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Tonari no Yae-chan / Our Neighbor, Miss Yae

Shimazu Yasujiro - Tonari no Yae-chan / Our Neighbor, Miss Yae

That sock gets a heck of a lot of attention

Director: Shimazu Yasujiro
Writers: Shimazu Yasujiro
Date: 1934

Genre: Drama, Shomin-geki
Description: Neighbors, friendship, young love, divorce

Cast: Aizome Yumeko, Obinata Den, Isono Akio, Iida Chouko, Okada Yoshiko, Katsuragi Ayako, Iwata Yukichi, Mizushima Ryotaro

Crew of note:

Runtime: 76 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia: Two famous directors acted as assistants on this film, Toyoda Shiro and Yoshimura Kozaburo.

summary
Two families live in rural or suburban Japan, somewhere in the Kansai region probably. The two families are quite close to each other; the two fathers are drinking buddies, the children are friends, and the mothers happily look out for the other family’s well being. One day, Kyouko, Yae-chan’s sister, comes home after leaving her husband whom she is unhappy with. Her arrival suddenly stresses the once peaceful pair of homes; the father becomes unhappy, the mother worried, the sister envious of her relationship with Keitaro.

review
Before seeing this movie, I thought Yae-chan would be an old hag living alone, throwing cats at passersby and drinking tea from a flower pot. Then people would find out she’s not actually a crackhead and the neighbors learn to love her. Then she dies and people remember her fondly, and not as the crazy lady with a mysteriously unending supply of cat ammo. I have absolutely NO idea why my brain made up this story, though I’d like to categorically deny childhood trauma and repressed memories. This was my second Shimazu film by the way.

Thankfully Tonari no Yae-chan is neither as absurd nor as depressing as my made-up-movie. In fact, it’s actually quite delightful. Sure, there’s the conflict created by the arrival of Kyouko, one that is sufficiently complex and complicated. The scenes with Kyouko are a little melodramatic, actually, but despite the fact that I’m not a fan of sappy melodrama, these moments didn’t really hurt that much.

What I enjoyed most about this film were the pointless everyday encounters between Yae-chan and Keitaro. There is something very natural, very modern about how they talk to each other, or actually, how they flirt with each other. Not only is it hilarious, it’s also quite unique, as I don’t remember any other film from the 30s with such a non-judgmental, care-free and modern picture of youth getting their flirt on. Really.

Shimazu Yasujiro - Tonari no Yae-chan / Our Neighbor, Miss Yae (1934)

Proof: Getting their flirt on

I was not pleased, however, with Yae-chan’s parents’ decision (spoilers*) at the end, though Shimazu pulls this back a little by isolating this decision to the two old people. Yae-chan’s far too lively, far too hopeful, indeed far too important for them to drag along. Some might consider it a little naive, how the movie ends just as it begins with the youngsters playing, but I’d like to think it’s more a result of an enthusiastic, positive outlook. And it’s during the best parts of the film, unencumbered by drama or farce, simply letting the neighbors be neighbors and live their normal happy lives, that Shimazu shines.

conclusion
The movie has some flaws. Ok, there are quite a bit of flaws, but it doesn’t dampen how enjoyable some of the best scenes are. I would have been more pleased if the film had continued showing the growing fondness between Keitaro and Yae-chan without having to insert Kyouko (the inevitable conflict), as their conversations and exchanges are some of the most relaxed and realistic from this age. Still, this is a fine film despite all my complaints, one that fans of old Japanese movies should certainly see.

things to take note of
The relationship and exchanges between Yae-chan and Keitaro
Yae-chan’s pretty cute

Aizome Yumeko in Tonari no Yae-chan

This cap kinda reminds me of Juri-chan's 'Okaaaaasaaan' moment from Swing Girls for some reason, which is awesome you know

best moment
Socks those dirty dirty socks

Tonari no Yae-chan / Our Neighbor, Miss Yae

Disclaimer: film does not include foot fetish scene

why you should watch this
Shimazu, though pretty unknown in the west I think, is considered one of the early masters of Japanese cinema, particularly the shomin-geki, movies about middle-class Japanese homes.

rating: 8.1

scorecard
Plot: C+
Cast: B
Cinematography: B
Music: C+
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
I’ve so far only seen one other Shimazu, Kon’yaku samba-garasu (1937), so maybe that one. It’s pretty good.

