Kodomo no shiki (1939)

19 07 2008

Probably the only “epic” I’ve seen from Shimizu thus far, but just as much of as a masterpiece as Arigato-san or Kanzashi. I have to admit, I was bit cautious approaching this seeing as how most of the other Shimizu films I’ve seen are about half as long and even then, they feel quite complete. Despite the unusual length, (by Shimizu’s standards, that is) Kodomo no shiki glides along as naturally as the director’s shorter works. Never does the film give off any sense of dragging, which may be in part due to the four sections in which it is divided. It is also a bit on the plot-driven side of things, but of course, under Shimizu’s impeccable direction, it doesn’t have a single step in the wrong direction.

Brothers Zenta and Sapei have always been told that they’ve never had grandparents. However, Sapei thinks that the old man that rides the horse by his friends is a perfect substitute. It turns out that said man is his real grandfather and that their parents have always kept their existence a secret after their grandfather had disowned their mother. Meanwhile, the boys friendship with long-time pal Kentaro is thrown into question when Kentaro’s father, Rohkai, buys the property where the boys’ usual hangout spot is located and thus, making it impossible to play on. As a result, the gang takes to the forest which leads to Kentaro breaking both his arm and leg. As the kids put aside their tensions and decide to remain friends, their parents continue to complicate the situation by holding on to long standing grudges.

It is extremely difficult to recount all the minute details that Shimizu jams into this sprawling masterpiece. The film is actually a companion piece to an earlier and much shorter film, Children in the Wind, which I did not know beforehand. Thankfully, this didn’t ruin my viewing in the least and in fact, the lack of normal “introductions” (so to speak) on Shimizu’s part only deepened my appreciation. The opening is oddly random and the two endings, one for part one and the other for part two, are abrupt in the most beautiful of ways. Based on these two conclusions, it can be argued that the story is inconsequential but such a notion seems almost laughable to anyone who has read the synopsis. Needless to say, the film is extremely consequential, but not in an overtly-dramatic sense. Shimizu has many minor things going on at once, which perfectly compliments the chaos of childhood and gives the film plenty of energy.

As expected, Shimizu’s is at his technical best here. Though the film is indeed “minimalistic” it actually opens with a shot of the grandfather on his horse that almost appears to be filmed on a modern steadicam, a device that unfortunately came after Shimizu’s life. The rest of the film is the usual (but equally mesmerizing) Shimizu tracking shot stuff. The scenes taking place outside provide the perfect balance between Shimizu’s visual poetry and pure naturalism. Such sequences reinforce the importance of shooting on location. While every other Japanese director of the time (at least so it seems) was busy on a studio set, Shimizu was busy finding images that are/were both undeniable and real.

Meanwhile, the indoor sequences have an unquestionable Ozu-like quality to them, which isn’t entirely surprising considering that long-time Ozu collaborator, Yuharu Atsuta is credited as one of the cinematographers. Not to downplay Ozu’s importance, but Shimizu essentially takes the same style and tries plenty of formal experimentation. Those through-the-wall tracking shots that both Shimizu and Mizoguchi perfected in the 30s takes on a whole new life when they are thrown in with 180 reverse-shots. To make things a lot less complicated, I’ll just say Shimizu has a great sense of space, perhaps the best of any classical Japanese director. Considering who Shimizu’s competition is in this category, that is a pretty big claim.

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