Friday, October 21, 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

208. Ozu Film #28: Dragnet Girl (1933)

*28. Hijosen no onna (Dragnet Girl) (4/27/33) (100 min.) [Silent B&W [buy it here]
  • The DVD requires a region-free player.
  • Like Days of Youth, there is no soundtrack -- try and imagine the music (and the benshi).
  • The Shochiku logo is similar to what we've seen on our first three available films: a bas-relief with the Imperial crest and the date (1933).
  • The background for the credits is a modern-looking painting which is dominated by dark crescent shapes surrounded by a connect-the-dots matrix.
  • The very first shot is a stunner: a high crane shot down on a large empty concrete space. Two men, each with a long camera-facing shadow, walk left to right, while another solitary figure walks away from the camera.
  • Cut; POV out a window with wooden slats hanging down. Notice the stunning composition here -- the right side of the window is open and two windows of the opposite building are perfectly framed between the wooden slats and the open window! (Ozu will repeat this shot near the end of the film.)
  • The pillow shots here are striking:
    • Cut; two grandfather clocks (one reads almost 3:40, the other around 3:47), swinging pendulums, time cards on far right;
    • Cut; time cards and hats hanging on rack.
    • Cut; a wall clock (showing 3:33).
    • Cut back to the hats; a white one falls;
    • Cut to ground level shot of the hat;
    • Cut and then pan left to right right behind a row of female typists.
    • Cut back to hats (including the empty peg where the white had once hung), panning left to right...
    • Cut back to the previous pan of the typists.
  • The pan stops and holds on a typewriter with no typist. She enters the frame and
  • Reverse cut to a medium shot of Tokiko (Kinuyo Tanaka), checking out her work.
  • Swinging office doors (WBK); Okazaki (Yasuo Nanjo), the president's son, looking over the mail, asks about his father and then has his assistant call in Tokiko. He gives her a ruby ring...
    "What you do think that means?"
    "If it means that, I'll give it back to you."
  • Transition shots; door ("Private"), clock (4:15), door, two clocks; resume pan of typewriters, now being covered.
  • Wastebaskets, overflowing.
  • High crane shot, people leaving building (long shadows facing camera)
  • Interior, looking out a translucent window with Gothic iron work ... Tokiko walking away; she stops.
  • Is looking at herself in a store window (shot with camera facing her directly).
  • Cut, Okazaki standing on corner. "Join me for some tea."
  • As they exit frame, Ozu holds on scene.
  • Two men enter frame; stop.
  • Cut to their POV: Okazaki and Tokiko standing, talking.
  • After Okazaki departs, Tokiko is walking with the two men, one on each side. It turns out they know each other. They have tabbed Okazaki as a "sucker" until she tells them that he's her boss's son and she does not want to get fired.
  • The men run away suddenly; she crosses the street.
  • We see why the men ran; a policeman enters the frame. He follows her (camera at feet).
  • Cut; more pillow shots: scale, rings;
  • Cut medium shot of boxers; Hiroshi (Kôji Mitsui) moves towards camera, skipping rope.
  • Jyoji (Joji Oka) scene. Tokiko arrives.
  • Cut to pan from behind bass, drums. Dance hall.
  • "Who's coming to attack us?"
    • Senko (Yoshio Takayama) approaches the strangers and does a little dance.
      • (We will see him do it again in a moment, and later, at the gym.)
  • As he will continue to do, Ozu elides the actual fight entirely. Note the sequence:
    • The strangers follow Senko into the back room. They face him, ready to do damage, until Jyoji appears.
    • Senko (dance) waves in the rest of the gang.
    • Jyoji tells them to "see to Tokiko."
    • The gang pauses, astonished that he will fight one against three.
    • Ozu pulls the camera back, as all four men begin to take off their coats.
    • In a cute bit of business, Senko reenters the room just as Jyoji is throwing his coat to him -- which Senko catches and then turns around and leaves.
    • Ozu holds on the tense moment, facing the men about to fight.
    • But ... surprise ... Ozu cuts to follow Senko out of the room and back to the rest of the group in the dance hall.
  • And then, in a fine bit of silent film construction: - a quick axial cut to a medium-close shot of the group, all heads turning together;
  • Cut to another group; girls rising from their chairs, and their heads all turning simultaneously;
  • Cut back to the first group; all heads turn twice;
  • Cut to a third group; people rising;
  • Senko runs towards camera which is placed right behind the drummer; motions for them to play;
  • Couples flood the dance floor;
  • Cut to a POV behind the bar, profiles of Tokiko, Senko and his girlfriend. Tokiko:
    • "Only a cannon could knock out my Jyoji."
  • He returns, framed through two girls on left and right. Senko is ready with his coat; he is cool and collected.
    • "Give some water to the three punks."
  • Cut to the beaten punks, trying to regain their wits;
  • ECU on three glasses of water on a tray, dice in the foreground;
  • Senko goes off to deliver the water; Jyoji and Tokiko dance. Girls with yo-yos pass in front.
    • Pillows: Tea pot pan; door opens to Jyoji, Senko, Tokiko and Kazuko (Sumiko Mizukubo), Hiroshi's sister.
  • Senko returns with Hiroshi who wants to join.
  • Visits sis at record shop. (Nipper, the RCA dog business) ... borrows money.
  • Hiroshi playing billiards. Chalk. Fight. Broken up. More billiards.
  • Comes home to an angry, disappointed Kazuko.
  • Gym, Hiroshi talking with Senko. Someone to see Jyoji. He goes outside and meets Kazuko. To Hiroshi: "You have a visitor."
  • "You'll never make it in this racket," then punches him.

