Ornamental Hairpin (1941)

A young woman on a pilgrimage passes through a resort town, loses her hairpin in the spring where it stabs a man in the foot. Love or something approximating thereto blossoms. In the last film of the Shimizu box, he kind of revisits the territory covered in the previous film, in which an assortment of people gather at a resort spa and a rather fragile romance blooms between two of them. (I don’t know if that fragility was Shimizu’s general take on romance, but certainly the three sound films in the box seem to take the position that love is indeed a delicate thing, especially when not all the participants seem to realise they’re involved.) In the previous film we had a woman who, we discovered, was pretty much running away from Tokyo to escape a miserable relationship; we learn (albeit much earlier) that Emi, the woman in this film, is also running away from an eminently miserable relationship of her own in the big city (there’s an indication early on that she’s a geisha). The twist here is that it’s her, or more precisely the other residents of the inn who inspire her, rather than the man who imagines the possibility of romance between the two; Nanmura, the man, doesn’t really seem that interested. Like the other two sound films in the set (Japanese Girls being more overtly melodramatic), in Ornamental Hairpin things happen not for the artificial dictates of advancing a plot but just because that’s how time passes; not everything resolves conveniently in the real world either, leading—at least in the case of this film—to an ending that could be the very dictionary definition of “bittersweet”. As a final note, isn’t it amazing how young Chishu Ryu—age 37 when the film was made—looks here compared to all those father figures he started playing for Ozu at the end of the same decade?

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