Okayo no kakugo / Oyako’s Preparedness (1939)

29 03 2015

There’s a simultaneous sense of difficulty and joy in writing about a filmmaker like Yasujiro Shimazu. It comes from the lack of literature about the filmmaker in general. It’s difficult because there’s no consensus discourse formed around his work, but there in lies the joy. The responsibility is great, but engaging with his films provides us the opportunity for us to establish a narrative. Frustration comes from the many holes we have in his career. As is the case, I hesitantly call this film an important departure from his 1938 effort So Goes Love. Like that film, a “light” comedy turns dark, but the political factors are more muted here. It’s an important change for Shimazu, and the role of his leading lady, the great Kinuyo Tanaka, positions an even greater career shift.

1

Oyako is a live-in assistant at a dance academy.  She occupies the space of both a pupil and a professor, providing lessons, but also acting as something of a maid to the academy’s “master” (as she refers to her) Osumi. Shunsaku, a photographer, enters the studio one day to photograph the two. Oyako is visibly flustered by the appearance of such a handsome man. She can’t hide her blushing face, which is explained away by Shunsaku’s assertion that “cameras make young people blush.” While waiting for the development of the pictures, Shunsaku takes Oyako out to dinner. She’s completely smitten, but later overhears a conversation between Shunsaku’s mother and Osumi. He’s interested in marrying a complete different student at the academy.

2

The economic hardships depicted in a film like So Goes Love are not completely eliminated here. For example, Oyako’s grocery shopping trip ends prematurely because of money. Income doesn’t drive the narrative here, love does. Oyako’s unrequited crush for Shunsaku is to be understood by us as a tough case of puppy love. Osumi herself explains the pain as being part of her youth. Age and experience makes us wiser about relationships, time allows us to reflect on past heartbreaks as something not so serious. Even if we cried uncontrollably, as Oyako does here, the privilege of hindsight allows us to even laugh about these earlier disappointments.

3

Still, Oyako’s pain is registered as valid by Shimazu’s camera. For most of the film, his eye remains neutral. The tight spaces of dance academy almost seem to expand with his camera’s distance. However, he focuses in after Oyako gets her heart broken. He himself might take the position of Osumi, he suggests we all experience these unrequited crushes in our youth, but even then he understands that Oyako’s pain, in that moment, feels like the biggest tragedy ever. With this pain, she imagines herself delivering a powerful dance performance on a stage. It’s all captured in one take, then the film dissolves back to her in the dance academy. She collapses, the camera slowly pans in unison with a swelling soundtrack. The pans anticipates the presence of another body. Perhaps Shunsaku has returned to pronounce his love! The pan stops, but no body enters the space. The film ends.

4

It is interesting that Oyako’s youth is stressed so frequently as the woman who plays her, Kinuyo Tanaka, was transitioning out of the “youthful” part of her career. Prior to the 1940s, Kinuyo Tanaka was a sex symbol. At the very least, her sexuality played a factor in her public persona. As the 40s rolled along, Tanaka’s image shifted. In A Hen in the Wind, she was the victim of spousal abuse in Ozu’s most violent film. Her collaborations with Mizoguchi, furthered this image of the enduring victim. Even in Life of Oharu, where she plays a sex worker, her own sexuality of no interest. The tragedy of the film is the sexuality of men violently imposed on her own body. Because of so many traumas, love itself triggers pain and anxiety. At a certain point, her face became indicative of endurance but unlovable. It’s an unfair arch that dominates the career of many women actors, but Oyako’s Preparedness should be commended for mapping this trajectory.

5





Hyuil / A Day Off (1968)

16 03 2015

Death, even when we’re prepared for it to separate us from those that that we love, is jarring. It is many other things, of course, but we seldom process it as an event. Death isn’t an event, though film often tries to sell us it as an event, just sadder and bigger than other ones. Perhaps it is ironic, but the deaths that echo through our brains and leave a sticky residue on our hearts, are something we wrestle with the rest of our lives. Films depicting death get it wrong usually, they provide closure, a sense of purpose underneath all the tears. Either that or they briskly drift away from the emotions and treat death like another plot point, another event in life. A Day Off is a tragedy, one whose visuals and narratives won’t be unfamiliar to anybody well versed in a certain type of sad, poetic arthouse flick (Olmi’s The Vanguished comes to mind, for one) but it offers us a new way of encountering death and grief.