* According to Jacoby’s “A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors”, Yae-chan’s parents’ decision to move to Korea is a not-so-subtle endorsment of Japanese imperialism. I was weirded out by the choice of moving to Korea, so maybe this is true, though I’d like to think it isn’t.

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Shen nü / The Goddess

Shen nü / The Goddess (1934)

Woman god = Street walker? Obviously, the cover translators were either sexists or failed Chinese class

Director: Wu Yonggang
Writers: Wu Yonggang
Date: 1934

Genre: Drama, Silent
Description: a woman, a hard life, prostitution, Depression-Era China, tragedy

Cast: Ruan Lingyu, Tian Jian, Li Keng, Li Junpan, Tang Huaiqiu

Crew of note:

Runtime: 85 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Ruan Lingyu is a single mother and a woman of the night. Yep, a prostitute (take note, in this day prostitution was a taboo subject in China and pretty much everywhere else in the world). Life is difficult in Depression-era China, especially when you have a manipulative, abusive man acting as your self-appointed pimp. He’s also fat and greedy, and isn’t about to let them go. And all she wants is for her son to get an education.

review
Look through all the films made in or before 1934, and try to find films starring a prostitute. Not just a co-star or tragic role player, but the actual center of the movie. I don’t think you’ll find many. And how many of these films will treat their heroine with as much humanity, with as much grace and understanding as “The Goddess”? Scratch that–look at the title, they’re actually calling her a Goddess, despite having an occupation that is seen with abundant derision and shame.

Yet Ruan Lingyu’s character proves that she is, indeed, a Goddess. She works, despite her shame (and the camera follows suit, with panning down to her feet as she stands on a street corner), not for her own lavishness.. and not even just to make ends meet. All this is to send her son to school, so that he can have a good life that she could otherwise not provide. Her occupation isn’t commendable, but her motives and unflinching desire to give her son everything that she can is overwhelming.

This is the real strength of this film: her character. In a day (in an entire country even!) when women were still seen as pretty dressed up dolls, when single-motherhood was an absurd concept and all women needed a man to survive, The Goddess grants us a woman unlike any other from this era. Faced with tragedy, and even more obstacles that stand in her way (literally blocking her doorway), she does not crumble, does not run away. She works, she fights, she puts on a brave face. After seeing this film, I am sure you will agree: Ruan Lingyu is a Goddess.

conclusion
In Ruan Lingyu’s short but storied career, many films stand out. However Lingyu as the eponymous Goddess, an appropriate title that she proves she is worth, stands as one of her most memorable roles. She is reknowned for her strong, independent, and “modern” portrayals of women, and this is perhaps one of the best from this era.

things to take note of
Lingyu’s facial expressions
The calm humanism Wu Yonggang’s script and Lingyu’s acting give the main character
Notice how almost every paragraph starts with “Bla bla Ruan Lingyu blabla”?

best moment
Whenever Lingyu is able to make ends meet, and when she’s with her kid

why you should watch this
Ruan Lingyu is a legend of Chinese cinema, and rightfully so. Plus, this is one of her best performances.

rating: 8.8

scorecard
Plot: C+
Cast: A+++
Cinematography: B
Music: C+
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
Yuen Ling-yuk / Center Stage, the 1992 movie about her life starring Maggie Cheung
Other tragic films starring Ruan Lingyu, such as:
Xiao Wanyi / Small Toys (1933)
Xin nü xing / New Woman (1934)
Tao hua qi xue ji / The Peach Girl (1931)
and her last film, Guo feng / National Pride (1935)

genres

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