207. Ozu Films #25-27 (1932-1933)

25. Seishun no yume im aizuko (Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth) (10/13/32) (ca. 90 min.) [Silent B&W {acc. to Richie, Shochiku negative exists, but the film has never been commercially released -- clip of 4:31 here}]

The shooting of "I Was Born, But..." was interrupted when one of the children was hurt and this film was hastily prepared. Four boys have graduated college. Three of them eventually have to ask the fourth, the son of a company president, for jobs. He, in turn, gets one of their girls.
  • The clip features Saitô Tatsuo and has a clean, bright look to it.
26. Mata au hi made (Until the Day We Meet Again) (11/24/32) (ca. 110 min.) [Sound B&W NEP]
  • Ozu's first sound film; albeit music and effects only (no dialogue).
An atypical story, a romantic melodrama about a prostitute in love with a boy whose father dislikes her; it takes place during the night before the young man must leave for the army.

27. Tôkyô no onna (Woman of Tokyo) (2/9/33)
(ca. 70 min.) [Sound (music/effects) B&W Existing Shochiku print but no commercial release; clip of beginning 7:52 here.]

A girl works hard to put her younger brother through school only to have him kill himself when he learns that she has financed his education by becoming a prostitute.
  • Filmed in eight days.
  • The clip shows two scenes: first the brother and sister at home; she gives him money for his school tuition. Next, she is at work, a typist. A policeman interviews her bosses -- who praise her work -- but seems to get suspicious when they tell him that she also works for a professor as a translator "till late at night." The clip ends.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

206. Ozu Film #24: I Was Born, But... (1932)

*24. Umarete wa mita keredo (I Was Born, But...) (6/3/32) (100 min.) [Silent B&W] [buy it here]

Through the eyes of two young boys (eight and ten), Ozu explores the loss of innocence as they gradually realize that their father is not the "boss" -- and since they can beat up the boss's son, they simply do not understand why their dad doesn't rule the roost, as well. They go on a hunger strike, but eventually realize that life seems to hold many cold and bitter truths.
Arguably, one of his best films from any period -- certainly, his greatest silent...

According to a Japanese friend, a fuller translation of the title might be something like:
  • "I Was Born, But ... why do I have to go through all this hardship?"
  • Shot between November '31 and April '32, but interrupted by the shooting of the previous film (#23). This partially accounts for the way the film turns dark towards the end -- Ozu's attitude toward it had changed...
  • Ozu: "I started to make a film about children and ended up with a film about grown-ups; while I had originally planned to make a fairly bright little story, it changed while I was working on it, and came out very dark. The company hadn't thought it would turn out this way. They were so unsure of it that they delayed its release for two months." [Richie, p. 215.]
  • The film went on to with the Kinema Jumpo First Prize for that year.
  • Donald Sosin again composes and plays one of the finest silent film scores I've ever heard.
  • The first Shochiku card resembles the one in "Tokyo Chorus" -- a bas-relief; a tall figure with a staff next to a lion with 1932 across its body.
  • The background for the credit cards is hilarious: a man is standing at the base of three leaves extending from a stalk. He has on funny round glasses and is naked, covering his privates with his left hand.
  • The first card reads: "A Picture Book for Grown-Ups."
  • Original story by "James Maki." This was a name they made up for Ozu.
  • In September of '31, five of Shochiku's big stars left to form their own company (including the soon-to-die Tokihiko Okada). Luckily, Ozu was able to retain Saitô Tatsuo, who is given the role of a lifetime here -- and he certainly delivers.
  • Likewise, the kids (Hideo Sugawara and Tomio Aoki), who carry the film for the duration. They are terrific!
  • Aoki was eight when he made this film -- his 14th IMDb entry! He died in 2004, age 80.
The script -- with surprisingly few title cards for so much activity -- is as tight as can be. Note the character introductions, done casually but with careful intent:
  • ECU on car tire stuck, spinning in the mud.
  • Truck driver, looking back.
  • Dad (Saitô Tatsuo) walks into frame; CU on him.
  • Spinning tire; back to Dad who is glancing up at something.
  • His two boys, standing in the back of the truck looking down.
  • Dad, tire and two-shot of Dad & truck driver who says something to Dad.
    • With no title cards whatsoever, Ozu makes it simple to follow the progression -- Dad looks at the kids and says something; the kids get out and prepare to push from the back of the truck.
  • Ozu finally fills the frame with the truck, which we see is loaded with a family's possessions -- trunks, suitcases and a doghouse.
  • Dad is vigorously turning the front crank; the kids have moved away and are talking.
  • Excellent ECU of tires spinning, truck rocking, getting out of the mud.
  • Ozu holds on the muddy path of road after the truck leaves the frame. We see only the legs of the kids as they walk by.
  • Cut to a front two-shot of the kids.
  • The first intertitle:
    • "You go on ahead. Tell your mother I went to see Mr. Iwasaki."
  • The kids get back in the truck and Dad exits frame -- as Ozu holds on the long narrow road, engirded by telephone poles.
It's all very subtle, but it's made clear that the father -- although he seems stern in his interactions with the kids at first (after all, they're in a tense situation) -- is in fact very gentle and loving with them. Conversely, we can see in the eyes of the older boy a kind of questioning of the father's behavior and decision-making. As I say, very subtle and observable only on repeat viewings.