1

Jee-yun and Huh-wook might be in love, or they might just be understanding and sympathetic to their mutual physical needs. The would-be couple meets every Sunday, under the pretense of coffee, but the interactions are physical. We’re treated to a Sunday that would be like any other for the two, except that Jee-yung has some unfortunate news: she’s pregnant but her body can’t handle it. An abortion is necessary, and Huh-wook hops from one irresponsible friend to another in an attempt to borrow the necessary money. He ends up stealing some from a rich friend. Now financed, the operation is set to proceed, but the doctor warns Jee-yun that it will be risky. With the anxiety of Sunday bearing down on him like the cold of Seoul’s winter, Huh-wook wanders around the city to escape the pressures of his reality.

2

“Her name was Jee-yung” Huh-wook informs us at the film’s opening. The past tense suggests she may no longer be with us, a danger that is reiterated by the doctor. Jee-yun does not survive the film. Her death is indeed upsetting, yet director Lee Man-hui’s refusal to depict it onscreen is of interest to me. He could have easily given the two lovers tearfully embracing in a hospital bed as one of them life drew to a close. Jee-yun’s off-screen death makes sense to the film’s focus, we spend more time with Huh-wook throughout, but the absence of a visualized death is of great interest. We do not see enough of Jee-yun to know much about her, outside of information that comes to us in relation to Huh-wook. It sounds almost like a slight, but honestly, the most intriguing element of the film is what we’re never privileged to see on screen. Not Jee-yun’s death, but the way she carries this burden against all the other social factors that already threaten her life.

3

It’s difficult to elucidate what I find so compelling about the framing of (err the lack thereof) Jee-yun’s death. Huh-wook’s bender ends with a drunken hook-up. We can only presume that during this ecstatic encounter, Jee-yun’s life is slipping away. Huh-wook wakes up to the church bells, whose sound signals the end of Sunday. We seem some mental labor taking place in his effort to re-establish his concerns: he needs to be reminded of the fear he feels for Jee-yun. Arriving at the clinic, he’s given the news. A nurse, almost condemning his night of debauchery informs that if he had only arrived a little earlier, he would have had the opportunity to say goodbye. This is treated as a tragic irony, further driving the knife into Huh-wook’s heart. What if he hadn’t gotten drunk and noticed a particularly striking woman at a bar? Does it matter? Jee-yun still would have died, yet that dramatic moment of closure, so frequently depicted in movies, is treated as valuable. It is valuable, of course, but it could never have undone the damage.

4

Jee-yun’s death would be the crux of many narratives, perhaps it was meant to be here, but the film provides us with a moment that concisely confronts grieving. Fueled by alcohol and tears, Huh-wook sprints to nowhere in particular as his head revisits his most cherished moments with Jee-yun. We want these moments, they provide us a heartbreaking and poetic eulogy. But it doesn’t all come together, Huh-wook’s ugly crying takes over the soundtrack. Neither we nor Huh-wook gets to blissfully replay the past. We can only squint and see our memories obscured by the power of the present. Following the loving montage, Huh-wook sits on a train. His crying is no replaced by a hyper-observant sound design that captures all the mundane found in a late night on public transportation. It’s the most brilliant moment in the entire film: the reverie of Huh-wook’s grieving collides with reality. Unfortunately, it doesn’t slow down to let you deal with your pain.

5





King Lear (1987)

14 03 2015

The lost or unrealized film, as a concept, is endlessly fascinating to cinephiles. Just in the past year, Frank Pavich’s loving documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, explored the endless possibilities that we can dream up for a film that never exists. However, I can’t share Pavich’s enthusiasm for Jodorowsky as an artist, and I find him forcing the idea that the non-film in question would have been an unquestioned masterpiece. King Lear is just one of the films that Jean-Luc Godard, yet in all his resourceful, he managed to restructure the failure of the project itself into a film. As maddening and complicated as the film itself stands today, I can’t help but find that the entire project was planned ahead by the filmmaker. The messy failure that was the film’s production becomes the actual film’s powerful and beautiful meditation on art.

