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Into the Forest with Shimizu and Visconti

Into the Forest with Shimizu and Visconti (photo)

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Criterion does it again, rescuing a major filmmaker from the quicksand of neglect, happenstance and/or canonical prejudice, and shoving them into the spotlight with state-of-the-art DVD releases that virtually demand a reevaluative reckoning. As with Larisa Shepitko, Jacques Becker, Raymond Bernard, William Klein and Jean Painlevé, you won’t find mention of Hiroshi Shimizu in any major English-language film history text, and in each case the elisions are criminal. An almost exact contemporary of Ozu, Mizoguchi and Naruse, from the beginnings of their careers in the mid-to-late ’20s to their last films, Shimizu echoes a good deal of their field of concerns — the plight of women in a patriarchy, the delicacy of the unsaid, the tragic spiral of romantic melodrama — but comes at them with a subtly distinctive way of observing his characters, similar to Ozu’s rigorous restraint but freer, more organic, less “perfect” and more spontaneous.

The movies are also, at more or less half the length, far brisker. Of the four titles featured in this Eclipse set — which include one silent, “Japanese Women at the Harbor” (1931), which has a disarming way of listening to dialogue from great distances, and dissolving characters from scenes like ghosts — “Ornamental Hairpin” (1941) is probably the most fully realized, and Shimizu’s most renowned. Made during the war but defiantly obviating any mention of the world outside (except for a very veiled reference to a married couple being bashfully Communist), the film is entirely set in a vacation spa, where the masseur staff are all blind and Buddhist monks arrive in noisy holiday throngs. There Mr. Nanmura, a young man (Japanese axiom Chishu Ryu), wades in a natural spring and steps on a hairpin dropped there earlier by a geisha named Emi (Kinuyo Tanaka); the injury is enough, apparently, to hobble him on crutches for weeks.

For reasons unknown to us but accepted by the other characters, Nanmura doesn’t think to go home, and instead the other vacationers (an old codger with two grandsons, a persnickety bachelor professor, etc.) gather around him in an ersatz family unit. They’re soon joined by the privately desperate Emi, who returns to the resort to apologize, but also to run away from her profession and an unseen, unnamed lover-pimp-employer. The summer plays out in tiny swatches, as the community poignantly awaits the moment when they all must return to their ordinary lives, and when Nanmura’s foot is healed sufficiently, despite Emi’s unvoiced hope that he’ll stay with her at the spa and life will be one long summertime idyll.

The story is as fragile as a paper rose, and Shimizu shoots it that way, keeping his camera at a respectful distance but every now and then daring for a heartbreaking semi-close-up that threatens to shatter the peaceful pond surface for good. Given the proximity to Ozu (and our own odd but blessed saturation in Ozu-ness), you’d almost expect the characters to quietly evolve out of their initial stereotypes without the requirement of “arc,” but when they do, it’s still surprising and generous and invigorating. And Shimizu’s visual choices are often breathtakingly adventurous, or, if you like, evocative of the 1927-28 silent film possibilities ruined by talkies: at the outset, during the geisha pilgrimage through the forest, the camera is part of the procession, walking with the women, backwards as it were, through a pack of hikers. And when Emi explains to her fellow geisha friend why she’s not returning to Tokyo, as she’s taking down laundry in the sun, Shimizu frames the shots according to the work, and the result is a choreographed suite of rue and shame and affection that would’ve been crystal clear to a child with the sound turned off.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…