by Allan Fish
(Japan 1937 73m) not on DVD
Aka. Koi mo wasurete
Keep your stinky perfume
d Hiroshi Shimizu w Ryusoke Saito ph Isamu Aoki m Senji Ito, Akiyasu Ozawa art Kotaro Inoue
Michiko Kuwano (Oyuki), Tomio Aoki (Kotaro), Bakudankozo (Haru), Shuji Sano (Kyosuke), Fumiko Okamura (Madam), Setsuko Shinobu (A-ko), Hatsue Gion, Man Ikebe, Mary Dean, Kenji Oyama, Mitsuko Mito, Kazuko Kumaki, Koichi Ito,
There was a hope that, with the release of two excellent Hiroshi Shimizu box sets to DVD, other classics of his oeuvre would surface. Sadly, it was a forlorn hope, and though grateful for what we had, we still await the likes of Seven Seas, Silver Stream and Eclipse, all regarded as the cream of his early thirties output. Myself I have only seen a couple of Shimizu films outside the eight released in the box sets, but one of them finds itself worthy of inclusion here. The print quality is mediocre, taken from an actual film reel, with burnt in English subtitles and timecode. It covers the sort of plot the Ozu made his own earlier in the decade, yet there’s something a little different to Shimizu’s handling that marks him out almost as the forerunner of the modern masters.
In a Japanese port town, Oyuki works at a hotel bar as one of the girls employed to encourage patrons to drink. She hates the job, but does it because she has no other way of supporting her young son Haru through school. There are problems at work because the Madam who runs the hotel refuses any of the girls’ just demands, refusing to give them shares in the beer money that other hotels do, insisting they buy their own food and clothes and put up with any abuse, physical or otherwise, meted out to them by guests, not least passing foreigners. Haru meanwhile has his own problems, the other kids, invited back to Haru’s house, eat him out of his candies, then seeing his mother’s expensive perfume, bandy it about that she works as a woman of ill repute and bar him from their games. Oyuki finds out and does her utmost to take him to another school, but even there he is ostracised and, eventually, seems ashamed of his mother. After one fight with the other boys, he catches a cold and is ordered to rest, but in his desire to stand up for his mother, he gets out of his sick bed, beats up the perpetrator, but collapses and dies soon after of pneumonia.
Despite various films about children from Shimizu, from Children of the Wind to Four Seasons of Children, it’s rather to Ozu’s films on similar themes, such as I Was Born, But…, that the film seems most comparable to. As in Ozu’s film, the children judge their status by their parents’ work. Just as the kids in Ozu’s film were ashamed of their fathers kow-towing to his bosses, so those in Shimizu’s look down on Oyuki, a single parent who can do no other, sacrificing her wishes, her dignity, for her son. It’s a cruel world into which Haru sees no escape, but it’s just because he doesn’t cry, but keeps coming back for more, that we connect more with him. So that, being led to his new school by his mother, when he says “if you come, no-one will play with me”, it has the greater emotional impact, cutting us to the heart as it does to Oyuki. As in all Shimizu’s films, the children all give wonderfully naturalistic performances, with special mention to Bakudankozo as Haru (who would be used again by Shimizu in The Masseurs and a Woman a year later). There’s a deliciously cold vignette from Okamura as the heartless Madam, and standing above all there’s Michiko Kuwano as the tragic Oyuki. She’d been memorable before for Shimizu in Mr Thank You, and is here so heartrending as to make you want to reach through the screen as in The Purple Rose of Cairo to comfort her. Just these two turns are enough to make one think that she should have been regarded with Tanaka, Kyo, Yamada, Hara, Takemine, Sugimura, Wakao and Okada in the pantheon of her nation’s actresses, but it wasn’t to be. She died in 1946 from complications caused by an ectopic pregnancy. Yet if there is a projection room in the sky, she can have been proud; her daughter Miyuki would work in the sixties for Ozu, Kurosawa, Yoshida and Oshima.