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May 14, 2008

Japanese Girls at the Harbor, 1933

japanese_harbor.gifMy first impressions of Hiroshi Shimizu's films during the Shochiku At 100 New York Film Festival sidebar were the agility of his camera movements that favorably compared to Kenji Mizoguchi's tensile dolly shots, and a lightness of touch in the development of the narrative that, like Yasujiro Ozu's cinema, converges towards gravitas without being abrupt or contrived. In hindsight, these early observations would also hold true for Shimizu's Japanese Girls at the Harbor, a film that, like his early masterpiece, Ornamental Hairpin, is propelled by a moment of carelessness that would have far reaching consequences for its characters. Set in Yokohama, Shimizu illustrates the ebb and flow of life in the port town through the opening montage - an establishing shot of an international passenger ship docked on the harbor that cuts to a pair of high school students, Sunako (Michiko Oikawa) and Dora (Yukiko Inoue), who stop by an overlook every afternoon on their way home from school to watch ships go by, daydreaming of exotic destinations as they wait for their life to begin, even as they resign to the mundanity of their own probable futures. "Watching ships make me feel sad. Maybe I belong here", remarks Sunako. But Sunako's destiny would lie elsewhere, away from her devoted childhood friend, as she vies for the affection of a fickle-hearted neighborhood boy, Henry (Ureo Egawa), who has fallen under the spell of a worldly temptress, Yoko Sheridan (Ranko Sawa). Driven to despair after losing Henry to her rival, Sunako's metaphoric fall from grace begins, not coincidentally, at a church - an impulsive act that would lead to her self-imposed exile. Drifting from Nagasaki to Kobe in the company of a penniless artist, Miura (Tatsuo Saito), Sunako seems destined to lead a disreputable life away from home until a fellow prostitute, Masumi (Yumeko Aizome) convinces her to make a new start in her hometown, and soon faces the ghosts of her unreconciled past. Shimizu visually reinforces the idea of resurrected ghosts by using dissolves to indicate ellipses (of exiting characters) during the latter half of the film, first in the image of the brothel patron, Harada (Yasuo Nanjo) who leaves when Sunako gives her undivided attention to Henry, then subsequently, Henry, who is chased away by Miura when he accompanies Sunako to the door of her apartment. The convergence between past and present is also reflected in the recurring, stationary shot progression - both as close-up and zoom out - that punctuates Sunako and Yoko's fateful encounters, reinforcing both the tension in their confrontation as well as their parallel destinies (a connection that is also suggested in a linear tracking shot of the two women looking out the windows of their apartments). Concluding with Ozu-like, pillow shots of mooring and discarded portraits in the harbor, the tranquil images reflect Sunako's newfound liberation and transformation, a moral redemption enabled by sacrifice, compassion, humility, and self-forgiveness.

Posted by acquarello on May 14, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Hiroshi Shimizu


Just watched this again last night and noticed among the images in the film pairs of images tend to pop up, you can spot this at the house of Dora and Henry with the two scrolls at the wall, at the bar of Sunako with the chairs (alternating between a plain chair and the "cube" chair), or even the pan of Sunako looking out the window that eventually stops with Yoko, or the most obvious being the early parts of the film. I wonder if its a motif, certainly pops up often enough. I love this film :), I think it would be an interesting double bill with sunrise (though both use the imagery of doubles to a different effect with Sunrise being the pole opposites and Japanese Girls at the Harbor uses it to a more complimentary effect both are still similar with their theme of patching things up or catching oneself from falling before its truly too late)

Posted by: Anon on Oct 02, 2009 6:52 PM | Permalink

Ah, interesting. That would make sense with the Dora/Sunako parallels too.

Posted by: acquarello [TypeKey Profile Page] on Oct 03, 2009 7:20 AM | Permalink

Yes, but also it seems that the imagery works in reinforcing a certain complimentary nature to the relations on screen. With Dora/Sunako in the beginning as these two peas in a pod, then Sunako/Henry (a "bad" boy and still innocent school girl, most interesting is the later pairings. That does seem to parallel each other in a way with the relation of Henry/Dora and Sunako/Painter being quite similar but with roles somewhat reversed, its interesting to note how its the Painter in a role similar to a housewife/Dora (taking care of the house, cooking dinner, and eventually being "cheated" on). In that way it there does seem to be a sort of optimism that pervades, in that one does have a place or a person in the world despite there being "too much people" as the painter complains when he's sitting with Yoko on the streets. However, it certainly is a rather fragile place when intruded upon.

Posted by: Anon on Oct 03, 2009 7:20 PM | Permalink

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