Fue no shiratama (1929)

10 06 2008

Shimizu’s oldest surviving film is, oddly enough, also one of his longest and for my money, probably his least accessible too. It does have plenty of examples to prove just how much of an experimenter Shimizu was, at least in the technical aspects of filmmaking. On the other hand, such an archaic aesthetic is a bit hard to take seriously at times. He is a great filmmaker, and there is no doubt in my mind about that, but I’m not sure it necessarily translates in this project. It should go without saying then that this film is, at least in my mind, only for hardcore Shimizu fans. It’s an interesting entry in his catalog, no doubt, but this interest never rises above being a minor curiosity.

The passive and hard-working Toshie has fallen in love with the handsome Narita. Due to her reserved and old-fashioned sensibility, she is only seen by him as a friend. He instead has eye for romance centered on Toshie’s sister, Reiko, who simply put, is a party animal. Toshie hides her true feelings and in the process, approves the marriage of Reiko and Narita. Toshie is understandably heart-broken but her pain gets worse when Reiko returns to her old habits. In the meantime, Mr. Katayama, a widower with three children, begins displaying a romantic interest in Toshie. Their relationship goes from bad to worse when, in one of the film’s most fantastic sequence, Katayama’s children welcome Toshie in a rather rude manner. She is driven back home, where she is greeted by a emotionally battered Narita.

Shimizu, as he did in Japanese Girls at the Harbor, showcases many liberties taken within the whole “silent era” aesthetic. He is not quite as creative and playful here, but for my money, he was miles above his peers from across the sea. It’s difficult to judge him with his Japanese colleagues of the 1920s considering the fact that so very few films remain from this period but he still seems a bit more confident than Ozu did in his (somewhat indistinct) films from the 20s. If this film does anything, it reinforces just how impressive Shimizu is at handling the technical aspects of filmmaking.

In the last few weeks, I feel like I’ve repeated the above sentence at a nauseating rate. These “minor” films are interesting no doubt, but still quite disappointing when compared to Shimizu’s later and much more groundbreaking pieces. Not to mention that his later films have an emotional maturity that is very much lacking here. Then again, this is a silent film so one just has to anticipate some intrusive behavior. Considering the conditions under which this was made, it is pretty much a fantastic piece of filmmaking but it stands as nothing more than a minor footnote in Shimizu’s vast and unfortunately unexplored career. While I cannot see myself specifically recommending Fue no shiratama, I also can’t see myself specifically recommending someone to not see it.



2 responses

10 06 2008
Michael Kerpan

While I like the easier-going tone of later Shimizu fiulms a bit more, I found this early silent film pretty breath-taking. Not certain I would want it done even a little differently….

10 06 2008
Jake Savage

I’ll use the inexperience with silent films excuse again and revisit it in a couple months.

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