Schoolgirls Dora and Sunako are the very best of friends even though Sunako is often preoccupied with her motorcycle-riding boyfriend, Henry. But unbeknownst to either girl, two-timing Henry is hanging out with the sultry showgirl Yoko and her crooked pals. When word gets back to Sunako the naive young woman ignores her best friend’s advice and decides to get even with Henry one fateful night. The fallout from her rash decision throws everyone’s life off kilter and it isn’t until a few years later, when all three cross paths once more, that we see the price each one has paid. Hiroshi Shimizu’s silent melodrama features some wonderfully natural performances and (for the time) innovative camerawork as people fade in and out of existence and interactions are often framed by an open door or shadowed hallway. Foregoing the scene-chewing drama of many of his Hollywood contemporaries, Shimizu instead maintains a respectful distance from his characters bordering on detachment; we are allowed to view their pain but we cannot truly share in it. Furthermore, his use of seemingly innocuous background props to underscore a scene’s emotional impact is both clever and highly effective; a simple skein of yarn hints at infidelity, a cup and saucer left in the rain carry tragic overtones and a crude portrait floating in a ship’s wake signals both an ending and a beginning. Some may be put off by it’s rather formalized and episodic presentation, but I found Japanese Girls to be a captivating example of early Japanese cinema.
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