  • We cut to we don't know where -- but Ozu has packed the foreground of this initial frame with all sorts of objects.
  • The truck pulls up in the background and we the older boy (Ryoichi) jumping out of the passenger-side seat and his younger brother (Keiji) from the back. Ryoichi moves towards the camera.
  • Gradually, Ozu puts it all together. The boys are talking to two young men who are putting away books. They are asking for their mother (Mitsuko Yoshikawa); they go off with her while Ozu remains with the young men. Two title cards reveal much. One man says to the other:
    • "Mr. Yoshii stopped in to pay his respects to the boss."
    • "That's why he's a manager, you could learn from him."
  • (i.e. the men work for Yoshii, who is visiting his boss, Iwasaki.)
A delivery boy, Kozou (Shoichi Kofujita), comes by and asks Keiji to "call somebody."
  • Keiji glances back into the house and then turns back to Kozou and makes a ridiculous face.
  • Kozou raises his right arm and makes a fist.
  • Staying on him, we watch as he unclenches, takes off his hat and bows.
  • Reverse cut and Mom is standing at the door with Keiji.
Compared to the two available films before this one, Ozu's use of humor is becoming much subtle.
  • Keiji and Kozou seem to develop a tentative friendship.
  • Cut to a large imposing house. Dad is bowing to Mrs. Iwasaki (Teruyo Hayami) and her young son, Taro (Seiichi Kato) as Iwasaki (Takeshi Sakamoto, the man who was fired for being too old in "Tokyo Chorus") saunters into the scene from his tennis game (so Westernized).
  • "He's always getting into mischief," Iwasaki remarks, pointing towards Taro as he leaves the scene.
  • Dad responds: "All young boys should have a little mischief in them" (Beautifully ironic on repeat viewings).
The gang bullies little Keiji, taking away both the bun in his mouth and a ring toy that Kozou had given him.
  • Notice the little kid with the sign. After he tries to take a bite from the bun, the kid next to him -- perhaps his older brother -- snatches it away. Ozu then gives us a CU on the sign which is not translated with a title card, but with a modern subtitle:
  • "Upset tummy. Please don't feed him anything."
We get our first close-up of the little ring toy, as its new owner (the bully) tries to figure it out. Ozu then cuts to Ryoichi, who is playing with his own little toy just as Keiji arrives home, crying.
  • The boys return to the gang and Ryoichi confronts the bully. The fight is interrupted when Dad walks by. He tells the boys they need to "get along" with the local kids.
  • Note the beautiful transition which separates the scenes: a lone telephone pole which comes into view as the camera tracks the three characters. As soon as they exit the frame -- cut -- the pillow shot: the top of the pole, with bits of frayed cloth attached to the wires, being whipped by the wind.
  • Cut from this to a POV behind a fence, watching Dad exercise his arms (while smoking a cigarette). Dad is perfectly framed between two pieces of laundry hanging on the line (an Ozu motif).
  • Observe the breakfast scene, a microcosmic look at the essence of Ozu. Everything is played out in an extremely naturalistic turn (watch Hideo Sugawara, in particular). Dad is getting ready for work, the kids are eating ... it is nothing but a slice of morning life in which nothing happens.
  • The kids, facing a potential beating if they go to school, play hookey and eat their lunch early (note how the kids are always putting the bento box on their heads!).
  • Note a very clever transition: the kids are at school, marching, bored -- cut -- a rightward pan (rare for Ozu, even then) on office workers, all yawning (i.e., bored marching leading to a future of yawning).
  • The brothers share a cigarette butt.
  • Kozou runs into the boys and forges a teacher's "E" (for "excellent") on Keiji's calligraphy homework. The subtitle infers that he wrote the letter backwards!
  • The gang calls out the brothers, who successfully defeat Taro and another boy. The bully is conspicuously absent from this fight.
  • 0:36:56. Dad, who has found out about the bullying, walks the kids to school and pauses to make sure they actually go. At one point, the boys stop and turn around to see if their father is still watching (he is) and Sosin puts in this little cue that sounds exactly like someone saying, "UH-OH!" It's very clever.
  • Taro confronts Keiji, this time with the bully present. Keiji loses, but Kozou intervenes and sends the bully home, crying.
  • The brothers now point to Taro, and ask Kozou to "tell him off, too."
  • They learn a very adult lesson when Kozou declines, saying that the boss is a much better customer than their dad.
  • The brothers now "control" the rest of the hang. Given specific hand signals, any other boy must lie down on the ground at the leader's command. Taro did this, and now the brothers do it.
  • Ozu completely gives over this part of the film to the childrens' POV, as they compare the complicated hierarchy of both their own world and that of the adults.
  • 1) The bully's father calls back Ryoichi's earlier line: "Who made my kid cry?" The kids run away. This father is obviously a lot like his son...
  • 2) The next kid demonstrates teeth removal by offering his dad a piece of caramel. The kids shake their heads in wonderment and scurry off again.
  • 3) They meet up with Iwasaki and Chichi (Dad) and Taro finally settles the argument, once and for all, speaking to the brothers:
  • "That's my Dad's car. So my Dad's more important than yours."
  • The brothers test their leadership by ordering Taro to the ground. He does so, reluctantly, but Dad sees this and bows to Taro in apology as he dusts him off, looking at his sons sternly.
  • Dad leaves and the brothers repeat their command. Again, Dad sees it, and this time takes the boys away with him.
  • Again, notice the fermata, the pause -- such an important pacing tool for Ozu -- as he keeps the camera back as Dad and the boys walk further down the road.
  • The famous home-movie scene follows. Ozu takes his time setting everything up.
  • The kids, in their Sunday-finest, have to pay Taro a sparrow's egg as the price of admission; the adults are gathered around to watch the film.
  • The first reel. Ozu's fondness for scatalogical humor on full display:
  • The zoo. A large male lion.
  • "It's like the lion on the toothpaste tube."
  • "Which end does the toothpaste come out of?"
  • Keiji answers: "The tail end."
  • Next, a zebra. Taro asks:
  • "Are they black stripes on white or the other way around?"
  • The second reel: Iwasaki is crossing the street to meet what look like two young geisha girls. Offscreen, Mrs. Iwasaki is shooting daggers at her husband, while he desperately tries to save face by running the reel at fast forward speed (Sosin provides an appropriate cue).
  • Before the start of the third reel, Chichi lights the boss's cigarette with appropriate deference. As the reel begins, it appears that the employees are all doing calisthenics, perhaps on the rooftop of the workplace building. (I believe it is still fairly common for Japanese employees to exercise with their colleagues at work.)
  • The brothers are thrilled to see Dad on the screen.
  • Chichi begins making funny faces for the camera. Without intertitles, Ozu undulates between Dad looking ridiculous on the screen with a two-shot of the brothers watching all this, as we see them becoming more and more disgusted, disappointed, and disallusioned.
  • Meanwhile, all the adults, including Chichi, are laughing, although he seems a little embarrassed.
  • Ozu never confirmed whether or not his 1959 film, Ohayô ("Good Morning") was a "remake" of this film -- but the one strong parallel that both sets of brothers must come to terms with is the apparent hypocrisy of the adults' behavior.
  • In this film, after watching their father kowtow to the boss and look ridiculous, they demand that he should be the boss instead of Taro's father. They don't understand.
  • In the '59 film, the kids are bewildered at the way adults use phrases like "Good Morning" and "have a nice day" instead of saying what they really mean.
  • They go on a short hunger strike, which leads Dad to attempt to explain the nature of things to them. Do they understand?
In the final scene, we see Taro lie down on the ground at the brothers' signal, but when he gets up, the three friends march off to school arm in arm. The bully appears with the ring toy, still unable to figure it out. Ryoichi quickly demonstrates how to do it, but the bully still cannot duplicate the trick.
  • The scene ends on a wide shot -- the early morning rush, kids running to school, a tram whizzing by in the background...

