Travels with Hiroshi Shimizu
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.
The Eclipse set Travels with Hiroshi Shimizu presents four films from the director: Japanese Girls at the Harbor, Mr. Thank You, The Masseurs and a Woman, and Ornamental Hairpin. Each film is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The image has been picture boxed. The films are spread over four single-layer discs but since they’re each just over an hour this doesn’t present an issue.
With these films being licenced from Shochiku I was actually expecting the worst. As wonderful as the Eclipse Mizoguchi set was to have I have to admit a disappointment with the condition of the source materials used for the films that were licenced from Shochiku and I was expecting something similar here since these films were also made in the 30’s. But I was quite surprised: Considering the age these all look quite good.
I think Japanese Girls at the Harbor presented the most pleasant surprise. This being the only silent film in the set I was expecting it to be the worst looking one and that’s not actually the case. The print condition may be the worst, horizontal tears constantly appearing during cuts, specs of debris pop up every so often, the frame rate can be a little choppy and the image does jump throughout. But all of this is nowhere near as bad as I would have guessed, these imperfections spread out and never all that heavy, and the image can be quite sharp at times,
Mr Thank You may present the worst image of the all of the films. It probably presents the softest looking image and presents more halos around objects than the other films. The biggest offender in the way of damage are scratches that rain through, more noticeable during transitions (I suspect that the image may be a little softer than the others in an attempt to hide these scratches, similar to what they did with the Criterion Twenty-Four Eyes release) and it has its fair share of tears and blotches scattered about.
The Masseurs and a Woman along with Ornamental Hairpin both present the best transfers in the set, though Masseurs may be slightly better, presenting a sharper looking picture. Damage similar to what is found in the other films is present in these as well, a little heavier in Ornamental Hairpin but they’re still the cleanest looking ones.
The transfers were a pleasant surprise. Yes they still have their issues, which I’m sure many expect, but overall they still look wonderful.
Other than Japanese Girls at the Harbor the films present Japanese Dolby Digital mono tracks. Harbor is actually a silent film, but Criterion has included an optional track with a new score recording. The score track obviously sounds the best between all of the discs since it appears to have been recorded recently and its clean and crisp. The other tracks show their age, presenting a slight hiss and some distortion, weak dialogue and music, with Mr. Thank You probably presenting the worst sounding track.
This being an Eclipse release it doesn’t present any special features other than the optional score track found on Japanese Girls at the Harbor. Like other Eclipse releases it contains notes, these ones written by Michael Koresky, located on the inner covers of each slim keep case in the set. They’re brief but they do give a decent amount of information about Shimizu and the films on this set.
This is a wonderful set and one I whole-heartedly recommend. This was my intro to Shimizu and I was immediately hooked with Japanese Girls at the Harbor. The notes seem to try to compare Shimizu with the likes of Ozu and Mizoguchi but his style and camera work are unique and all his own and I don’t believe I’ve seen anything like it before. They’re wonderful looking films and I am pleased to report this Eclipse set does a fantastic job in presenting them. I recently stated that the set for Rossellini’s History Films was my favourite Eclipse release but now this one has already surpassed it as my favourite. It’s an absolutely fantastic set.