23 March 2020 | topitimo-829-270459
Earliest surviving film by Shimizu
I have seen over a dozen films by Shimizu Hiroshi, the psychological realist and the scholar of childhood. This is the earliest surviving entry-point for us later audiences. By 1929, Shimizu had directed over a 30 films, of which only fragments and still photos (if that) exist. This obviously leads one to appreciate "Fue no shiratama" (Eternal Heart, 1929) more, even though it's not actually a great film, or even one that resembles the director's later renowned style.
The film tells the story of Toshie (Yagumo Emiko), a sensible and traditional girl who works as a stenographer in a firm. She is in love with the handsome Shozo (Takada Minoru), who unfortunately gets engaged with Toshie's sister Reiko (Oikawa Michiko). Reiko is nothing like her sister, she is a modern girl ("moga") who lives a very loose life and has casual relationships. Like many Japanese films of this kind, by having two such polar opposites for sisters, the film provides an argument about the effect of modernization to gender roles. From today's perspective, while both Toshie and Reiko have qualities that we view as normal and positive parts of everyday womanhood, neither is really a positive role model. The division of character traits is a bit too black and white for that.
I recently watched another early Shimizu that has survived, the two-part melodrama "Nanatsu no umi" (Seven Seas, 1931). Like that film, this has a modernized look, and lots of imagery that would appear americanized. However, though it's a very melodramatic story, "Eternal Heart" is not quite so scandalous. Only if you compare it to Shimizu's later, better films like "Ornamental Hairpin" (1941), does it seem plot-driven and loud. I liked the way the film looked, and I also liked the actors, though their characters weren't that interesting. Both Yagumo and Takada can be seen in a few early Ozu films. The storyline did not really do it for me, because so many pre-war Japanese films have told the same tale better. However, I am happy that this survives.