201. My Seven Favorite Compositions

Links to my posts at The Best American Poetry blog on my seven favorite compositions:
  1. BACH: St. Matthew Passion
  2. BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 131
  3. MAHLER: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor
  4. STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps
  5. BARTOK: String Quartet No. 4
  6. BERG: Violin Concerto
  7. BERIO: Sinfonia

202. Ozu Film #8: Days of Youth (1929)

*8. Gakusei romansu: Wakaki hi (Days of Youth) (4/13/29) (103 min.) [Silent B&W] [buy it here]

The first surviving film and what a precious jewel it is! Here is a peek at the 25-year-old director who would eventually make so many great masterpieces. Not quite yet, however. Here, he seems to be content with cloning the type of pictures his mentor Okubo had been churning out -- mindless comedies with as much spark and spirit as Ozu could put into it. There are, however, many telltale signs; predictors of Ozu's unique way of thinking regarding the making of a commercial film.

Two college students room together and prepare for a ski trip following final exams. They both fall for the same girl, but she is not interested in either of them; she's about to become engaged to the ski instructor. On the train back to Tokyo they commiserate about lost love, then find out that they've flunked. The friends try to maintain a positive attitude and look forward to the future.

  • There is no recorded score for the film on this DVD. As you watch it, try to imagine the live music, and of course the benshi, who literally brought the film to life for the contemporary audience.
  • The Japanese title cards have excellent English translations.
  • The film opens with an awesome slow 180° pan showing the city of Tokyo. All of the usual Hollywood techniques from this era are on display throughout the film -- pans, fades, even a dissolving double-exposure at one point. The cutting is typical and the picture is filled with sight gags which were probably at least mildly amusing at the time.
  • All of this will disappear in Ozu's mature work. The camera will remain fixed at his famous "tatami-mat" level (supposedly at eye level while sitting on tatami -- but in reality, Ozu often brought the camera much lower -- just a few inches off the floor). Nearly without exception, he will use only the 50mm lens; no filmic punctuation whatsoever except the straight cut, and complete disregard of the 180° rule in favor of direct, straight-on shots of each character separated only by straight cuts. But in 1929, we can see the influence of American filmmakers, particularly Ernst Lubitsch.
  • After the first part of the opening pan, Ozu does a quick zoom-in (!) on the first title card -- "Near a University, Tokyo." The pan then continues past a soccer field and over the rooftops of houses. A cut and the pan resumes, closer to the structures. The camera finally comes to rest on a sign taped to the shoji -- "Room Upstairs to Rent."
  • The actors are terrific. Bin Watanabe (Yuki Ichirô) an imp of a college student lives in the upstairs room. His scam is waiting until a pretty girl answers the ad. After rejecting a man then a dowdy young woman, we meet Chieko (Junko Matsui) who agrees to take the room.
  • Ozu's sets show more and more details; here we see a poster on the wall for the hit Frank Borzage film "7th Heaven" [1927], which won the very first Best Director Academy Award.)
  • Out on the street, she runs into Shuichi Yamamoto (Saitô Tatsuo), a Harold Lloyd look-alike here. (In a few years, he will go on to play the father in Ozu's first big success, "I Was Born But...")
"Have you knitted the socks for me?" he asks her.
  • With this one title card, Ozu avoids a lengthy and completely unnecessary exposition. We now know that they are friends.
  • The film weaves gag after gag into the flimsy plot:
    • Yamamoto props his left hand up against a pole; a sign attached reads "Wet Paint." The gag continues as he gets paint on his teacup and then his face, she laughs and Ozu fades to black.
  • The next day the rickshaw boy is busily loading Watanabe's stuff.
    • This is where we see the beautiful dissolve/double-exposure that I mentioned above.

Watanabe quickly overcomeds Yamamoto's objections and becomes his roommate.

