Hiroshi Shimizu’s UNDYING PEARLS (1928) is the story of two sisters, who live two different life styles, but want the same thing: being loved. This is another Shochiku’s “women’s picture”, full of melodramatic twists, colorful characters, and fashionable clothes. Toshie, the elder sister, fell in love with Shozo Narita, a rising entrepreneur, but her introverted nature and extreme shyness prevented her from expressing her emotions. The best she could do is to write a very polite letter to Narita, with a reserved expression like “I would like to have a conversation with you”. Reiko, the younger sister, is a “modern girl”, the Japanese version of flappers, acting strikingly contrast to Toshie’s manner. She flirts with this dashing handsome young man, even going out a long trip with him. Narita asks Reiko to marry, without knowing her sister is also hopelessly in love with him.

Two sisters are portrayed as two opposite ends of womanhood, — one being a awkwardly traditional, the other being overtly promiscuous, — as Shimizu carefully composes the frames to capture them as equal counterparts. His use of right angle compositions rather than classic Hollywood over-the-shoulder shots punctuates the flow of narrative, emphasizing the two women’s emotional conflicts. Here, Toshie and Reiko are in furious argument, as their profiles occupy the right and the left halves of the screen in turns. Without resorting to complex cutbacks, Shimazu created the feel of heated emotions.

Every time I see Shimazu’s films, I find some extraordinary shots, composed in the manner nobody else had done. His visual flair for natural light and scenery is simply outstanding. Sometimes he composes like French Impressionists, and in other times he uses the deep focus to map complex emotions of protagonists. Switching from one technique or compositional style to the other, however, he never loses the integrity. His film is tightly-woven, every shot being colorful, to form one big tapestry of melodrama.

Hiroshi Shimzu’s Retrospective is now at NFC in Tokyo, and this is one of those rare occasions we are able to discover his rarely shown masterpieces. And this film is one of many.


Undying Pearls (不壊の白珠, Fue No Shiratama, 1928)

Directed by Hiroshi Shimizu
Screenplay by Tokuzanuro Murakami
Starring Emiko Yakumo, Minoru Takada, Michiko Oikawa

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