Sunday, October 9, 2016

Japanese Girls at the Harbor


Silent and wonderful and very strange. Director Hiroshi Shimizu -- one of the forgotten masters of classical Japanese cinema -- invented his own film language and here it is used to create a series of free-floating emotional tableaus, either in support of, or not, a story. (I can't tell.) It seems to be about two Yokohama high school girls who go their very separate ways, one called Sunako, the other Dora. (Dora? In 1933 Japan?) Yes, for the movie cuts with an anti-Western edge, as it opens with foreboding scenes of foreign ships filled with non-Japanese passengers: we see foreign cars, a Christian church, gangsters right out of Scarface (1932), and the names Dora, Henry, and the troubled Yoko Sheridan. (Henry and Dora later get married and live in a thoroughly Western house.) The main character (and the movie's troublemaker) is Sunako (played by the rather limited Michiko Oikawa, who looks forlornly at the ground quite a bit). Sunako yearns for Western-style bourgeois respectability, while mistreating (and eventually tossing out) her devoted Bohemian boyfriend; and while yearning for the cheating ex-gangster husband Henry, who breaks his own devoted wife's heart. (Dora is played by Yukiko Inouye, who for some reason reminds me much of Renèe Faure in Les Anges du Peche.) As we move along, many questions arise. Why is there no emotional weight given to the artist boyfriend? How did Sunako escape after shooting Yoko Sheridan? How did Yoko come to such dire straights? What crime did Masumi commit? What exactly is Yoko guilty of, besides getting shot by Sunako?

We don't know. Shimizu never tells us. But his language is so his own that you won't care and all you'll remember are the sequences: the disappearance dissolves; the shooting in the church; the slow track to the left revealing who Sunako's new neighbor is; the unraveling ball of string; the montage of "where we used to walk together"; Masumi's arrest; Sunako's bar search for Henry; Sunako's recognition of her neighbor; the ending's visual exhiliration.