Ornamental Hairpin, 1941

One of my favorite sequences in any film is the remarkably fluid lateral dolly shot through the financially ruined Furusawa household that opens Kenji Mizoguchi’s Sisters of the Gion, so it is particularly satisfying to see Hiroshi Shimizu further refining this technique in the seemingly effortless, long take, outdoor tracking shot of a pair of weekend vacationers from Tokyo (a conversation about the pleasure of having the powder removed from their faces suggest that they are geisha) descending onto a hot spring resort that cuts into a lateral dolly shot through the rooms occupied by the longer-term residents of a resort inn. This visual convergence in Ornamental Hairpin serves as an impeccable foreshadowing of the narrative intersection between the two groups as one of the young women from the weekend revelers, Emi (Kinuyo Tanaka) inadvertently loses her ornamental hairpin in the spring waters and is “found” by a soldier in recuperation from a war injury (Chishu Ryu) who cuts his foot on the object. Attempting to downplay the incident, the soldier calls the episode as almost “poetic”, a sentiment that the professor (Tatsuo Saito) then misconstrues as the soldier’s implicit romanticism for the owner of the hairpin – “a poetic illusion” that now seems within grasp when Emi decides to come in person in order to retrieve her property and personally apologize for the mishap. Filmed during the uncertainty of the Pacific War, Shimizu’s seemingly escapist, insular tale, based on a Masuji Ibuse short story, nevertheless reveals a crepuscular, allegorical meaning in the juxtaposition of the residents’ romanticism towards the owner of the ornamental hairpin, and the final shot of Emi in mid-step ascending the staircase – a state of limbo, isolation, and fugue – a reluctant return to reality and dissipation of the poetic illusion.

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