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Beautiful, Unforgettable, Melodrama From a Japanese Master
The plot is very simple, a shimpa melodrama set in the Meiji era (some things in common with Mizoguchi's shimpa work during the 50s). Uta, actress Mizutani Yaeko, a wandering actress tired of her life, is taken in by a generous and good natured tea merchant (until her troupe gets back with her) ostensibly to teach his daughter how to dance. He dies and leaves his family with a good deal of debt (there is also some social problem of having a wandering actress living with him and his family.) The merchant's son is left with the family business, which he is not experienced or learned enough to take care of, and dissolves it. At Uta's urging, he goes back to school, and she is left in charge of the family estate. Problems surface, and it builds in a fairly melodramatic climax.
The direction is that of a sort of gliding, at a distance. Shot by Ikai Suketaro, who also photographed his extremely beautiful film Kanzashi, Ornamental Hairpin, there are some shots in the beginning while a handful of itinerant performers are strolling through the forest that I will always have with me. Extremely satisfying to watch, you get the feeling that every beautiful shot was planned out meticulously, but there's also a feel of improvisation. Blacks, whites, and grays almost glowing, and in some ways it reminded me of Dreyer's Ordet (the funeral scene compares to the prayer scene in it's tracking shot over the faces of those attending.) This film (like all of Shimizu's films) certainly has a style of it's own. There is a total lack of "symobolism", leading one to regard them as "pure cinema", rather than any filmed theater or filmed novel. One frame can tell a story in his films, and it can also be an unforgettable landmark for remembering a character, or group of characters, in one of his stories. I can't wait to watch this again.
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