  • More gags. Watanabe spots an alarm clock (right next to a tin of Libby's California Asparagus) and hassles the sleeping Yamamoto with the usual alarm-clock gags until he wakes up. Watanabe quickly overcomes Yamamoto's token resistance and they are roommates.
  • Watanabe makes himself at home -- he picks up the Libby's California Asparagus and begins to plop the long stalks into his mouth."Someday your kindness will be repaid." Yamamoto snatches away the canned asapargus as the rickshaw boy arrives with the many bags.
  • Extremely naturalistic acting with very few title cards ... Chieko is sewing socks (a nice macguffin).
  • One of the cutest gags in the film: She is trying to ignore him and goes back to her reading. He toys with the little figurines on her desk, twisting one of them (a male) into a position with four-on-the-floor, back arched up high and bug-eyed face looking right at Chieko. She laughs slightly. He looks uncomfortable. He'll try something else. The next time she looks up from her book, he is tickling the figurine's behind with his fingers. She laughs a little longer this time. He breaks a figurine.
  • Finally, he sees the socks. "May I have these?" She nods in the negative, but Watanabe pushes on -- chutzpah on full display -- and tries them on. He stomps up and down like a delighted three-year-old, and breaks yet another figurine.
  • There is some extremely fast cutting here -- the first several cuts are about one second each. First an ECU on the broken figurine on the floor. Medium on Watanabe, looking from side to side. The pair of skis resting against the wall, which fall over. Back on Watanabe and then back on the ECU of the broken figurine.The cuts then lengthen just a bit -- on her, then him; a title card ("Do you ski?" he asks her) and then back to the original medium master shot (he is standing she is sitting).
  • Here we get a preview of some iconic images which run like a river through all the films of Ozu: telephone poles, factory smokestacks, a wind vane. The boys are looking at the objects trying to predict the weather. Watanabe: "It'll snow." Ozu will parallel this scene at the very end (a device used nearly continuously from here on).
  • Watanabe throws his textbook into the air and holds it open to the page where it randomly landed. "This will be on the exam," he tells Yamamoto, who believes him and writes it all down on his shirt cuff. Cut to bell, students pour out of building.
  • Notice the elision -- we see nothing of the actual taking of the exams, only the aftermath -- much like the weddings, etc. in the later films.
  • A student is caught cheating. Watanabe tries to visit Chieko, but she's already gone skiing. Yamamoto is on a streetcar, but lost his purse. Nice shot of POV from the streetcar, leaving Yamamoto behind. FTB.
  • Back home, Watanabe looks at his 7th Heaven poster and gets an idea. He gathers up some books and a trophy. Brief hesitation, and he returns the trophy to the shelf. As he descends the stairs, Ozu shoots a CU on his feet, which have stopped -- and he returns to get the trophy.
  • The big reveal is that "7th Heaven" is the name of a pawn shop. Now they have money. A shot of a magazine, "Skiing News." A train schedule. POV front train car, looking forward at the tracks and surrounding view -- coming out of a tunnel. "Two more lunch boxes were sold that night."
  • Watanabe writes possible exam scores on the dirty train window. He discovers the socks that Chieko has knitted for Yamamoto. Watanabe has a pipe. (From here on, almost all the students will be smoking pipes!)
  • They arrive at the ski resort (Taguchi). The remainder of the film -- before a short coda on the train -- takes place on the slopes.
  • The lettering on the back of Yamamoto's jacket reads: "Smack Front Only."
  • "How many more electric poles?" Yamamoto asks. Watanabe: "136 more." Some landscape pans, dissolves. An intertitle: "At the 130th electric pole." (Watanabe was pretty close!)
  • Yamamoto is not a good skier and is constantly falling down.
  • Watanabe is constantly knocking Chieko down.
  • Ozu inserts a wonderful sideways POV during one fall.
  • Indoors, Watanabe and Yamamoto huddle under blankets. Two other students enter (one of them is Chishu Ryu, the most important actor in Ozu's later films) and discuss exam grades.
  • Watch carefully as Watanabe tries to undo Yamamoto's ski bindings with the tip of his pole.
  • He then leaves him planted in the snow as he races to catch Chieko. Yamamoto repeatedly tries to get up.
  • Another wonderful tilted camera again, as he watches the people rushing by on a 90° tilt.
  • Lovely scene of making tea in the snow.
  • Note the lovely match-dissolve (watch the English lettering on the box of sugar cubes).
  • Watanabe surreptitiously gives one of Yamamoto's skis a push down the slope.
  • Note the naturalistic cutting -- Ozu allows Yamamoto (and the audience) a bit of time to realize his ski is gone. After Watanabe releases the ski, cut to a CU of the ski sliding down the slope. Cut to Watanabe, impish. Cut to Chieko and Yamamoto; he's handing her something to eat. Cut back to Watanabe, motioning and pointing towards the disappearing ski. Quick cut on Chieko and Yamamoto -- he looks at the ski -- cut back to the ski, quickly moving away. Cut back to Chieko and Yamamoto -- she is mildly amused; he starts to run after his ski. Watanabe is also laughing.
  • Finally, the ski stops, but just as he approachs it, it continues to move (very fake looking; bad early Chaplinesque).
  • The students drink, sing and dance. First Yamamoto, then Watanabe join in. "Dance to the rhythm of floor sound."
  • Nice little details: Beer bottles knocked over. Watanabe is fondling those socks.
  • [music]: "Stop crying. We'll meet again someday."
  • A nice transition of related smoke -- Watanabe puffs on his pipe; stokes the fire -- the camera moves up to show a tea kettle with steam rising and finally a cut to the steam pipes rising from "Hutte Arlberg."
  • The next day it is snowing heavily. The group of guys and Chieko are perfectly framed by two trees (early Ozu poetry!) ... Yamamoto and Watanabe have come to say goodbye. Watanabe leaves first and skis away easily.
  • Yamamoto, of course, falls immediately and then again (Ozu reuses the 90° tilted POV shot).
  • With the girl no longer between them, the boys are friends again. Watanabe takes Yamamoto's pack from him. The boys trudge away on their skis. FTB. Watanabe takes the fruit which Chieko gave them and puts them in one of the socks and drops it out the train window. Watanabe predicts a 40 on the exam, and writes the number on the window.

Suddenly, they see "Badger" (the professor) and eventually discover that the grade is 37, probably failing.

  • Badger: "You'd better study, too." They return to their seats. Watanabe writes a 37 on the window.
  • "In Tokyo, the west wind has blown steadily since morning." Again we see the telephone lines; smokestacks, etc. Yamamoto is looking out the window-- Watanabe motions for him to close it."Smile, I'll find you a better one." Watanabe makes a new sign. He seems to be explaining his "scam" to Yamamoto. Two friends talk. Exterior, on the sign.
  • Begin the same pan from the beginning (except in reverse -- left to right here). FTB. The End.


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.

205. Ozu Film #23: Spring Comes from the Ladies (1932)

23. Haru wa gofujin kara (Spring Comes from the Ladies) (1/29/32) (ca. 94 min.) [Silent B&W NEP]

Another of Ozu's college comedies. Now, however, the university years have become a precarious golden age during which the real problems of the world are seldom understood and all security is false. In this film Ozu was discovering in the educational system, and in the world of childhood, the acute angle from which he could both view and evaluate the adult world.

