (Yuzuru Yagibashi, the younger brother), Hiroko Izumi (Hisako, the younger sister), Kenichi Miyajima (Kurakichi Ohira), Eiko Takamatsu (Ohira’s wife), Sachiko Murase (Ayako Kirihara), Jun Arai (Yamaman), Satoko Date (Yoko Takasugi); 35 mm, 3475 m, 152' (two parts, 71' + 81') (20 fps); from: National Film Center, Tokyo. English intertitles on print. Viewed at Cinema Verdi, Pordenone (GCM) with e-subtitles in Italian and Mie Yanashita on the grand piano, 3 Oct 2010

From the GCM Catalogue: "Nanatsu no umi, originally released in two episodes in December 1931 and February 1932, was one of the first films produced at Shochiku after the exodus of talent led by Kiyohiko Ushihara’s discontented former star, Denmei Suzuki. It was notable for its remarkably strong characterization of the heroine, played by Hiroko Kawasaki, as well as its trenchant social critique incorporating concerns of Westernization, modernity, and class struggle. William M. Drew comments that “Shimizu’s film is […] closely related to the leftist Japanese ‘social tendency’ films of the time, denouncing the inequities of a rapidly industrializing, urbanized capitalist system in which the wealthy class exploited the struggling middle class and proletariat.”
The film was based on a novel by Itsuma Maki (real name Kaitaro Hasegawa), a popular novelist of the early Showa period who authored stories of modern Tokyo life under that pen name, and also wrote historical stories under the pseudonym Fubo Hayashi, creating the popular folk hero Sazen Tange. The novel was adapted by Kogo Noda, who was already occasionally writing scripts for Yasujiro Ozu, and would become his regular screenwriter in the post-war years. In contrast to his simple scenarios for Ozu, the script for Nanatsu no umi is elaborate and melodramatic, telling the story of a woman, Yumie, who is engaged to be married to Yuzuru Yagibashi, the son of a wealthy family. At a garden party hosted by the Yagibashi family, she meets Yuzuru’s brother Takehiko, who falls for her and later rapes her – an action which precipitates the death of Yumie’s father and the madness of her sister. Yumie marries her rapist, hoping to avenge her disgrace.
Noda displays an extraordinary skill in developing a narrative containing numerous characters and many unexpected developments. His script is brilliantly dramatized by Shimizu’s direction, which displays the flair and intensity characteristic of his work during the silent era and of the Kamata style as a whole. The actors give excellent, full-blooded yet understated performances. The Kinema Junpo reviewer, Matsuo Kishi, pointed to Shimizu’s interest in the “modern girl” figure played by Sachiko Murase, but devotees of Japanese sound film will be especially glad to see a 7-year-old Hideko Takamine, who would give outstanding performances for Mikio Naruse and Keisuke Kinoshita in adult life. ALEXANDER JACOBY & JOHAN NORDSTRÖM."

A fairly good print with a slightly duped quality. - The original visual approach of Hiroshi Shimizu is immediately evident in the train sequence that opens the film and where the man commits a terrible misjudgement on the Western style woman with her free manner. Again, there is a profound sense of melancholia in this film, with some affinity with the films of Mikio Naruse. There is a lyrical quality in Shimizu's cinematic storytelling. The film starts engagingly but proceeds in a more ordinary manner. I watched the first hour or so.

1 comment:

Michael Kerpan said...

You should have persevered. The best moment of the film comes in the second half. A scene outside, in the gently falling snow between the little sister (Hideko Takamine at 7, and remarkable) and the hero. Wordless (even in the context of silent cinema). Makes me sniffle every time. ;~}