1

The world is beginning to pick up the pieces following the Chernobyl disaster. William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth is searching for pieces of language from his ancestor’s past and in doing so bumps into Don Learo, who might actually just be a famous playwright, and his daughter, Cordelia. Don Learo is actually Norman Mailer, but Mailer and Kate, his real daughter, leave the film after two takes of the opening scene. They’re replaced by Burgess Meredith and Molly Ringwald, embodying the hybrid space of the artists and their actual roles. Meanwhile, Professor Pluggy/Godard is auditioning to become a recluse, chaperoned  only by goblins (one of which is played by Leos Carax) while diving into the “deep end” of his research.

2

On the surface, one can easily claim that Godard’s adaptation can be only be called that with one’s tongue firmly in their cheek. In the middle of the controversy surrounding the film’s production, Godard confessed that he never read the source text. It sounds like him being coy and playful in his unique sort of way, but it wouldn’t surprise me. There are connections to be made with the Bard’s original text, but Godard’s interest is in the act of creation itself and its labor, potentially futile, when it comes to the world at large. Stuart Hall once made a remark that critical theory, in the face of suffering and oppression, seems unproductive or at least lacks the necessary urgency for true social justice. Godard is making a similar claim about art.

3

King Lear does qualify as a science fiction film and it does take place in a world recovering from an apocalyptic event yet even if we take such circumstances to heart, it is still funny to think of William Shakespeare’s word as at risk or even worse, completely lost. To say nothing dismissive about Shakespeare himself, his canonization in academia is so firm that if we ever “lose” him, we can lose anybody. Despite one’s own personal opinion on his art, his work has been molded into a syllabus that has been unquestioned, perhaps to the detriment of educators and students alike. His words, even if we do connect with them on an emotional level, have little use when we’re suffering from radiation poisoning. This isn’t a dismissal, but a conversation on art’s limitations that doesn’t exactly shape the film, but become a crucial moment. I would argue that Godard has always been a political filmmaker, even when he was making something comparatively more approachable like Band of Outsiders, but here he begins asking what can the political filmmaker do? What are they to do in order to question or fight the way things are?

4

Shakespeare’s King Lear is a story about territory and power, which sounds like fertile material for Godard and yet, his eye focuses towards Lear and Cordelia, the incestuous potential he finds in their relationship. It’s communicated to us even as there is no specific physical manifestation of said feelings. Burgess Meredith, as Lear(o), never really settles, his uneasiness embodies the tension. He is not a leech, but he is overly protective of his daughter. He’s always about to snap, and he frequently does so when his daughter, Molly Ringwald (who seems to be providing the blueprint for every Hal Hartley heroine ever), dictates back to him his own words which he finds unsatisfactory. Lear(o)’s guarding of his daughter makes sense in the text’s time and place, but here it manages to synthesize a relationship between power, territory (which we can read as colonialism), and gender. It is interesting to note that Kurosawa switched Lear’s daughters to sons in Ran, erasing this relationship. A minor detail for one filmmaker is the most crucial element for another.

5

The theme of territory looms large over both Shakespeare and Godard. No one Godard film can be separated from the rest of his canon, and King Lear, at least to me, has an inseparable relationship with For Ever Mozart. There, the white leftists and artists find themselves as the saviors as opposed to the occupiers. They feel entitled to the territory, just the way that colonialism tells us that White men are entitled to the land of natives. The violence all occurs under words like “cultivation” and “civilization” and “enlightenment” which obscures real history and produces the one that leads us to the racist and sexist shackles that maintain and inform the public’s idea of “common sense.” Art, perhaps, can be the thing that challenges this common sense. It is an effort that feels hopeless, as though we are throwing pebbles at the bruising machinery of hegemony, but it is necessary and vital. The institutionalized study of Shakespeare, divorced from the man’s own words, has become a part of this larger common sense. If this film undermines him, then it is a political act. We can love Shakespeare, but he is the White, the Colonizer, the Oppressor. Ironically, so is Godard and so am I. Even as we do speak out against these very forces, we are protected by and benefit from them. To return to my borrowing and paraphrasing of Hall’s quote, what purpose does art serve in relation to all of this? Godard abandoned words a long time ago, they’re not enough to answer this question.