203. Ozu Films #9-21 (1929-1931)

9. Wasei kenka tomodachi (Fighting Friends) (7/5/29) (ca. 100 min. [?]) [Silent B&W NEP but 2:29 survives. See it here.]

Two truck drivers fall in love with the same girl.

The short clip begins with a title card "Evening." A man (Yuki Ichirô) enters into what is presumably his home and gives his (probably girlfriend?) a kimono which he bought secondhand. She is delighted and goes into the other room to try it on. (Prominent poster on the wall for either The Uninvited Guest [1923] or The Uninvited Guest [1924].)

A second man arrives (he looks scruffy; more like a truck driver than the other guy!) to the first man's obvious annoyance. The woman comes back into the room with her new/old kimono. A series of shots establishes the tension between the two men. They engage in some sort of eating contest (I can't really tell what's going on here. It appears that Man Two eats these little round things that are surprisingly hot; Man One also eats them (or does he? look carefully -- he may be performing a sleight-of-hand; can't tell) but the heat apparently doesn't bother him. Man Two finally takes a long drink of water from the fishbowl. Man One laughs heartily.

10. Daigaku wa detekereda (I Graduated, But...) (9/6/29) (ca. 100 min.) [Silent B&W NEP but 8:16 survives. See it here.]

Even with only eight minutes of film, it is plain to see that Ozu is evolving; moving beyond the 'nonsense-mono' of his previous pictures to a newer, more serious dynamic.

Takada Minoru goes for a job interview and turns down the offer of receptionist, thinking it's beneath him. However, when his mother arrives, along with his fiancee Machiko, he conceals his unemployment until the marriage. When Machiko discovers his situation, she has a fit. Later that evening, Takada patronises a bar and finds Machiko moonlighting there. He is furious with her but eventually he becomes aware of her sacrifice, and pleads with his interviewer for the job he rejected. Instead, he is told that the previous offer was a test, and he is given a better position.

Machiko is played by the amazing Kinuyo Tanaka, who would go on to become one of the most important actresses in Japanese film history. (Her turns in Mizoguchi's Ugestu and Sansho the Bailiff, for example, are unforgetable.)

The clip has a soundtrack of traditional Japanese music (if you enjoy this, try any of these beautiful Toru Takemitsu CD's! @ # $ % ^ ) ...

  • The same logo screen described above for Days of Youth (brick background) is the first image of the clip.
  • After Minoru leaves the interview, he tears up his resumé and the pieces fall at his feet. Ozu continues his penchant for showing us this angle at a dynamic, dramatic moment...
  • There are several places where you can see the flashes of a frame or two of the original Japanese title card.
  • Again, Ozu prominently displays a poster for a Hollywood film -- in this case, Speedy, starring Harold Lloyd.
  • A nice use of parallelism: Minoru is at a bar when he spots Machiko, who -- unbeknownst to him -- has been working there as a hostess/waitress. He sees her light a match for customer's cigarette. He is about to light up himself, but when another hostess offers him a light, he declines it and puts down the cigarette. Later, at home, she tries to help him light his cigarette, but he ignores her and she burns her finger.
  • My Japanese friend tells me that the difficult translations for these "but ..." titles might be something along these lines:
    • I Graduated, But... = ... why is my life so unsuccessful now?
    • I Flunked, But... = ... so many wonderful things are happening, it doesn't matter!
    • I Was Born, But... = ... why do I have to go through all this hardship?

11. Kaishain seikatsu (The Life of an Office Worker) (10/25/29) (ca. 85 min.) [Silent B&W NEP]

A comedy (?) about a husband and wife who look forward to a year-end bonus, only to discover that, because of the general depression (the film was released on October 25, 1929), the husband has been fired. He looks for job, fails to find one, and is finally hired by several friends.

The term shomin-geki ("home drama") begins to appear in Ozu's filmography at this point. Perhaps he is being pigeon-holed here -- but regardless of how faithful he was or was not to the accepted norms of the genre is besides the point. Ozu had found his calling.

12. Tokkan kozô (A Straightforward Boy) (11/24/29) (ca. 57 min.) [Silent B&W NEP but 1:29 survives. See it here.]

A romp about a hapless crook who gets more than he's bargained for when he kidnaps a brat with an insatiable appetite for sweets. Unable to keep him under control, the kidnapper returns him to his father, who refuses to take him back. He tries to dump him on his playmates, but he incites them to demand toys and other goodies from him, making him run a mile.

Richie brilliantly sums up Ozu's maturation with seven filmic signposts, all signifying important elements of his developing style and keys to his ongoing journey in making brilliant, important films:
  • 1. More interested in character than in comedy.
  • 2. He had found his major theme: the Japanese family, either directly or in its extensions, the school and the office.
  • 3. This led to an interest in society at large, though he always preferered to see this larger entity reflected in the smaller.
  • 4. This led to the very particular shomin genre, ("home-life") the class that was most typically Japanese and at the same time formed the larger part of his audience.
  • 5. Found in children a vehicle for his ideas, in particular for the kind of social satire he was now developing.
  • 6. Gradually limited his technical means, giving up fades, dissolves, etc. and eventually creating a plain style that was superbly suited to his mundane subject matter.
  • 7. At the same time, Ozu was a commercial director. His films were intended to make money while showing life as he saw it. For this reason he made many films we consider atypical of his work. It was later that he gained control and was able to make only the films he wanted to make (Richie, p. 208).

The short clip is tantalizing. We can only imagine how good the entire picture must have been.

  • It begins with Bunkichi (Saitô Tatsuo) sitting on a bench overlooking the city next to small boy, around ten years old. As a policeman looks on, the kid puts a butterfly net over Bunkichi's head and then peels off his fake moustache. Possibly for the benefit of the watching policeman, Bunkichi makes a game of it and sticks the moustache on the kid, who immediately takes it off and puts it back on the side of Bunkichi's face. He slaps the kid a few times, who then begins to cry. An intertitle looks like it might say something like, "ooh, that hurt; ooh, that hurt!" [the Japanese is repeated] ...
  • As he tries to console the boy, the imp again rips off his fake moustache. End of clip.
  • The 57-minute film was reportedly shot in three days.

