Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Shamisen and Motorcycle (Masahiro Shinoda, 1961)


Masahiro Shinoda’s early feature is known in English both as Love New and Old and as Shamisen and Motorcycle – as it happens, a mash-up of both those titles might encompass the film’s meeting of romantic, generational and stylistic conflicts. The opening stretch holds every promise of a brash youth movie, defined by bright colours and lively exchanges and impulsive motorcycle adventures – an accident brings this to a halt, landing its teenage protagonist Hatsuko in hospital. She develops an affectionately spiky rapport with her genial doctor, Kuroyanagi; he in turn is an old flame of her widowed mother Toyoeda, a teacher of traditional “kouta” singing, with whom he soon starts a new relationship. An unusually strong-willed and pesky protagonist, Hatsuko is at best passive-aggressive in her reaction to this, and often downright hostile, ultimately forcing Kuroyanagi to withdraw from seeing her mother, a capitulation that ultimately serves no one’s interests. For all the movie’s evidence of a newly modernizing Japan, the legacy of the war (a key factor in keeping her mother and Kuroyanagi apart back then) remains prominent, and traditional class- and gender-based expectations shape actions and attitudes as much as they ever did, even if in different ways (for example, despite the culpability of Hatsuko’s boyfriend Fusao for her injuries, his wealthy parents look down on her and her mother, shunning them both in the hospital). It’s nicely summed up in the ending, in which Hatsuko gains a greater awareness of the complexity of things, then rapidly pivots into receiving a proposal from Fusao which is as much a directive as it is romantic, with a final shot as heavy with peril and the memory of past errors as with excited anticipation. The film certainly demonstrates, in somewhat embryonic form, Shinoda’s appealing stylistic and thematic range and curiosity, which would yield career peaks as diverse as Pale Flower and Silence.

No comments:

Post a Comment