is the girl next door, both in a strictly literal sense and in terms what that expression
typically evokes. Her sister is not, even though she has recently moved back in
with Yae-chan’s family. Awkwardly, both sisters will become rivals for the
attention of the same neighborhood boy in Yasujiro Shimazu’s Our Neighbor, Miss Yae, which screens as
part of Japan Speaks Out, MoMA’s
upcoming retrospective of early Japanese talking pictures.
is a high school upper-classman with eyes for Keitaro, a university freshman
still living at home. He is not very romantically inclined, preferring to spend
his free time eating and training his younger brother for the Koshien little
league championship (memorably depicted in Umin Boya’s Kano). It would not surprise anyone if Yae-chan and Keitaro ended
up together, which would be just fine with their respective parents. However,
the return of Yae-chan’s older sister Kyouko complicates everything.
unexpectedly one night, Kyouko announces her intention to divorce her husband
and move back in. Naturally, her parents are a bit flummoxed. Divorce is not
unheard in their era, but it is still far from commonplace. Of course, they
must be very mindful of appearances. Both fathers are lower middleclass
middle-managers, who have not exactly distinguished themselves in their
careers. Still, everyone gets used to having Kyouko around, except maybe
Yae-chan, who becomes increasingly frustrated by Keitaro’s apparent interest in
the older woman.
was a master of Japanese shomin-geki (home dramas), predating the master of
masters, Yasujiro Ozu. Neighbor will
surely bring to mind the look and vibe of Ozu’s classic films, but it feels worldlier
and less delicate. We need not place it in terrarium for its own protection.
Frankly, there is no way this endearingly innocent family film would have
passed Hollywood’s Hays Code.
fact, Neighbor is a richly ambiguous
film in a number of ways, particularly with respect to Kyouko’s marriage. While
her parents assume she has left her unseen hubby out of general flightiness,
Shimazu offers enough hints for Twenty-First Century Westerners to suspect
there were darker, more abusive reasons Kyouko rejects her married life. As a
result, it is hard to determine with certainty whether Neighbor is a feminist or anti-feminist film, but that makes it much
there is no better reason to watch and enjoy Neighbor than Yumeko Aizome’s wonderfully sensitive yet lively performance
as Yae-chan. Just as Shimazu prefigures Ozu’s masterworks, her work is reminiscent
of Setsuko Hara’s Norikos. She makes emotional resiliency something rather
breezy and cute.
is the sort of film that will inspire nostalgia
in viewers for a time they maybe never really knew. There is something very appealing
about the casual mi-casa-su-casa intimacy shared by the two families, even when
unsettling reminders of what of the early 1930s meant in Japan obliquely seep
in (like Keitaro’s German homework). There is a messiness to the resolution that
also rings true to the unruliness of life. Very highly recommended, Our Neighbor, Miss Yae screens this
Wednesday (5/6) and Saturday the 16th at MoMA, as part of the
upcoming Japan Speaks Out film
Labels: Japan Speaks Out, Japanese Cinema, MoMA, Yasujiro Shimazu