Tuesday, October 4, 2011

204. Ozu Film #22: Tokyo Chorus (1931)

*22. Tokyo no gassho (Tokyo Chorus) (8/15/31) (91 min.) [Silent B&W] [buy it here]

Ozu's 22nd film -- but only the second film in chronological availability!

A serious comedy about a married salaried man who loses his job and must walk the streets in search o
f one. He has many misadventures, some of them painfully comic, before being saved by his old school comrades.
  • This excellent Eclipse release features a dazzling, period-correct, optional solo piano soundtrack score by Donald Sosin. The music enhances Ozu's film throughout every scene and makes watching it a much deeper and richer experience. Be sure to click the "Activate Score" icon...
  • The opening Shochiku logo is strange indeed. A stylized cityscape is bestraddled by a giant nude man in bas-relief, with the year (1931) superimposed.
  • Gags aplenty as Omura, a drill instructor/teacher (Saitô Tatsuo, again) deals with several dozen unruly students, including Shinji Okajima (Tokihiko Okada). [Okada died three years later, from tuberculosis.]
  • One of these gags involves Omura's habit of licking his pencil as he prepares to write down something (probably negative) in his little notebook ... after doing this many times, he begins chewing out Okajima, who helpfully takes the pencil from him, licks it, and hands it back to him, smiling throughout...
  • (This little "licking" motif will reappear in a future echo. qv)
  • A student arrives late. Much humor flows from this -- but this is another poignant future echo. qv
  • At 7:01, Sosin times his score so that a new march exactly matches the boys being marched out of the courtyard.
  • We can observe Ozu's habit of using a certain type of "pillow-shot" to effect transitions begin to develop here: after Okajima unsuccessfully tries to light a cigarette, he looks up -- cut -- a lovely shot of a large gate surrounded by trees, rustling in the wind ...
  • ... cut -- title card ("Several years later..." -- "He's working for an insurance company") ...
Never in any kind of a rush, Ozu takes his time getting Okajima to the office. As he gets dressed, his son (Hideo Sugawara) and daughter (Hideko Takamine) are running around the house playing with a beach ball-shaped paper balloon. The son begs dad for a bicycle -- all his friends have one (and a few cuts later we see them zooming by on the road outside the house) ... now, a word about these kids:
  • Ozu used Sugawara several more times (he's terrific in all his work with Ozu!) ... he apparently gave up acting when he was twelve ...
  • Conversely, Takamine -- who plays the younger sister here, even though she was the same age as Sugawara (they were both seven while making this film) -- went on to have a long and distinguished career, and is generally considered one of the grande dames of Japanese actresses, although she would work with Ozu only more time -- in 1950's "The Munekata Sisters" qv
  • Ozu was a wonderful director of children. He somehow coaxed the same naturalistic acting that he demanded from the adults.
  • Throughout this picture, Ozu is more and more frequently placing the camera just a few inches off the floor -- at 12:54 we see an amazing example of this stylistic development:
    • The husband is finally ready to go to work. He is walking towards the door and the wife is rising from her position in the other room, moving to him to say goodbye...
    • Naturally, since they are standing, the camera only shows them from feet to mid-body -- a strange sight, as she brushes him off and he departs, she following ...
    • The shot holds on the "mosquito-net" tent that covers the baby and then ...
    • ... the kids enter the shot, framed perfectly!
A long, sweeping pan introduces us to the office. Okajima,
after sticking up for an older man who is fired, is himself fired (after a hilarious "fan-duel" with the boss ~ must see!). Also noteworthy during this office scene is:
  • A salaryman's worst nightmare: his bonus fell into the urinal.
  • Another employee peeks through the keyhole at the unfortunate man who is staring at the piss-soaked bills, trying to decide what to do! Classic!
  • Later, several cuts show him using a blotter to dry the bills out ...
  • At 25:26, he repeats the keyhole shot, as the gang peeks into the boss's office to watch.
  • Significantly, Okajima remains cheerful after he is fired.
The son has stopped his bicycle friends like a traffic cop. He pulls a pretty swift little trick where he is eating a slice of watermelon and gets one of the kids to dismount his bike in order to sit on it and play while its owner takes a bite of his watermelon.
Until the kid catches on and -- carefully wiping off the handlebars -- resumes sitting on his bike, while the Okajima kid grabs back his watermelon. Very cute scene.
  • "My dad's buying me a better one!" he yells to the departing crowd of kids.
  • In the next scene, he meets Dad on the road, who has only a ridiculous little scooter for him, which he continuously tries to promote as "just as good." There follows Tantrum #1.
  • Dad gets home and son follows. Tantrum #2 begins with him punching out a few panes of rice paper, continues with his jumping onto the floor with a loud thump.
  • #3 is a full-blown rage on display. The kids get a licking...
By this time, Mom (Emiko Yagumo -- spectacular throughout!) is consoling son. In a heartbreakingly realistic-looking scene, he cries to his mother:

"He didn't buy the bicycle he promised me."