6





Tokyo no eiyu / A Hero of Tokyo (1935)

16 02 2015

While he still lacks the extensive critical examinations of his peers, there is still a narrative built around Hiroshi Shimizu and his films. It’s one that I have likely contributed to, yet here I feel the urge to resist this facile story. The narrative is heavily reliant on the upbeat, “bubbly” surface of Shimizu’s films, and the “darkness” boiling underneath. The description works to describe A Hero of Tokyo, at least to an extent. But perhaps we should get beyond that surface, and just acknowledge that for all the smiling, there is something deeply troubling happening in all of Shimizu’s films. He only has but an hour here, yet he becomes sincerely biting and downbeat in a hurry. For some, it might seem like descending into an excess of pathos too quickly, but one of Shimizu’s strengths has always been that he’s been able to communicate the pain of his characters in a completely unique structure. No one made movies like this before Shimizu, and no one has made movies like him since. That’s not hyperbole, his films operate on a unique wavelength.

1

Kaichi and his friends lament about their fathers working long hours. To alleviate this, Kanichi, Kaichi’s father, decides to remarry. He marries Haruko who already has her hands full with two kids, Hideo and Kayoko. Not soon after, Kanichi disappears, leaving his son with his “new family.” Ten years later, Kaichi is on the verge of graduation and Kayoko is to be married. The night after wedding, though, she returns home. Her husband has rejected her, on the grounds of her mother’s profession. To keep the family together, Haruko has secretly become a barmaid. Upon finding this out, Hideo becomes an alcoholic while Kaichi graduates to become a journalist. Walking around Ginza, looking for a scoop, he discovers his half-sister, Kayoko, has followed in her mother’s footsteps.

2

The unstable patriarch is frequent motif in Japanese cinema. Hell, Shimizu wasn’t even breaking new ground himself, at least not from a strictly narrative perspective. After all, the most celebrated film from this previous, I Was Born But… offers us a disillusioning image of a father, one that Ozu actually meditates on. Shimizu’s father is more schematic. He disappears in the first act and then reappears in the end, where he is loudly condemned both by the film and his son, Kanichi. This moment might not seem so satisfying  because Shimizu credits all the family’s struggles to the father’s leaving. The cynical viewer might scoff when Kanichi verbalizes this analysis of his father’s taking off, but we’ve been shown the repercussions of his act throughout the film.

3

I don’t disagree with the film finding fault in the father’s actions, but I do think that its most interesting moments occur when he is out of the picture. The family is then, left without the “stabilizing force” of a father, thrown into chaos. The father acts almost like a Chekov’s gun, albeit a human one that influences the moments of tragedy in the narrative. It sounds petulant to blame everything on the father that left your family, but in this situation, the seductive lure of patriarchy, the pitch that promises a wife that she need not find a vocation, has all collapsed. The system itself is shaky because the “positives” of it can’t even be experienced. Haruko, in fact, takes up an occupation in which all the negatives are crystallized. Though, we never see it, “sex work” is coded into her work as bar maid and thus, various forms of violence are ever ready to impose her body.

4

It might be enough for some just to have a film in which the resilient woman rises above these impositions (if you want just that, there’s always Mizoguchi) but Shimizu, clumsily but admirably shifts this into a critique. Hideo discovers Haruko at her bar. Their standoff reaches its climax when she calmly suggests that he shouldn’t be there, “Being my son, you shouldn’t be here.” He retorts, “True. Being my mother, you shouldn’t be here.” All the resiliency Hideo has seen in his mother has evaporated because he’s discovered something about her that doesn’t comfortably fit his own narrative of motherhood. His quote suggests that he’s never been able to see her as her own person. He’s not upset because a woman has to resort to work as a bar maid, but he’s upset that his mother did it. Even if it did provide for him in the long run. Her occupation, while stigmatized, never prevented her from spending time with her children. The family crumbles but it only does so when two men (Kayoko’s husband and Hideo) discover the truth about Haruko. Before her secret is revealed, the family was fully functional and loving, but it is undone by something that is unsavory.

