Kon’yaku samba-garasu (1937)

17 06 2009

Another really great effort from Yasujiro Shimazu, perhaps even better than his (slightly) more famous masterwork, Our Neighbor, Mrs. Yae. This film, made three years later, has the benefit of more famous cast including such heavyweights as Shin Saburi and Ken Uehara, not to mention sadly forgotten performers like Mieko Takamine and Tatsuo Saito. The 65 minute running time doesn’t give much chance for rich character development, but Shimazu still manages to create a fairly complete cast of characters, while simultaneously juggling elements of shomin-geki and Hollywood screwball comedy.

Shuji Kamura is out of work and as a result, he and his wife are forced to separate. Their reasons are completely financial, as both still carry romantic feelings for the other. Shuji becomes an employee at some sort of extravagant clothing store. There he becomes acquainted with his co-workers and friends to be, Shin Miki (Shin Saburi) and Ken Taniyama. (Ken Uehara) Despite solving the issue of unemployment, Shuji and Junko remain separated, while the ill-tempered and not-so-frugal Shin takes up residence with Shuji. Despite being already engaged, the three all fall in love with the boss’ daughter, Reiko, played by the lovely Mieko Takamine. Just when all three think they have a chance, their past lives float to the surface.

This potentially hokey narrative unravels naturally, as one would expect with Shimazu, and the content is handled brilliantly. The opening sequence between the soon to be separated Shuji and Junko is undeniably heartbreaking, but Shuji’s job interview is a real riot. There were more than a few hints of comedy in Miss Yae but nothing to indicate the comedic talent on display in this particular sequence. The tone begins to settle down after the extreme contrast within the first five minutes. From then on, the story proceeds in a more natural, yet equally delightful manner.

The simplicity of the story doesn’t give much to work with on a visual level, but the work of Shojiro Sugimoto (an early collaborator with Ozu) is more than just servicable. It’s definitely in the vein of the track-heavy style of Shimizu and Mizoguchi, though to make a direct comparison would be overlooking a lot. Overall, though, the photography isn’t a particularly important element. Shimazu uses all of his 65 minutes with his characters. Maybe it’s just the high quality of the cast, but it is absolutely a joy to spend a limited amount of time with these characters. Shimazu has shown the ability to make a cinematic portrait that is as rich as the work of his peers.



2 responses

21 06 2009

Are you really only 17?

22 06 2009
Jake Savage

Yes. I’ll be 18 in July.

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