Ozu is furious with the pace of expressions and movements he asks of Yagumo here -- first, she gives her husband a little look, and -- bending down to his level -- tries to calm and console her aggrieved son, as she says:

"Daddy was wrong. Now be a good boy and stop crying."
Dad: "What did I do wrong?"
"You shouldn't lie to children."

Following this exchange, he finally shows her his discharge papers -- he's been fired. As she recovers from this shock, she once again tries to get son to play with the scooter. Dad's still undressing; he looks tired (he had to wipe his brow several times while he spanked the boy -- it was hard work!) ... "

Poor kid. Let's buy him a bicycle."
  • The scene concludes with the kids playing with a paper airplane they've made out of dad's termination papers!
"Tokyo ... City of the unemployed." Okajima bumps into the man who was fired -- he is now handing out fliers for "Insurance Week" with a sandwich board draped over his frail old body. They sit and talk.
  • Wonderful "pillow shot" of some fountains simply to establish location.
  • An extremely strange bit of screenplay as the two men commiserate -- suddenly people are running; a man says a bear has broken out of its cage; the older man points as if to indicate that maybe they should go -- but Okajima says:
    • "A bear getting out isn't going to change our lives."
  • The old man sits down again. People are walking calmly in the background; children are playing on the swings -- I guess it was a false alarm or something! [still, strange little episode to stick in there!]
Dad & son meet on the road again -- the kid has his new bike; tells dad his sister is sick from eating some bad cake; dad blames mom, sis has to be hospitalized...
  • The "pillow-shot" transition between home and hospital is quite lovely -- a stalk of sunflowers, blooming in front of some transmission wires.
  • In the hospital, son inspects the ice-bag which rests on sister's forehead -- he picks it up -- and finally, he licks it! [echo]
  • Very lovely scene as Dad and son prepare to go home with Mom and sis to follow. Son -- after giving Dad all his pocket possessions -- hops on Dad's back for a piggyback ride home.
  • The next few seconds gives Yagumo another chance to shine. Watch her expressions as she returns to her daughter and then realizes she needs to say goodbye to her husband and son at the window. It's a simple, yet wonderful scene.
Daughter recovers, family returns home.
  • At least in this neighborhood of 1931 Tokyo, people locked their doors. Okajima opens a lock to get into the house.
  • They are happy to be home. Dad seems ecstatic.
  • 53:42. A justifiably famous "early-Ozu" scene: Dad is on the floor with the kids; Mom is in the other room with the baby. They exchange looks, and Dad and the kids start to play a game which looks similar to pattycake. Mom discovers her kimonos gone (Dad sold them to pay for the hospital bill.)
    • "Miyoko is back with us thanks to your kimonos."
  • This seems like a cue for the son to run to Mom and bring her over to join in on the game. She does so.
This is good time to point out how Ozu used all the principal elements of filmmaking -- script, shooting and editing [sub-good-time-to-point-out-something: Richie's brilliant book is laid out along just those lines -- the actual filmography follows lengthy chapters on script, shooting and editing] to achieve results such as those coming up in the next few moments of this film:
  • SCRIPT: In this instance, there are no title cards, although the adults seem to speak to each other occasionally. What they say could not have been important. What the script probably said was something like:
    • The family sits in a circle playing the game. The children are oblivious to any emotions other than fun and happiness, but the adults exchange stealthy glances of sadness and confusion as they become aware and profoundly affected, experiencing the reality and the beauty of life.
  • SHOOTING: There are just four camera positions: 1) a medium-shot of the four from behind and slightly to the left of son, and then (left to right) daughter, Mom and Dad; 2) a CU of the kids; 3) MCU of Dad w/ son on lower left; and 4) MCU of Mom w/daughter on lower left.
    • The scene plays with the emotional responses of Mom and Dad in positions #3 and #4, above.
  • EDITING: There are 22 cuts in 1:48. Note the length of each cut and how it creates an overall rhythmic flow to the film. SU# indicates the camera setup, above. [#] is the length of the cut, in seconds:
    • Cut 1/SU#1 [11]: As son and Mom walk back to complete the circle, son sits directly in front and slightly to the left of the camera, with his sister, Mom and Dad completing the circle, left to right. They join hands and begin to sing and play. Neutral faces.
    • Cut 2/SU#2 [5] A close two-shot of the kids, smiling happy...
    • Cut 3/SU#3 [3] MCU on Dad w/son on lower left; Dad's putting on a happy face;
    • Cut 4/SU#4 [4] MCU on Mom w/daughter on lower left; Also trying to look happy. She looks up at her husband...
    • Cut 5/SU#3 [3] Dad hesitates for a moment, looks at Mom;
    • Cut 6/SU#4 [5] Mom, concerned.
    • Cut 7/SU#3 [5] Dad, stiff.
    • Cut 8/SU#4 [3] Mom, sad; her lips move for a moment;
    • Cut 9/SU#3 [2] Dad, clapping mechanically;
    • Cut 10/SU#4 [5] Mom, slowly bowing her head, but still clapping;
    • Cut 11/SU#3 [5] Dad, now choking back emotion...
    • Cut 12/SU#4 [3[ Mom, swallowing hard.
    • Cut 13/SU#3 [3] Dad, steely-eyed, staring at his wife...
    • Cut 14/SU#4 [4] Mom, missing several claps to wipe away tears;
    • Cut 15/SU#3 [6] Dad, also missing, holding it all in. At the end of the cut, you can see he is looking at his children:
    • Cut 16/SU#2 [4] The kids, absorbed in the movements and happy feeling...
    • Cut 17/SU#3 [4] Dad, humble, thankful, on the verge of tears;
    • Cut 18/SU#4 [3[ Mom, slowly looks up;
    • Cut 19/SU#3 [8] Dad; Ozu letting his smile spread over his family -- a relatively long cut -- and he is speaking with great emotion;
    • Cut 20/SU#4 [4] Mom, too, is happy now, at last.
    • Cut 21/SU#2 [7] The beautiful children -- still happy, playful, in tune with the rhythm -- but do I see a glint of wonder and curiosity about their parents' behavior? Bottom line, they are happy.
    • Cut 22/SU#1 [10] Long cut which fades out as the family plays together at peace.
      • SU#2 is used only three times -- cuts #2, 16 and 21. Note the powerful poetic effect of those three cuts!
That's what I call filmic poetry, I guess.