5

There’s maybe only two valid complaints I can think of, the first is the final father-son standoff, which verbalizes the film’s conversation in a way that manages to be too neat and too awkward at the same time. My second issue is not entirely fair on my part, but it is the handling of Kayoko, played by the wonderful Michiko Kuwano. She becomes a “famous” (her description) sex worker in the Ginza district. While she has followed in her mother’s footsteps, she hasn’t shared her feelings to this labor. There’s evidence, in fact, to suggest that she’s enjoying her work considering the circumstances. The reveal of this is treated as a plot point, though, and her own resiliency is never celebrated as her own mother’s is. In truth, the reason here is because the film is ultimately about Hideo and Kaichi, their vulnerable masculinity, and what they construct and interpret “a mother’s love” to mean to them. Hideo refuses to adapt to his mother’s reality, and it kills him. Kaichi accepts her and, with much catharsis, confronts the source of the family’s misery, his father.

6





Henry Fool (1997)

24 01 2015

After two viewings of Henry Fool, I am still, despite my love for Hal Hartley, ost. My brain continues to work all of it into something resembling expressible thoughts, but I sit here to unpack a film that I’m not entirely sure can be unpacked. The secret to Henry Fool, assuming there is one, might be to understand that the various reactions to the film, might be the very thing being addressed. To clarify, the film’s most visible concern is a conversation about art, particularly our (the audience) reception to it. Like the titular character itself, art can be both fascinating and repulsive. It’s to our discretion to decide which impulse we find ourselves most comfortable with that shapes our critical reception.

1

Simon Grim is a quiet and rather plain garbage man working in Queens. He lives with his sister, Faye, and their mother. However, there is little evidence of social interactions outside of his family. Even within the family’s house, he maintains his flat affect. He gets caught watching a couple being intimate, which leads to physical abuse. At home, a sound prompts him to lay his head on the concrete. Out of nowhere, Henry Fool appears. Henry quickly informs Simon of his troubled past, but skips on the details. To be short, he establishes himself as a runaway rebel, an artist too uncompromising to possibly keep his head above water in such a sanitary world. Henry encourages Simon to write, which he does. Simon’s poetry is polarizing – it causes a deaf mute to sing, but many others are repulsed by it. Deemed unfit for publication, Henry decides to publish Simon’s poetry on the internet, where it receives unfathomable attention.

2

In drawing a narrative outline for Henry Fool, I managed to allude two rather important things: Henry’s “unconventional” courting of Faye Grim, which leads to a child and marriage. The second is the Grim’s mother, Mary. Heavily medicated and resigned to spend afternoons on the couch, she is a character whose tragic nature lurks in the corners of Hartley’s frame. Sure, his films are just as serious on the surface as they are comical, but the humor, the snark, the staccato-like rhythm of the dialogue all seem to gloss over the tragedy and violence that do exist in Hartley’s work. Usually, these elements are manifested towards the end where Hartley’s trademark bittersweet music begins to swell and we reach a conclusion that works as both the climax and resolution, emotionally. He’ll leave us with plenty of questions, but closure has been communicated to us cinematically. Mary’s story is never augmented by such gestures though, she suffers and eventually dies quietly. The sadness that informs her death is based around the two Grim children, not her.