13. Kekkongaku nyûmon (Marriage for Beginners) (1/5/30) (ca. 107 min.) [Silent B&W NEP]

Husband and wife tire of their mutual life.

14. Hogaraka ni ayume (Walk Cheerfully) (3/1/30) (ca. 100 min.) [Silent B&W {acc. to Richie,16mm finegrain master with Shochiku, but the film has never been commercially released to my knowledge -- clip of 2:57 here}]

A young delinquent eventually reforms.

  • Apparently everything about this film is extremely "Americanized."
  • The clip shows two different cars with two different sets of people travelling parallel to a train (which we also see). In one vehicle, a man picks up an old doll from the side of the road and then later throws it out the window. In the other vehicle, a man's hat goes out the window (twice).
15. Rakudai wa shitakeredo (I Flunked, But...) (4/11/30) (ca. 95 min.) [Silent B&W {as above acc. to Richie,16mm finegrain master with Shochiku, but the film has never been commercially released to my knowledge -- no clip}]

A motley crew of students face "exam hell". When not studying, they hang out at a local coffee shop and flirt with the pretty waitress. She seems to take a shine to one of them, Takahasi. Takahasi prepares for the exam by scribbling crib notes on his shirt. However, the landlady takes the shirt to the launderette and he flunks. His four best friends who live across from him, also fail, but his fellow lodgers all pass. Ironically, it's the graduates who leap from the frying pan to fire - job hunt hell. Takahasi and his friends enroll for another term at college and become cheerleaders.
  • Note the reuse of the crib notes on the shirt cuff (see Days of Youth, above).
  • Chishu Ryu apparently has an important role in this one. He soon became aware, according to Richie, that he was playing Ozu's alter-ego [p. 210].
16. Sono yo no tsuma (That Night's Wife) (7/6/30) (100 min.) [Silent B&W {film exists as per above; no commercial release.} Clip of 6:13 here]

A romantic melodrama: a father with a sick child turns robber and is caught.
  • The clip is astonishing! It begins with the man tending to his child, then cuts to a woman who is holding a man at gunpoint with two guns!
  • In this short scene, Ozu holds the tension high with quite a bit of cutting and a wide variety of shots, including several close-ups obviously intended to jar and ratchet up the suspense.
  • The prisoner looks at his pocket watch. It reads 1:50 (presumably A.M.). A FTB and up on a wall clock which reads 3:07. Long slow pans follow, finally revealing the husband working to soothe his sick child.
  • The wife is getting sleepy. A wonderful ECU on the man's hand, lightly tapping the chair; later the same on his shoes.
  • A poster on the wall has the names Sally O'Neil and Jack Egan. An IMDb paired-search reveals that they made two films together: Mad Hour (1928) and Broadway Scandals (1929).The poster probably is for the latter, since it pictures dancing flapper-girls in a chorus line ...
  • In a beautiful sequence, the camera slowly pans left past some hanging laundry (a future "pillow-shot" motif that will appear in nearly all of Ozu's later films!) and many other objects, the camera suddenly moves outside where we see a boy with a cart delivering milk (it is morning). As the boy and his cart leave the frame, the shot pretty much perfectly reverses itself -- the pan is now going to the right and when we finally land on woman, she is asleep. She awakes with a start and Ozu quickly reverses the shot to the show the man holding the two guns. She is frantic.
  • As the clip ends, she is trying to run away -- he is talking to her, and puts the guns into his pants pockets.
17.
Erogami no onryô (The Revengeful Spirit of Eros) (7/27/30) (ca. 41 min.) [Silent B&W NEP]

Typical Shochiku, atypical Ozu: a nonsense-comedy ghost-story picture made at the spa to which Ozu had been sent to recuperate. Ozu remembers nothing about the film.

18. Ashi
ni sawatta koun (Lost Luck) (10/3/30) (ca. 60 min.) [Silent B&W NEP]

A film about office workers and their insufficient salaries. Again, Ozu admitted that he could not remember a thing.

19. Ojosan (Young Miss) (12/12/30) (ca. 130 min.) [Silent B&W NEP]

A typical light comedy about a girl journalist, distinguished by Ozu's sense of humor and his respect for character. A big star-filled spectacular, it surprised the studio and possibly the director by winning Third Prize in the prestigious Kinema Jumpo polls for that year.

20. Shukujo to hige (The Lady and the Beard) (2/7/31) (97 min.) [Silent B&W {as above, existing print but no commercial release} -- no clip]

Another college comedy, about a bearded cheerleader and a young lady of good family. Eventually she tames him and he shaves. Finished in eight days.

  • A more detailed summary appears on the primary Ozu site:
  • Okajima, a college student with invincible kendo swordfighting skills, both vexes and amuses women with his conservative ways and his big, brushy beard which he carries with pride. One day, on his way to his friend Baron Yukimoto's party, he rescues the demure Hiroko from a brazen swindler, Satoko. He goes to Hiroko's company for a job interview and is rejected. Hiroko suggest that he shave off his beard and he at once lands a job, and attracts attention of both Yukimoto's sister and Satoko. But his heart is set on Hiroko, and despite some mix-up with Satoko, their faith in each other is unshaken.
21. Bijin aishu (Beauty's Sorrows) (5/29/31) (ca. 158 min.) [Silent B&W NEP]

Two young men, one serious, the other a playboy, meet the daughter of an eminent sculptor. The playboy marries the girl, whom they both love; the serious one gets the statue. Later, she dies and the husband wants the statue. The two men fight; they both die.
  • Richie: Some who remember seeing this film say it was not as bad as it sounds. Ozu, however, said that he wanted to make a nice, light picture, got too earnest about it, and it turned out slovenly.

201. Ozu Films #1-7 (1927-1929)

How often have you heard someone refer to a film as being "poetic"?

Googling "poetic film" took me here. These posts were made over a period of 14 months (8/09 to 10/10) and mention about 50 films. Not one Ozu film was proposed.

