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Yasujiro Shimazu

September 29, 2005

The Lights of Asakusa, 1937

asakusa.gifA well-crafted riff on Yasujiro Shimazu's familiar shomin-geki films, this time transplanted to a group of Western opera stage actors working in the bustling theater and entertainment district of Asakusa in old downtown Tokyo, The Lights of Asakusa is a charming and elegantly realized ensemble slice-of-life serio-comedy. Centering on the acting troupe's attempts to harbor a virginal young chorus girl from the lecherous advances of one of the theater's most powerful patrons - and abetted in no small part by the troupe director's wife and principal actress Marie (played by the legendary screen and stage performer, and frequent Ozu and Naruse actress, Haruko Sugimura) - the plot provides a simple backdrop for the ecletic personalities of the film's cast of characters: a struggling painter who derives inspiration from European art, a veteran actor who contemplates retirement after being jeered onstage, a lonely arcade worker who longs to escape the tawdry lights of the district, a well-intentioned actor (Ken Uehara) whose off-stage samaritan deeds and insistence on fairness and righteousness rival the heroics of his on-stage persona, an older, world wise chorus girl who takes it upon herself to protect her young co-worker's honor. Eschewing plot in favor of richly textured characters, the film is a thoughtful and affectionate portrait of camaraderie, pragmatism, and human decency.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 29, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Shochiku at 110, Yasujiro Shimazu

September 27, 2005

Our Neighbor Miss Yae, 1934

missyae.gifFrom 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.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 27, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Shochiku at 110, Yasujiro Shimazu