Japanese Girls at the Harbor (1933)

8 06 2008

On the surface, this is probably the single most straightforward and conventional of all of Shimizu’s films. The story is a bit too simple and melodramatic, but aesthetically speaking, this probably Shimizu’s most radical feature. It seems that his financial and cinematic limitations gave him a free-reign to try different things. I’ve never seen a director make such playful use of intertitles as Shimizu does here. At times, they seem closer to the intertitles in a late 60s/early 70s Godard film than the ones in a conventional silent film. I suppose I couldn’t become as absorbed by this as I was in Shimizu’s other features but that’s mostly has to do with the disconnection my brain has with silent films. Otherwise, this is just as great as anything else he’s ever done.

Teenage schoolgirls Dora and Sunako are the best of friends but their relationship is thrown into question when Sunako begins donating her time to Henry. He seems to be more interested in Yoko, though. Bitter, Sunako acts on her impulses and shoots Yoko. Several years later, Sunako is now a prostitute following an artist, Miura. She feels she is destined to wander around forever, but her friend, Masumi, suggests that she begins a new life in her hometown. Striped from more ideal options, she follows Masumi’s recommendation, but must conjure up her dark(er) past in the process.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this film lacks the emotional power of Shimizu’s later features but as I mentioned earlier, this does have a more experimental aesthetic. That isn’t to say its some sort of Stan Brakhage-esque “avant-garde” film, but rather just a showcase for some of Shimizu’s more unorthodox techniques. The repetition of intertitles, though eventually abandoned, does seem like something one would find in the silent film version of Fassbinder’s Katzlmacher. Even though it is a bit silly, there is one sequence where the font grows in correlation to the rapid-fire cutting. Such a concept is hard to explain in words but it makes sense in motion. Not the greatest of Shimizu’s films, but definitely one worthy of being seen on its own terms.

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2 responses

9 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

One of my many “favorite” Shimizu films. I don’t think this lacks any of the emotional power of the later films — I think it packs quite a punch. ;~}

9 06 2008
Jake Savage

I can see how it could pack a powerful punch, but my inexperience with silent films is probably to blame in this case.

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