June 14–23, 2024

Four Postwar Films by Shimizu Hiroshi

People like me and Ozu get films made by hard work, but Shimizu is a genius.”

Mizoguchi Kenji

Japanese filmmaker Shimizu Hiroshi (1903–1966) continues to languish in the shadow of his much more famous contemporaries. A prolific studio director of the 1930s, he made some 163 films during his 35-year career, spanning silent to sound eras, studio to independent productions. He was held in high regard by friend and fellow Shochiku mainstay Ozu Yasujiro—Mizoguchi Kenji was also a noted admirer—and earned a reputation as a master of naturalistic gendai-geki (contemporary dramas) centred on travellers and children, his dual métier. (The welfare of children wasn’t merely a thematic concern: after WWII, Shimizu adopted war orphans and funded the creation of an orphanage.)

Here in North America, what little we know firsthand of his oeuvre stems largely from a 2009 Criterion Eclipse box set collecting just four of his prewar pictures. Despite the revelatory response elicited by that DVD edition (“buried treasure from Japanese vaults,” enthused The New York Timess Dave Kehr), no further films have been released on home video or streaming, nor acquired for theatrical distribution. But perhaps change is in the air. In the last three years alone, the Cinémathèque française, Melbourne Cinémathèque, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art have all programmed Shimizu’s work in an apparent bid to course correct his protracted obscurity.

Our own modest attempt to shed light on the director falls between two significant American stops (New York and Berkeley) in a touring exhibition devoted to his body of work. Organized by curators at the indispensable Japan Society and Museum of the Moving Image in New York, the retrospective is easily the largest of its kind ever presented in North America. The Cinematheque has plucked four gems from the tour, each produced during Shimizu’s brilliant (and even more neglected) postwar career after he left Shochiku and formed his own independent studio, Hachinosu Eiga. The apex of that output, and the centrepiece to our series, is Children of the Beehive (1948). It screens here from an archival 35mm print, while Mr. Shosuke Ohara (1949), a favourite of Somai Shinji, receives a rare 16mm presentation. The two remaining films, Sound in the Mist (1956) and Image of a Mother (1959), mark Canadian premieres of new DCPs created expressly for this historic retrospective.

An oeuvre remarkable for its variety and complexity … A major filmmaker.”

Alexander Jacoby, Senses of Cinema

Shimizu had concerns in common with Naruse Mikio and Ozu Yasujiro, but he established his own world, a rich tone, and a simple but subtle visual idiom. Along the way, he created some of the most heart-rending films in world cinema.”

David Bordwell

An artist of individual distinction. There’s a Shimizu style as surely as there is an Ozu style or a Naruse style.”

Alan Stanbrook, Sight and Sound
Acknowledgments

The Cinematheque is grateful to Alexander Fee, film programmer at Japan Society, for his invaluable assistance in making this program possible.

Supported by The Japan Foundation, New York, and The Japan Foundation, Toronto
Japan Foundation

Upcoming Screenings

  • Children Of The Beehive 1
  • Children of the Beehive
  • 蜂の巣の子供たち
  • Japan1948
  • Shimizu Hiroshi
  • 86 35mm
  • NR
  • Four Postwar Films by Shimizu Hiroshi
  • Image Of A Mother 1
  • Image of a Mother
  • 母のおもかげ
  • Japan1959
  • Shimizu Hiroshi
  • 89 DCP
  • NR
  • Four Postwar Films by Shimizu Hiroshi
  • Sound In The Mist 2
  • Sound in the Mist
  • 霧の音
  • Japan1956
  • Shimizu Hiroshi
  • 84 DCP
  • NR
  • Four Postwar Films by Shimizu Hiroshi

List of Programmed Films

Date Film Title Director(s) Year Country
2024-Jun Children of the Beehive Shimizu Hiroshi 1948 Japan
2024-Jun Mr. Shosuke Ohara Shimizu Hiroshi 1949 Japan
2024-Jun Image of a Mother Shimizu Hiroshi 1959 Japan
2024-Jun Sound in the Mist Shimizu Hiroshi 1956 Japan