Kanzashi (1941)


(director/writer: Hiroshi Shimizu; screenwriter: based on a story by Masuji Ibuse; cinematographer: Suketaro Inokai; editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura; music: Takaaki Asai; cast: Kinuyo Tanaka (Emi), Hiroko Kawasaki (Okiku), Tatsuo Saito (Professor Katadae), Chishu Ryu (Nanmura), Shinichi Himori (Mr. Hiroyasu), Hideko Mimura (Mrs. Hiroyasu), Jun Yokoyama (Taro), Masayoshi Otsuka (Jiro); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Yasuyuki Arai; Criterion-Eclipse Series 15; 1941-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“A touching, playful and lyrical romantic drama shot at the beginning of WW II.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A touching, playful and lyrical romantic drama shot at the beginning of WW II. It’s written and directed by the great but overlooked in the western world Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Shimizu, and tells about two gentle lost souls who are on the verge of making a love connection after meeting cute when reality calls and puts the brakes on the romance. It’s based on a Masuji Ibuse short story, that has a deeper allegorical meaning than its lighthearted escapist theme would suggest.

It opens with the stunning long take shot of a bunch of happy geisha girls strolling on a country road and excited about not wearing makeup while the sun, on this pleasnt day, hits their faces, as they vacation in a rural hot spring resort.

A young soldier named Nanmura (Chishu Ryu, future star of Ozu films) is on leave at the mountain resort with a group of neighborhood friends from Tokyo that include a bossy, grumpy and stuffy Professor Katadae (Tatsuo Saito), an obsequious married couple that has the husband (Shinichi Himori) with the annoying habit of trying to put words in his timid wife’s (Hideko Mimura) mouth to agree with his safe opinions, a Go playing grandfather and a young couple with two energetic young boys bored by the resort’s routine life.

While bathing in the spring, the soldier accidentally steps on the titular ornamental pin and delays returning to his military duty because he hobbles around on crutches. The soldier wishes to make no big deal about it and claims the wound was “poetic,” as he graciously accepts the management’s apologies. When the owner of the pin, a beautiful woman named Emi (Kinuyo Tanaka), who lost the pin in the spring writes management to return it if found, learns she injured the soldier–she leaves Tokyo to apologize in person.

The professor misconstrues the soldier’s statement that it’s a poetical wound and expects the meeting of the two would lead to a romance. Though Emi is smitten with the soldier and helps him go through various tests to walk again, like walking across a log bridge unaided by crutches, at the end of the summer all the soldier’s neighbors depart for Tokyo. The soldier joins them when he walks up a steep staircase unaided and declares himself fit to return to Tokyo. There’s a sadness in the film’s pessimistic conclusion in seeing Emi left alone and in a state of limbo at the resort and her plans to leave her financially secure life as a kept woman with this potential romance thwarted by the soldier’s need to rejoin his fellow soldiers in the battlefield.