Michael Radford's brilliant Il Postino was mentioned several times; an obvious choice because the movie is about an actual poet (Neruda). So were such "dreamy" films as Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre, Tarkovsky's The Mirror (just about all of Tarkovsky's films feature the poetry of his father,Arseny), Benigni's Life is Beautiful and Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.

All these so-called art films do in fact have either a dreamy, poetic quality about them or attempt to pretty much literally transform written poem to visual image (see most Tarkovsky, esp. Andrei Rublev)...

In these seven posts I will attempt to emphasize the particulars underlying my own personal assertion that the films of Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) are Poetry in Moving Images -- works of art which are eternal in their mental and psychological imprint upon the viewer -- which inspire one to decipher meaning, probe form, and react to the cosmic humor and tragedy on display. Of course, there is nothing else remotely like Ozu in the history of cinema (though many now copy him) -- this uniqueness alone requires close investigation.

I have a pretty massive DVD collection (2000+). When I buy DVDs, I have only one criterion: is this a film that I will want to watch more than once? When I re-watch an Ozu film, I feel like an old friend has dropped by. We'll talk about the same old stuff and enjoy each other's company and that's the plot!

A typical Ozu film has very little going on, plot-wise. But because the story is presented to us with such unassuming realism; familiar characterization, meticulous set design; rock-solid steady and invisible camera; and the acting so completely void of artifice, the end result is something startlingly transcendental. (It is said that Ozu treated his actors badly ... he made them do so many takes, some thought it cruel -- but it was his way of beating out the "performer" in the actor and obtaining something very "real").

If you've already seen some or all of Ozu's surviving films, I hope you'll enjoy re-watching them, perhaps grokking anew with some of my more unusual bullet-points in mind. If you are new to Ozu, I hope my writing makes you interested in seeing these masterpieces. Imagine how gratified I will feel if you become an Ozu-nut, like myself.

**

Yasujiro Ozu was born in Tokyo on December 12, 1903. His father was a fertilizer salesman. He and his brothers -- as was the custom in middle-class families at the time -- were sent to the countryside to be educated. Ozu was a rebellious, undisciplined student. He matriculated no further than middle school, preferring his twin passions of watching American films and drinking. He rarely saw his father between 1913 and 1923, but forged a potent relationship with his loving mother -- Ozu never married and lived with her until her death in 1962 at the age of 87. Ozu himself died just a year later -- the day before his 60th birthday, December 11, 1963. Carved on his tombstone is a single Japanese character -- mu -- the Zen nothingness that is everything.

(For more detailed biographies, go here, here and here.)

Ozu's uncle got him his first job in the film industry as an assistant cameraman, which basically involved schlepping heavy cameras from place to place. He worked his way up to become an assistant director to the both now and then obscure Tadamoto Okubo, who "specialized in a kind of comedy which was called 'nonsense-mono' -- a running series of gags held together by a slight story line, a succession of chuckles intended to make the time pass" [Richie, p. 200] (must reading for any serious fan). Ozu was quite satisfied with the position. He could drink to his heart's content (he was a heavy drinker, all his life) and had none of the responsibilities and worries that he quickly realized were the domain of the director.

Nevertheless, his friends urged him on and an incident (a waiter at the studio cafeteria insulted him) provoked him to overcome the inertia of his non-ambition. Besides, he had always loved film (almost all American -- at his job interview, he admitted to having seen only three Japanese films!) and probably felt the confidence to strike out on his own.

Ozu made 54 films, Thirty-seven survive in at least abbreviated form. Thirty-five are silent, 19 talkies, 48 are in B&W and six in color. Of the 37 surviving films, 26 are available on DVD -- most of them on the Criterion Collection or their budget label, Eclipse -- but some of the earlier films are available only from Asia, and require a region-free DVD player (which are quite affordable these days). Naturally, the quality of the Criterion releases is extraordinary.

I will discuss four existing films per post, except for the last two posts where I will cover the last six films -- the only ones that were shot in color.

Synopsis in red = No Existing Print [NEP]
Synopsis in blue = existing print or clip but no commercial release
Synopsis in black = film available for sale

1. Zange no yaiba (Blade of Penitence) (10/14/27) (ca. 70 min.) [Silent B&W No Existing Print NEP]

His first picture -- 53 more would follow! -- was an adaptation of an American film, "Kick-In," directed by George Fitzmaurice in 1922. Ozu had not actually seen the film, but had read about it in a film magazine. Mandatory military service came calling before he had wrapped the picture. A friend finished it up for him, and Ozu claims to have seen it only once.

2. Wakodo no yume (Dreams of Youth) (4/29/28) (ca. 50 min.) [Silent B&W NEP]

A comedy about college dorm life, based on American films Ozu had seen.

3. Nyobo funshitsu (Wife Lost) (6/16/28) (ca. 50 min.) [Silent B&W NEP]

Ozu disliked the script but made this light comedy about marital mix-ups into a film because he was ordered to.

4. Kabocha (Pumpkin) (8/31/28) (ca. 60 min.) [Silent B&W NEP]

Comedy about a young man and his mishaps with girls. Ozu states that he learned a great deal about continuity making this film.

5. Hikkoshi fufu (A Couple on the Move) (9/28/28) (ca. 60 min.) [Silent B&W NEP]

Comedy about a couple who cannot stand living in the same house and are continually moving. Ozu began to articulate his unique style with this picture. Unfortunately -- he says -- his final cut was badly reedited and far from his own personal vision.

6. Nikutaibi (Baby Beautiful) (12/1/28) (ca. 60 min.) [Silent B&W NEP]

Comedy about an unemployed husband who becomes his artist wife's model. When her paintings fail to win prizes, she becomes his model, and his paintings (because they are of a nude female) win all the first prizes. Ozu was happy with the result, and the critics and public took notice.

7. Takara no yama (Treasure Mountain) (2/22/29) (ca. 100 min.) [Silent B&W NEP]

Comedy/melodrama about the jealousy between a traditional young geisha and a modern schoolgirl. Ozu recalls not sleeping for five days because the studio wanted the film in a hurry.