Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Izu Dancing

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My work situation has finally stopped thrashing about, entitling me to some free evenings. The nightly monsoons have kept me away from the live music down on The Plaza, so films once again present themselves as alternative. After the marathon stretch of Kobayashi's "The Human Condition" (we could only handle one hour doses of this brutal, 10 hour masterpiece), we've settled in with Shimizu Hiroshi. He reminds us some of our beloved Ozu, manipulating actors as props as a means of diminishing the subjectivity of role, and creating a story that speaks to the universal in us all. If Ozu was a maker of tofu (as he famously claimed), then Shimizu is a master of okayū. He shares Ozu's slow pace of storytelling, yet utilizes camera techniques seemingly cribbed from European Surrealist films of a decade earlier. These effects weren't commonly seen in Hollywood until being 'pioneered' in Citizen Kane in 1941.

Shimizu was one of the first directors to commonly use location rather than sets. To view the dirt roads of 1930's rural Japan is to see the contemporary Laos roads over which I traveled this winter. It also shares a lot with the deep-country Shikoku pilgrimage trails I walked last autumn, minus the power lines and vending machines. Shot on a bus actually traversing the Izu countryside, "ありがとうさん” ("Mr. Thank You")
features scenes of a long gone country life rolling on behind the characters, showing it such deference that the landscape itself eventually becomes more important than the actors themselves. It is one of the earliest road movies that I can think of. As I watched it, I surprised myself in that the film reminded me somewhat of John Ford's 'Stagecoach' (filmed three years later), where archetypes are thrown together, then bound by the landscape through which they pass. But rather than solidifying that bond through the drama of an Indian attack, Shimizu's film stays true to the fact that most of our human encounters stay light and impersonal, in our sharing moments with strangers who will remain just that. His films offer glimpses of life that, while possibly thought mundane at the time of release, bask in a beauty that is both bittersweet and enchanting, made more so by their fleeting nature.

On the turntable: Drive-by Truckers, "The Big To-Do"
On the nighttable: Hammett, et al., "The Essence of Santa Fe"

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