Immediately follows a dose of reality as Okajima is job hunting. His dropped cigarette butt is immediately picked up as found treasure by a needy man outside the Employment Office.

[Akira Kurosawa made a whole film based on a similar incident! It's called One Wonderful Sunday [1947] and that link will take you to my post I made on that film for this blog] ...

Here he runs into Omura, who offers him a job with his restaurant. This results in his having to carry heavy banners advertising the restaurant, while Omura, wearing the same type of sandwich-board that the fired old man wore, passes out leaflets.

His wife and kids see him when they are travelling back home on the streetcar. She is mortified and ashamed. He is calm and patient and willing to do whatever it takes.
  • Note that not until he tells her that the old man with him was his former teacher and that he is trying to get him a "real" job does she feel the least bit positive.
  • "Are you sure he will?" she asks, looking for certainty.
  • He takes his shirt off rather savagely and looks at her coldly for a moment. But then his glance softens and he says:
  • "A drowning man will clutch at straws."
  • As he undresses, his gaze leads him to some laundry hanging outside on a clothesline. This image will become a regular cast member in the later films, so reguarly does it appear in his films!
  • He mentions how he feels like he's getting older; she looks at him and follows his gaze out to the laundry. Suddenly they both become more cheerful. She offers to go with him to the restaurant the next day. She hangs up his clothes and readies his kimono and obi.
  • Title card: "Four or Five Days Later" We see many plates of rice and eventually Mom, who is preparing the bowls. Then Mrs. and then Mr. Omura, who is ladling the curry sauce onto the rice.
  • Okajima enters the kitchen. "We're ready. Come join us," he tells Omura.
Again, Ozu elides plenty. (He has "told" us four or five days have passed). But we're surprised to see a large group of men who we (hopefully) quickly realize are all the students from the old days.
  • We begin to grasp the extent of the poverty at the time when Omura -- a decent guy -- looks at the menu on his wall stating the price for the rice curry -- 15 sen. We see him mentally adding up the total for the group and then informing them -- regrettably -- that he'll "have to charge everybody." [Nobody seems to mind -- but the point is that every yen must have been so precious to earn and hopefully save!]
In any case, a telegram arrives -- Omura has in fact gotten Okajima a job -- teaching English at a girl's school some distance from Tokyo. The group toasts the good news and all join in and sing.
  • Both Okajima and Omura are overcome with emotion as the group sings of the good ol' days and Ozu FTB on this high note of hope and friendship and family.

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