T. int.: First Steps Ashore [Primi passi sulla terraferma]. Scen.: Komatsu Kitamura. F.: Bunjiro Mizutani. Mu.: Tetsuo Takashina. Su.: Haruo Tsuchihashi, Tetsuo Tsuchihashi. Int.: Yaeko Mizutani (la donna al porto), Joji Oka (Tasaka, il fuochista), Shinyo Nara (Sho, il borghese), Ureo Egawa (Shige), Reikichi Kawamura (Nozawar, lo steward), Choko Iida (Ochiyo, la governante), Mitsuko Yoshikawa (la signora del bar), Ranko Sawa (l’amante di Sho), Shintaro Takiguchi (Tomura, il magazziniere), Sotaro Okada (il detective). Prod.: Shochiku (Kamata) 35mm. D.: 88’ a 24 f/s. Bn.
Though little known in the West, Yasujiro Shimazu is a key figure in prewar Japanese cinema, and one of the pioneers of the gendai-geki (film of contemporary life). In the 1920s, working at Shochiku’s Tokyo studio in Kamata, he began, with the encouragement of studio head Shiro Kido, to realize light comedies with contemporary settings, among them Chichi (Father, 1923) and Nichiyobi (Sunday, 1924). These films prefigured the shomin-geki, the drama of the lower middle classes, which was to become Shochiku’s speciality and to which such directors as Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse and Keisuke Kinoshita were to make distinguished contributions.
The story of a sailor who begins a love affair with a woman he saves from suicide, First Steps Ashore was Shochiku’s second sound film and Shimazu’s first. It is a reworking of Josef von Sternberg’s silent classic The Docks of New York (1928) transplanted to the waterfront of Japan’s cosmopolitan port city, Yokohama. Sternberg’s film had been named the best foreign film to be released in Japan in 1929 by the country’s leading film magazine, “Kinema Junpo”, and it had already been adapted for the Japanese stage in 1931 as a shinpa play. The same scenario writer, Komatsu Kitamura, worked on both the stage play and the film, and both starred the same actress, Yaeko Mizutani. As Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano observes, “In the process of adapting the film from silent to sound […] the filmmaker not only added words, but also used the shinpa theatrical influence – most evident in Mizutani’s acting and elocution – to ‘Japanize’ the script”. The film took joint sixth place in the “Kinema Junpo” Best Ten for that year.
Shimazu was to work prolifically at Shochiku and then Toho up to his death from stomach cancer in 1945. Among his later sound films, he produced literary adaptations such as Okoto to Sasuke (Okoto and Sasuke, 1935), based on Junichiro Tanizaki, and realist dramas such as Tonari no Yae-chan (Our Neighbour Miss Yae, 1934) and Ani to sono imoto (An Older Brother and His Younger Sister, 1939). Despite his early death, he was a crucial influence on postwar Japanese film: Heinosuke Gosho, Yuzo Kawashima, Keisuke Kinoshita, Senkichi Taniguchi, Shiro Toyoda, and Kozaburo Yoshimura all served as his assistants, and he was a key figure in the development of a generic tradition central to Japanese film art.