July 15 – July 29


Making his directorial debut in 1924 at the age of 21, Hiroshi Shimizu (1903–1966) went on to make over 160 films in a career contemporaneous with widely acknowledged masters Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi, in whose critical shadows he often, undeservedly, resided.

The warmth and lightness of his work has always been highly praised but, as Alexander Jacoby notes, he shares with Jean Renoir the double-edged nature of such plaudits: “Those few critics who have written about Shimizu’s work tend to make him sound less interesting than he is.” Chris Fujiwara notes several key recurrent elements in the director’s work, including a resistance to plotting, anarchy and unpredictability, “the expressive possibilities of camera movement” and the subversion of the couple. Shimizu’s world is one where the actions of the individual character defines them. He is also often overtly condemnatory of restrictive social structures and institutional norms. His films repeatedly focus on those excluded from mainstream society – “fallen women”, itinerant workers, those with disabilities or children. But, despite his concern with serious subject matter, Shimizu always retained an open approach to filmmaking. David Bordwell describes how he wrote only vague screenplays, making up new dialogue as required, and “rarely budged from his chair on set, even when the camera was moving”.

This season of rarely screened 35mm prints, focusing on films from the golden period of 1930s Japanese cinema, reveals a filmmaker of generosity and casual precision. Working with a roster of Shochiku’s finest contracted actors, including Kinuyo Tanaka, Shin Saburi and Chishu Ryu, Shimizu created a body of work that deserves to be regarded as among the best cinema of its era.

Presented with support from

Japan Foundation.

National Film Archive of Japan.

July 15

Hiroshi Shimizu (1941) 70 mins – Unclassified 15+

Ozu regular Chishu Ryu plays a soldier who stabs his foot on a hairpin at a rural spa before finding hesitant romance with its owner (the legendary Kinuyo Tanaka). Shimizu’s poignant, ineffably light romance includes a generous ensemble of spa residents watching on, willing the lead couple to overcome their reticence. Not well-received by a highly imperialist country about to enter World War II, when militaristic propaganda was the literal order of the day, Shimizu’s understated humanism, elegant tracking shots and playful optimism marked a very particular kind of rebellion.

35mm print courtesy of the National Film Archive of Japan.

Hiroshi Shimizu (1938) 66 mins – Unclassified 15+

Two wisecracking blind masseurs, a mysterious woman on the run, a travelling salesman and his nephew are brought together by happenstance at a remote mountain resort in Shimizu’s disarmingly funny film. As a love triangle develops – and a spate of bath-house thefts is investigated – this elegantly meandering exploration of love and loneliness weaves in and out of interconnected stories, offering shifting perspectives on human connection in pre-war Japan.

35mm print courtesy of the National Film Archive of Japan.

Hiroshi Shimizu (1937) 73 mins – Unclassified 15+

Drawing upon recurring themes that mark much of his work, Shimizu again focuses his lens on the lives of unhappy children and women, particularly mothers, burdened by societal restrictions, prejudices and straitened economic circumstances. In a film reminiscent of specific Ozu movies of the 1930s like I Was Born, But… Shimizu explores the tragic implications of a dignified single mother forced to become a bar hostess and the devastating impact this has on the life of her son.

35mm print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.

July 22

7:00pm ECLIPSE
Hiroshi Shimizu (1934) 100 mins – Unclassified 15+

Although Shimizu was dubbed a “genius” by Ozu and Mizoguchi, and is now widely celebrated for his portraits of the lives of disaffected children and women, he was also an incisive and critical chronicler of his times. Tracing the paths of two villagers as they separate in their hometown and move to Tokyo independently, Shimizu’s penetrating film is a chronicle of traditional Japan and its displacement by modernity. Although not openly critical of the rise of militarism it paints a bittersweet vision of lost values.

35mm print courtesy of the National Film Archive of Japan.

Hiroshi Shimizu (1941) 98 mins – Unclassified 15+

One of Shimizu’s least political works, tempered by the restricted filmmaking conditions on the cusp of World War II, tells the story of a travelling performer (Yaeko Mizutani) who seeks to reinvent herself by moving in with the family of a kindly tea merchant. Demonstrating Shimizu’s extraordinary technical skill and relentless innovation, this minimalist drama touches on social issues during the Meiji Era such as hardships faced by women and class differences, ending in an ambiguous resolution of the romantic couple.

35mm print courtesy of the National Film Archive of Japan.

July 29

7:00pm MR. THANK YOU
Hiroshi Shimizu (1936) 75 mins – Unclassified 15+

The problems of Depression-era Japan are canvassed through a day in the life of a bus driver – nicknamed “Mr. Thank You” for his exceedingly polite manner – and the passengers he collects on an extended route from rural Izu to inner-city Tokyo. Adapted from Nobel Prize-winning novelist Yasunari Kawabata’s (A Page of Madness) story, this precursor to Italian neorealism was entirely shot on location and largely improvised. Featuring Michiko Kuwano and Ken Uehara as well as wonderful cinematography by Isamu Aoki.

35mm print courtesy of the National Film Archive of Japan.

Hiroshi Shimizu (1935) 63 mins – Unclassified 15+

Shimizu’s final silent film is a deeply ironic and profoundly distilled treatise on the poor status of women in 1930s Japan. Abandoned by her corrupt second husband, Haruko (Mitsuko Yoshikawa) becomes a hostess in order to support her three children, a decision that has a profound impact on their subsequent lives. Shimizu’s subversive critique of Japanese militarism and ingrained attitudes to class, tradition and sexuality provides an incisive portrait of an increasingly conservative society.

35mm print courtesy of the National Film Archive of Japan.

Hiroshi Shimizu (1933) 96 mins – Unclassified 15 +

Shimizu’s first sound film is an emotionally powerful melodrama about the love between an itinerant woman and a miner who meet in a rugged, far-flung region of Japan. One of the director’s darkest and most revelatory works, the film evinces Shimizu’s affinity with those on society’s margins. Partly shot on location against the beautiful snowy landscapes of Hokkaido, it features an innovative use of audio: overheard voices provide a chorus to the romantic theme, while folk songs echo throughout, taking on a deeper significance with each repetition. 35mm print courtesy of the National Film Archive of Japan.