3

In most responses to the film, Mary’s death is ignored. Sure, mentioned in some recap of the plot, but never given the same consideration as Henry, Simon, or Faye. She’s a peripheral character, which might explain it, but many could say her death is handled poorly. It happens too quickly and we’re not given the time to embrace the enormity of her absence. It’s these swift movements that make much of Hartley’s work both difficult for some and devastating for many like myself. It’s not bad filmmaking, in fact I think it is perfectly intentional that Mary’s death just happens as films too often provide us the space and time to grieve, and then forget. Here, we’ve never made it past the first step. The two scenes that take place in the church – Mary’s funeral and Henry and Faye’s wedding are both interrupted. In any conventional film, these sequences would provide us with a proper and comfortable release of emotions – both happy and sad. Hartley teases us, though. In the case of Mary’s death, it feels more like an event that will continue to occupy an upsetting but unavoidable part of brain. Dealing with death in real life, seldom involves dealing with it, and then moving on. It’s always there, and Hartley’s incomplete dealing with Mary’s tragic end seems to evoke that dreadful sensation.

4

In the foreground of Henry Fool however, is a very concise and clever conversation around art reception. Simon’s poetry produces intense emotions in anyone who reads it, but every response seems to contradict the next. Of course, we’re never privy to the actual content of his work, which is an intentional move to emphasize the reaction, not the art itself. Perhaps it is disgusting, but then again, maybe it is profoundly beautiful? While working as a garbageman alongside Simon, Henry finds what he believes to be a ring. Simon corrects him, it’s simply an unremarkable loose part. Henry keeps the “ring” and after a rather violent bowel movement, he inadvertently uses it to purpose to Faye. The metaphor might be forced on Hartley’s part here – Henry’s literal trash is, while he is taking a shit, interpreted as a symbol of undying love and devotion. The obvious parallel with Simon’s poetry is easy to draw, though the literalness of the sequence comes off as humorous rather than cumbersome.

5

Henry Fool might be Hal Hartley’s most maddening work, but it is also his most dense and strangely, his most accessible. The temptation to link my own reaction to the film with its titular character is far too great. Henry Fool the film is fascinating, vital, and funny just as it is mean-spirited, brutal, and violent. The most frustrating part of the film might be its brisk handling with domestic and sexual violence. Juxtaposed with Hartley’s other work, though, it is hard not to see this as representing the vantage point of Henry, the walking id of white male “tortured artist” types. Thankfully, it  doesn’t condone his spirit and it doesn’t require moral handwringing to make that clear. The fact that my response to Henry Fool is so murky and undefined might prove its point exactly. Art, like life, is complicated and our response should reflect that.

6





Do widzenia, do jutra / Goodbye, See You Tomorrow (1960)

13 01 2015

Narrative film has, since its inception, maintained a vested interest in depicting love. The problem, if there is one, is how close to reality these depictions have been. Rather than experiencing love first hand, many of us are indoctrinated into a culture of heteronormative romance fueled by cinema’s bursts of passions that seldom hold weight in reality. It’s not an entirely new idea, but so much of what we construct and understand as romantic love, is informed and inspired by a Hollywood screenwriter from the 1930s. This isn’t to say someone like say, Lubitsch, touched on the truth from time to time, nor is it a call against old Hollywood. Instead, I think any serious discussion about Janusz Morgenstern’s breezy but fascinating should begin with the question: what is love to us, and what are the pieces we use to stitch together this idea?

1

Jacek is a young and charismatic theater student who, one day, stumbles upon the fickle yet beautiful Marguerite. She resists his advances, but doesn’t push him away entirely. Instead, she makes it clear that while she is willing to have fun with Jacek, she is also quick to leave him. The two’s spontaneous tennis date ends with her running off with a man who has both a better grasp of her native language (French) and tennis. Jacek’s feelings remain and the two manage to continually run into each other around the city, which leads to further spontaneous dates. To Jacek, this inspires poetry but to Marguerite, it is nothing more than a distraction until she leaves the country. Maybe Jacek’s longing is all just an attempt to get into character anyway.

