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Review: The Sentimental Idiot

Updated: Jun 3

[The following review contains SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]

The Sentimental Idiot is a major departure from the other Hiroshi Shimizu films that I’ve seen—in terms of both substance and style. Whereas Mr. Thank You and The Masseurs and a Woman, for example, were decidedly rural, this postwar melodrama is a strictly urban affair, substituting the scenic landscapes and sprawling mountain trails of Japan’s countryside with the smoky nightclubs and luxury apartments of the big city. Despite these superficial differences, however, the director’s core thematic concerns—chance encounters, missed connections, and the transient nature of human relationships—remain remarkably consistent.

The protagonist is Yuri, a popular cabaret singer with a veritable army of male admirers at her disposal. When one of her regular customers is arrested for embezzling money in order to finance his habit of showering her with expensive gifts, she immediately intercedes on his behalf, going to great lengths to ensure that the misappropriated funds are properly reimbursed—not for the perpetrator’s sake, she repeatedly insists (perhaps a bit too emphatically), nor to repair her own damaged reputation (it is, after all, tempting for the general public to blame a “woman of loose morals” for leading an “innocent youth” astray), but simply because it is the right thing to do.

Produced for the notoriously commercial Daiei Motion Picture Company, The Sentimental Idiot feels more mercenary and less personal than Shimizu’s previous work; the plot is rather formulaic, and some of the supporting characters lack the depth and nuance found in his earlier ensemble pieces. Fortunately, such minor blemishes hardly diminish the excellence of the craftsmanship on display: the cinematography, editing, and performances are absolutely sublime. The ending sequence—in which Yuri belts out a mournful reprise of the title song as her spurned would-be lover forlornly wanders the rain-slick streets, his back towards the camera—is particularly poignant, rivaling even the exquisitely structured montage that concludes Ornamental Hairpin. And considering that movie’s borderline universal critical acclaim, that’s an impressive feat of visual storytelling indeed.

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