The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, March 18-24

03/18/2015 9:00 AM |

China Nights

China Nights (1940)
Directed by Osamu Fushimizu
The actress and singer Yoshiko “Shirley” Yamaguchi was born in 1920 to Japanese parents living in Manchuria. She grew up fluent both in Chinese and in Japanese, enabling her to play a variety of East Asian characters under the Chinese name of “Li Xinglian.” The propagandistic World War II-era Japanese production China Nights (screening in this series on a 35mm print imported from Japan) marked the second installment in an informal trilogy of “Chinese Continental Friendship” works in which she plays a Chinese girl romanced by Kazuo Hasegawa’s virile Japanese man. The film, which takes place in then-occupied Shanghai, shows his kindly naval officer bringing her sickly local street urchin to his military hotel and nursing the initially resistant young woman to full health; his efforts to rescue her from her rough surroundings eventually lead them to fall deeply in love. Yamaguchi brought a quality of emotional rawness to her films, with her composure cracking in the face of need. In China Nights’s most famous scene, the man slaps the woman for being disobedient to him, and she responds—touchingly and chillingly—with a desperate plea for his heart. Aaron Cutler (Mar 21, 7pm at Japan Society’s “The Most Beautiful: The War Films of Shirley Yamaguchi & Setsuko Hara”)