2

The setup here is filled with potential problems, but Morgenstern (in this, his first feature) carefully tiptoes around them. While the narrative is indeed built around Jacke and his feelings for Marguerite, never does the camera suggest that such feelings are logical. In fact, the film ends with the concept that the feelings have just been a performance anyway. There’s plenty of snappy and cute films (many birthed from various new waves) that offer us a protagonist like Jacek, but they present his desire as the only factor deserving of our sympathy. The cute girl, ever rejecting the male protagonist’s advances, is suppose to be as maddening to us, the audience as she is to our male hero. Here, the opposite is true. Jacek’s ideas on love seem preposterous while Marguerite, despite being 7 years younger, is the much more grounded and rational of the two.

3

So why bother with Jacek at all anyway? The frame story here posits the idea that his courting of Marguerite was either just a performance on his part or just a very intense imagination. Of course, the answer could be both, but the idea of performance is the one that gives us the most to work with. The proposition could then be that the experience of love is something of a performance, no not a conscious acting out, but a thing that we feel like we’re suppose to do because well, we’ve been fed the images to believe in it since we were born. I’m not enough of a cynical asshole to say that love is completely fake, that’s simply ridiculous. Instead, I think what the film gives us is the idea that we are eager to take on a certain role in relationship. Romantic love exists, but it takes more than what Jacek has to offer here. Throughout the film, we’re treated to a show involving hand puppetry. The movements of the hands, visually removed from the rest of the body, are oozing with sexual potential. It’s Jacek’s sensuality that has him pining for Marguerite. As she herself says, “The unreal life is the best I can offer you.” The ability to recognize and point out the differences is Morgenstern’s biggest accomplishment.

4





Nanatsu no umi: Zempen Shojo-Hen / Seven Seas: Virginity Chapter (1931)

4 01 2015

Ambitious projects such as the Seven Seas one would not be the norm for Hiroshi Shimizu, at least for what survives from him. The peaceful, quiet, but equally heartbreaking phenomena that occurs in his best films (Mr. Thank You and Ornamental Hairpin, to name just two) is boisterous and tragic. At least, that is the case for this film, the first entry in the two-part series. The technical bravado that runs through all of his work is present, yet it seems to take on a completely new meaning in the context of a film that is more dramatic on the surface (which comes from its literary origins, surely) yet demonstrates something very specific and unique about Shimizu’s abilities as a filmmaker.

1

Yumie is a working class girl engaged to Yuzuru. She gets invited to a party put on by her fiance’s parents, but she initially ignores the request. She’s busy, and has better things to do. She submits to the family’s pressure, though and at the party she meets international playboy Takehiko. Takehiko falls hopelessly in love with Yumie, at least that is how he explains his possessive behavior around her. Yumie quickly feels uncomfortable and leaves, but the next day, he proudly declares his love for her, which makes her visibly but she tries to console him. Playing off of her good will, Takehiko is able to take advantage of Yumie. The repercussions of his act begin to disintegrate what was once a promising family.

2

With this first part of the series being titled “Virginity Chapter” it is tempting to assume that the main dramatic conflict revolves around it. While Yumie’s chastity does play a part in the drama, the reality is less her “indiscretion” (and it seems problematic to call it that) and rather the responses of those around her. Her father is heartbroken, to the point that he feels validated in violently tossing her away when she crawls to him crying for help. Yumie has not “slipped” but rather has been pressured, with Takehiko’s threats of violence, into sexual activity. Despite some characters’ insisting that Yumie is at fault, she has become a victim of sexual violence. As is the case even today, her experience, her very own pain is the thing used to denigrate her.

3

The “Virginity Chapter” ends with the suggestion that Yumie will accept the potential nightmare of becoming Takehiko’s wife. She acknowledges the pain, but her face suggests a potential scheme. She might not have an elaborate plan for revenge, but as Takehiko’s object (and I think it’s important to use the word object here, as Takehiko clearly doesn’t care about her as a person) of desire, she suddenly has some control. To be anything short of the unreasonable expectations would frustrate him, let alone openly defying his orders. Her tragedy has given her the opportunity to be in control. It’s a revolutionary thought, though one can criticize this for providing a dramatic shift that absolves Yumie of her past trauma. If this all sounds like a little too much for a Shimizu film, it’s important to remember this pain and this violence was always lurking in the corners of his protagonists’ past.

4








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