Children in the Wind (1937)

14 08 2008

Considering that this is most likely Hiroshi Shimizu’s most famous and popular film, it is a bit disappointing to discover that it only hints at his overall greatness. Don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful film, but it feels slightly less important, for lack of a better word, than his best work. It is perhaps too easy-going and carefree, both of which are terms I’ve grown accustomed to with Shimizu. However, in this case, his cinematic sensibility might just get the best of him and reaches the point that the film ultimately comes off as somewhat of a parody. These problems are pretty small and easy to disregard, though. Mostly just disappointing in the scope of Shimizu’s masterful career, but still a great film.

Zenta and his younger and less mature brother, Sampei, find their lives changing in a big way when their father is fired and then arrested due to charges of embezzlement. Their mother can’t take care of both of them so she decides to send the younger Sampei to live with his uncle. Sampei fails to adjust to his new home, though, and he rebels by climbing dangerous trees and floating in a tub down a river. His behavior at his uncle’s does not differ greatly from his behavior at home but his uncle responds differently than his mother, and sends him back home.

While this isn’t the best Shimizu film I’ve seen so far (not the weakest, either) it is probably the best starting point for one unfamiliar with his work. It does layout and present many of the thematic materials that would play a large part not only in Shimizu’s career, but the careers of his peers as well. Basing a film around two young trouble-making boys who have been deprived of a parental figure is something relevant in Ozu’s work during the 30s as well. This doesn’t subtract from the overall experience as Shimizu captures plenty of fantastic moments that are great on their own. One of the most memorable sequences being the one in which the two boys decide to “play Olympics” which involves re-enacting a swimming event inside their home.

Such moments help reinforce the very playful nature of Shimizu’s cinematic world, but it is perhaps almost too playful in this particular case. Again, this is not Shimizu’s worst film by any stretch. In fact, I’d say it is one of his greatest, but the aforementioned “playful” tone is constantly altering between being plotless and being inconsequential. The former is intended to be the positive description, the later is the slightly negative. I admire, hell even love, Shimizu’s disregard for drama but some sort of emotional thrust would have helped in this case.

A fine example would be relationship between Chishu Ryu and Kinuyo Tanaka in Kanzashi. It can be argued that the two boys have plenty of “internal drama” losing their father, but most of the time, we only see them being little boys. In retrospect, this was probably the right route on Shimizu’s part, but still the two boys seem a little flat and I mean this only in an ultra-critical and intangible way. It would be a little easier to say that there seems to be something missing here that keeps me from putting it alongside Kanzashi and Arigato-san but I’m not sure what that thing is. Whatever the case, I’d still say this is a masterpiece from one of the greatest directors ever.



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