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Eclipse Series 15: Travels with Hiroshi Shimizu

4.2 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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(Mar 17, 2009)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Of all the directors who made names for themselves during the Japanese studio golden age of the 1930s, Hiroshi Shimizu was one of the most respected--and, today, one of the least well-known. A curious, compassionate storyteller who was fascinated by characters on the outskirts of society, Shimizu used his trademark graceful traveling shot to peek around the corners of contemporary Japan. In these four lyrical, beautifully filmed tales, concerning geisha, bus drivers, and masseurs, Shimizu journeys far and wide to find the makings of a modern nation.

Includes films: Japanese Girls at the Harbor (1933), Mr. Thank You (1936), The Masseurs and a Woman (1938), Ornamental Hairpin (1941)

Review

Every national cinema has its buried treasures and forgotten masters...the most recent revelation is the work of Hiroshi Shimizu. --James Quandt, Cintematheque Ontario

A great filmmaker...our tragedy is that his best work has been kept from us for so long. Don't miss it now. --John Gillett, British Film Institute

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: Chishu Ryu, Oikawa Michiko, Kinuyo Tanaka
  • Directors: Hiroshi Shimizu
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Black & White, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: Japanese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: March 17, 2009
  • Run Time: 287 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001O549GG
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,519 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Eclipse Series 15: Travels with Hiroshi Shimizu" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Randy Buck VINE VOICE on April 6, 2009
Criterion's bare-bones Eclipse line continues its winning streak with another excellent package of films, this time from Japanese director Hiroshi Shimizu. A contemporary of Ozu's, and with a similarly long-lasting career, Shimizu's relatively unknown in the West, but these pictures serve as a sterling introduction to his work. The "travels" in the package title are literal as well as figurative -- not only do these movies cover a lot of ground, with fascinating shots of various Japan locales in the 1920s-40s, Shimizu is fond of rapid horizontal tracking shots and dissolves that give his work a dynamic feeling. These films are nicely acted, filled with gentle humor and touching humanity, and provide a fascinating exploration of a society in transition between traditional ways and the modernism of the twentieth century. According to the liner notes, Shimizu liked to work from actor improvisation, rather than fully written scripts, and that impulse pays off with work that feels as fresh as if it were done yesterday. Here's one trip any lover of Japanese cinema will find richly enjoyable.
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Four films, each a little over an hour long, provide fascinating glimpses of pre-war Japan. Maybe the best way to describe their charms is to provide some details about two of them.

In THE MASSEURS AND A WOMAN, two blind men who make tenuous livings as migratory masseurs, moving from seaside resorts to mountain spas each summer, are walking along the road, counting and taking pride in the number of sighted people they overtake - seventeen so far. One alerts the other that he senses eight and a half children are approaching. Eight and a half? Yes, one of the children is carrying another piggyback. Later on the journey, a wagon passes them, and the same masseur somehow detects from her scent that one of the passengers is an exciting woman from Tokyo, who, as the film progresses, carries on a flirtation with him and also with a potential rival, a young man on vacation with his orphaned pre-teen nephew, who with his baseball cap and intolerance of adults could have stepped out of a fifties Ozu movie. The woman turns out to be on the run, and perhaps both suitors will be disappointed.

ORNAMENTAL HAIRPIN, also set in an inn, relates the blossoming romance between a young soldier (Ozu's favorite actor, Chishu Ryu) and a geisha who wants to leave her profession and marry. The soldier, in the inn's public baths, cuts his foot on a hairpin left behind by the geisha, and she returns to the inn, apologizes, helps him recover as he takes more challenging walks each day, and falls in love with him. Meanwhile, we meet many of the inn's guests and discover their eccentricities in casual scenes.
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I can only echo the previous reviewers in praising this collection from pre-War Japan. For such short films with such simple plots, they all possess a remarkable richness of detail & a wide range of idiosyncratic characters, each with his or her own story. And there's a real freshness to them, with surprising humor interwoven through the quiet drama, that makes them feel quite contemporary. Sometimes the prospect of watching acclaimed older films can make the viewer fear obligatory drudgery -- nothing of the sort here, though! We're introduced to the characters & get caught up in their lives almost immediately.

While the theme of travel certainly runs through all four films, so does that of a woman's plight in the (then) modern world. Director Hiroshi Shimizu is quite sympathetic to his female leads, a quality that many Japanese films from the 1930s seem to share. These woman appear in both traditional & Western clothing, visual shorthand for the two worlds they're struggling to negotiate. This is especially notable in my favorite of the four, "Mr. Thank You."

A cheerful young bus driver, nicknamed "Mr. Thank You" for his habit of calling out "Arigato!" to travelers getting out of his way, has the usual group of assorted passengers for the day's journey. These include a spunky young woman, very Westernized & not unlike her independent sisters in 1930's Hollywood films; a shy village girl being taken to the city by her mother, obviously to go into prostitution to support her family; and a rather pompous, lecherous middle-aged man who can't stop leering at & propositioning the dispirited village girl.

During the journey, we watch these characters interact, along with several other passengers.
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By WSH on December 27, 2010
Verified Purchase
Never having seen a film by Hiroshi Shimizu before, I was totally unprepared for these four gems.

Shimizu was a prolific director whose work (a great deal of which seems to have been lost) spanned the silent and sound ages of film, so it is not possible to say whether these are his best or most representative works. The four films here include one silent production and three pre-war sound films. Interestingly, the most recent of them (1941), "Ornamental Hairpin", has survived least well. That's not to say this DVD edition is bad quality - only a few scenes are seriously degraded, and the the film's intrinsic interest overwhelms any such concern. The three earlier films are wonderfully preserved.

All share a similar theme: a character's desire for escape from a social predicament. Shimizu's method is completely fresh: he deftly combines humour with pathos, cinematic artistry with subtle characterisation. The stories flow with no sense whatsoever of premeditated staging. Shimizu was famous for working outside a script and improvising scenes. This leads to some genuine surprises. In "Mr Thank You", for instance, Shimizu and crew came across a group of Korean labourers walking a rural backroad between assignments, and incorporated them into the story. This is consistent with the director's abiding interest in non-mainstream and working class characters, particularly women of the "water trade" (mizu shobai).

"Mr Thank You" possibly best illustrates Shimizu's strengths as a film-maker. He takes a very simple situation - a bus journey through rural Izu (beautifully shot) - and makes it a vehicle for a penetrating study of character and social conditions.
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