May 2011, arsenal cinema

Nippon Modern: Shimazu Yasujiro

THE LIGHTS OF ASAKUSA, 1937 © Shochiku Co., Ltd.

Shimazu Yasujiro (1897–1945, not to be mistaken for Shimizu Hiroshi) belongs to the directors who in the 1920s and 30s worked for the Shochiku company (but also for TOHO) and developed a realistic style often characterized by socially critical commitment, which became known as !Japanese classicism" of the pre-war period. The directors of the Nikkatsu company (to whom Mizoguchi belonged) pursued a different style that adhered more to theater. In the case of Shochiku, the influence of U.S. cinema was already dominant, along with the American editing technique introduced by cameraman Kotani, who had previously worked in Hollywood. Shimazu, who remained in Tokyo after the earthquake in 1923 and worked in Shochiku's Kamata Studio, initially shot melodramas, but then turned to modern dramas set in everyday life, discovering new actors and actresses and turning them into stars them stars. Many Japanese directors of the next generations were inspired by the work of Shimazu, including Gosho Heinosuke and Kinoshita Keisuke, who worked as assistant directors for Shimazu. The Tokyo FilmEx Festival stated in its catalog: "Shimazu Yasujiro’s influence on Japanese cinema cannot be overestimated." In November 2009, Tokyo FilmEx contributed to the rediscovery of Shimazu with its retrospective “Nippon Modern: 1930s”.

THE TRIO’S ENGAGEMENT (Konyaku sanbagarasu, 1937, Feb. 23) In a period of unemployment, three young men simultaneously find jobs in a textile factory and all fall in love with the daughter of the factory owner, leading to rivalry between them. Yet all three are already engaged. The sophisticated romantic comedy makes use of the decor of the Ginza city district and the period's lifestyle to portray three types of modern youths: the youth from the suburbs, from the city center and the countryside. Shimazu gave the three roles to then still unknown actors, who after the film became known as "Shochiku's three birds".

THE LIGHTS OF ASAKUSA (Asakusa no tomoshibi, 1937, Feb. 24) A drama about youths set in the scenery of the Asakusa Opera during the Taisho period (1912–1926). The film succeeds in vividly staging the atmosphere in the city district of Asakusa and its contemporary lifestyle. Sugimura Haruko, as the prima donna of song and dance, is at the fore of the film, along with Ken Uehara in the role of a hero. Reiko, a young female dancer, is urged to become the lover of a nouveau-riche steel magnate, but her fans and the members of her ensemble close ranks to come to her defense.

SO GOES MY LOVE (Ai yori ai e, 1938, Feb. 25) A melodrama relating the love story of a young woman. An unsuccessful young writer is living together with his girlfriend, but his parents oppose the relationship and obstruct the writer's career. Toshiko, the younger sister of the writer, futilely tries to make them see reason. Finally, the uncle of the writer persuades the girlfriend to sacrifice herself for the writer by leaving him. After a number of vagaries, the affairs finally dissolve. Of particular interest are the portraits of the two women caught between old and new value systems.

Thanks to Shochiku Co. Ltd. (Ishida Satoko) and Tokyo FilmEx (Hayashi Kanako).