Kanzashi (1941)

24 05 2008

My first exposure to the cinematic world of Hiroshi Shimizu came with 1937’s Forget Love for Now (Koi mo wasurete) and honestly, it was a tad bit disappointing. It is a very fine film, no doubt, but between the non-ideal viewing conditions and somewhat melodramatic sensibility, it didn’t nearly live up to my expectations. This film, on the other hand, seems to correct all of the problems I had with that film. If anything, Kanzashi is one of the most undramatic films of all time, at least in a traditional sense. It downplays all the conventions of storytelling and yet communicates something extremely profound, if unexplainable.

The film opens with a fairly long tracking shot that follows a pair of women making their way to a hot spring resort. We cut to another group that includes by a recuperating war vet, Osamura. While taking a bath, his toe is pricked by a hairpin, which had been left there by Emi, one of the women in the opening sequence. He is baffled by his discovery but also sees a poetic illusion within it, leading the professor (another resort guest) to believe that some immediate romantic spark exists between Emi and Osamura. Emi returns to the resort to apologize but Osamura attempts to downplay the injury. They both become absorbed into an ideal way of living, shared with resort neighbors.

At the time of it’s release, Shimizu’s film was written off as being purely escapist and it is easy to understand why. Once the principle characters are introduced, little drama is injected into the story. Instead, the film is built around a series of snapshots ranging from awkward (Emi and Osamura’s first meeting) to silly (the snoring contest) to heartbreaking (the poignant finale) and all of this is filmed in Shimizu’s extremely austere style. His camera remains static for most of the film, with only a few exceptions. Combine this with Shimzu’s sharp humor, which is perfectly profiled in the introduction of the professor, and the result is something that anticipates the early features of Fassbinder, as well as the films of Tsai Ming-Liang.

Even when stacked up against the best of “plotless Asian” cinema, Kanzashi feels uneventful but this is, if anything, a strength. Where the film isn’t so much escapist entertainment, as it is about people participating an escape, it perfectly captures moments bursting with emotions nuanced to the point of appearing trivial. The “group” that we follow is almost like a perfect family, but underneath their fleeting moments of happiness, is something overwhelmingly sad. From time to time, Emi receives messages from Tokyo that encourages her to come back. In the end, everyone returns to Tokyo except for her. We know little to nothing of Emi’s past but it is lack of character exposition that makes the film so powerful. It captures a brief period of time in which essentially nothing happens, at least not on the surface, but underneath is a lot of drama and it is riveting as hell. In other words, a complete masterpiece.

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2 responses

27 05 2008
Michael Kerpan

One of my favorite Shimizu films. I think even Emi is on her way back, by the end (though this is only implied) — though to a new sort of life.

Forget Love for Now is a remarkable film. If it is melodramatic, it has compensations.

27 05 2008
Jake Savage

Forget Love for Now is probably at the disadvantage of being my first exposure to Shimizu. It’s a perfectly crafted film, but I was expecting something a bit more subdued.

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