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Monday, August 10, 2009

ANMA TO ONNA / THE MASSEURS AND A WOMAN (1938)

Don’t be misled by the short running time & chamber-sized story, this DVD release, part of a series from Criterion on Japanese helmer Hiroshi Shimizu, is a major discovery. A small resort town plays host to businessmen, students, families with kids & even single woman. They all have access to a unique Japanese perk: blind male masseurs who collectively serve all the lodges. They’re an assertive bunch, and, what with the slightly sadistic teasing they put up with, they need to be. But they know how to get a bit of their own back . . . and they do. Shimizu focuses on a mysterious female guest who turns many heads, including a bachelor Uncle who’s raising his orphaned nephew, and a romantically susceptible masseur. The characterizations are delightfully drawn and surprisingly modern; the directing technique all but flawless, with surpassingly elegant long, serpentine tracking shots; the sentiment held firmly in check, often with a blast of appalling political incorrectness toward the handicapped masseurs; and there’s special pleasure in watching the immense surface charm blossom into real emotion. Something of a quiet miracle here.

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