3 November 2019 | topitimo-829-270459
Shimizu's early two-parter does not reflect the director's strengths
Shochiku director Shimizu Hiroshi had by 1931 directed over 50 films, but since very little remains of the director's silent years, one is forced to view the two-part "Nanatsu no umi" (Seven Seas, 1931-32) as an "early work". Then again, in the Japanese studio system it often took years for directors to find their own personal angle to film-making, look at Mizoguchi or Naruse for instance. Based on "Seven Seas", Shimizu had not yet found his personal style in 1931.
Shimizu's best works are poetic. They are slice of life -dramas, where plot is irrelevant, and instead the director's ability to capture the moment and portray deep emotions become the key elements of the social realism. Often he lets large portions of the narrative play out in the spectators minds, like in "Arigato-san" (Mr. Thank You, 1936). "Nanatsu no umi" finds the director away from his comfort zone, lost at sea if you will. This is an adaptation of a novel by Hasegawa Kaitaro, which has been turned into a screenplay by famous Ozu-sideman Noda Kogo. The narrative is about a young woman called Yumie (Kawasaki Hiroko), who is engaged to a wealthy man (Egawa Ureo), but gets in trouble when the man's brother (Oka Joji) also becomes obsessive about her. Lots of scandalous things occur, from rape to insanity, all flashy and atypical for the usually minimalist Shimizu. The director does not seem the least interested in the film he is making.
The two hour, two part -film is very plot-driven, and certainly isn't slow. The Japan visible in the film is very Americanized, as was the case with Naruse's two-part melodrama "Kafuku zempen" (Learn from Experience, 1937). The story line didn't hook me in, because the character work is lazy, and the film has the look of a fast, meaningless production. Cinematography and writing are nowhere near the level of Shimizu's later films, which this film really doesn't resemble at all. Any Shochiku director could have directed this.