April 06, 2010

The Trio's Engagements (1937)

From a technical standpoint, this film is far less interesting than the films of the heavy-hitters of Japanese cinema in the 30s — Ozu and Shimizu and Naruse and Mizoguchi. However, this film feels like it is the most “modern.” Three youngish men are hired at a store (which seems to specialize in fake silk) and each falls in lust with the president’s daughter; each also happens to have a previous engagement set with another girl.

The script might as well have been pulled straight from Hollywood (this is what I mean by “modern”). And it is as delightful as old Hollywood comedy can be (very delightful), though it has none of the sparkle. The central points of comic tension (the conflict between the three men for one hand; the conflict between the previous lovers) are not utilized whatsoever (the film spends a lot of time on exposition, then dissolves with a miraculous anti-climax). The conspicuous elements of modern Western society (the lush store, the jazzy soundtrack, the neon signs, the somewhat-independent working woman) tend to clash with conservative Japanese conventions (particularly marriage and the woman’s role in it; re: the ending). The film also lacks the polish of Hollywood (the lighting, the fluid camera, the magnificent costumes and sets), however hard it may try to compensate for that. It almost works, but mostly doesn’t.

And for that, perhaps, it is all the more charming.

This is the first film I have seen by Yasujiro Shimazu. Mostly forgotten now, he seems to have been a defining influence in Japanese films in the 1930s; the internet assures me that he helped cultivate a lot of young talent and that his early 30s realism paved the way for the canon of Japanese filmmakers that IS remembered (see the canon I listed above). I would love to see more of his films. What survives of this film is choppy and, I imagine, does not do the original product justice. I shall keep my eye open for more.

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