September 27, 2005
Our Neighbor Miss Yae, 1934
From the seemingly effortless opening tracking shot through a middle-class neighborhood that terminates to a shot of two young men practicing baseball pitches in the backyard of their suburban home (and accidentally breaking the window of a neighbor's home), Yasujiro Shimazu illustrates his remarkable agility with the medium in the sublime shomin-geki (home drama), Our Neighbor Miss Yae. Ostensibly chronicling the story of a budding affection for the girl next door, Yaeko (Yumeko Aizome), the film is also a complexly (but gracefully) choreographed portrait of contemporary 1930s Japan, as the two households broach an array of traditional and modern social realities from divorce and extramarital affairs, to a young woman's sexual forthrightness, independence, and virginity. Shimazu's elegant command of narrative and camera is bolstered by the equally strong, natural performances of the actors (most notably, the great character actress, Chouko Iida), resulting in a remarkably fluid and delightfully satisfying slice-of-life portrait of prewar Japan.