Who agrees that the father’s acting too much?
Directed by Ozu, That Night’s Wife is one of his early silent films. The film quality is often blotchy, which was distracting at times and the it does seem that Ozu is figuring out his craft, so this isn’t a “must-see” film.
The story is about a man who’s pursued by the police for a robbery, which we don’t see. The man evades the police and gets home to his family, which consists of his wife and his young daughter, who’s critically ill and may not make it. They live in a small, squalid apartment, which for some reason has several old movie posters with English and Russian titles leaning against their walls. I suppose this was a homage to Ozu’s idols, but I’m not sure.
Clad in a kimono, the wife talks with the girl’s doctor. If Michiko, the daughter, makes it through the night, she’ll be fine. The devoted father does get home and gives his wife the money for Michiko’s medicine. The wife figures out that the money’s stolen and there’s some disagreement about that. However, the dispute’s not resolved as a police officer comes to the door. The husband hides, but is found. The night wears on as they all watch sleeping Michiko hoping she lives. The cop is sympathetic to the family but also has to do his duty.
The film was quite melodramatic and by 1930, I’d have thought any director would seek more subtlety, but no. All in all, there were some surprises, but this was done before Ozu hit his stride. While the wife takes some surprising action, I’m still not sure why this movie is entitled This Night’s Wife.
Dragnet Girl: Joji (l) and Tokiko (r)
Director Ozu’s Dragnet Girl is an absorbing silent film about Tokiko,a gangster moll, who becomes jealous when Joji, her boyfriend, gets a case of the wandering eye. Tokiko looks as sweet as can be, but actually she’s quite a coquette. She works at a company by day and the boss’s son is smitten with her plying her with expensive gifts that she’s happy to take.
Her night’s are spent with Joji, the head of a small crime outfit that seems to fix boxing matches. Tokiko is Joji’s main squeeze. Selfish and extravagant, she’s quite brazen and disloyal as she’ll wear her boss’s gifts in front of Joji.
When a high school boy, impressed with Joji’s flash and power, tries to join his gang, the boy’s sister, Kazuko, who’s simple and innocent, begs Joji to get her brother back on the straight and narrow. Joji’s instantly smitten with Kazuko. He starts hanging around her music shop and starts appreciating classical music and all that Kazuko, who pays him no mind, appreciates.
At first Tokiko dismisses her rival, but when she sees that Joji is changing for real she gets nervous. She goes as far as plotting to shoot Kazuko, but then she comes to appreciate Kazuko’s magnetic innocence. Tokiko is not to be trusted after telling Joji she wants to change and become more like her rival. She’s been branded as a delinquent and that label’s impossible to remove.
The film has the style of a noir classic and takes some interesting turns as Tokiko refuses to marry her boss and plots to rob him with Joji. It’s a beautiful simple film that didn’t need talking.
This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt sent me looking for favourite old movie photos. I’m sharing images of some favourite international directors: Ozu and Kurosawa from Japan and Sacha Guitry of France.
You can find my reviews of Ozu films here, Kurosawa films here, and Guitry films here.
An Only Son
My guess is Ozu can’t make a bad film. Though I’ve only seen a handful, from what I’ve read and seen, I think it’s impossible.
The Only Son (1936) tells the story of a poor boy who’s widowed mother doesn’t have enough money to send him to middle school. Only 9 boys in the class are planning to go. When the boy’s teacher obliquely urges her to see that her gifted son goes on to school, she finds a way to do so.
The film then jumps ahead to the boy’s adulthood. After college, he’s living in Tokyo. His mother surprises him with a visit and he surprises her with a wife and baby he never mentioned. In Japan this is quite a disgrace. Why wouldn’t you tell your mother you’d married? It makes her look like a bad mother. (And in the US it’s also not done.) She accepts her new daughter-in-law and dotes on her grandson.
Though he tries to hide it, his life has not worked out. He lives on the outskirts of pre-WWII Tokyo in a desolate area beside a factory. He’s scraping by teaching math classes at night. He can’t get a good job and has to ask his boss for an advance so he’ll have money to make sure his mother has a good trip.
What was all her deprivation for? Her son’s not even happy. The promise that education will lead to a good job, to security or prosperity, has not proven true. She brings this up to her son as they sit in a field of dried grass. He’s frustrated by the situation himself. He can’t and doesn’t argue with her. He has little hope and little motivation to succeed.
Yet a heroic act for a neighbor shows the mother that all isn’t lost and that her son, while he may never be rich, has a stellar character.
The film is stark and beautiful. The environment captures the characters’ plights. While the ending isn’t one you’d find in a fairytale, it’s authentic and powerful.
Kahichi and son Tomio
Yasujiro Ozu’s Passing Fancy (1933) takes us into the shitamachi, i.e. tenement neighborhood of Tokyo where factory worker Kihachi, a widower, lives with his young son, Tomio. The film opens with Kihachi watching a storyteller with his neighbors. The scene with Kihachi battling a fly are comedic. After the show, Kihachi meets Harue, a young, pretty woman who’s just last her job and has no where to go.
Not only is Kihachi moved, he’s smitten. His young neighbor Jiro kids Kihachi urging him not to get his hopes up. A lazy, uneducated jokester, Kihachi’s amusing, but you know he’ll never get ahead. Moreover, you know he’ll never get the girl. His hopes die hard. He’s unaware of Harue’s soft spot for Jiro, who rebuffs her advances. Still her continued love for Jiro means she’s never going to fall for Kihachi.
Tomio’s a good student and impudent son. His classmates taunt him and in turn, Tomio puts down his father for his illiteracy and lazy ways. The argument escalates, but Kihachi realizes his son’s situation and gives a lot of money to spend as he wishes. He hopes the windfall will alleviate the pains of their poverty however briefly. But Tomio, who’s about 9 or 10, gorges himself on sweets, which results in a critical illness. With Tomio in the hospital Kihachi, Jiro, Harue and another neighbor are brought together.
It’s never explained why Tomio’s got the eye patch
The silent film moves slowly by modern standards, but is full of touching scenes that will reward patient viewers. Ozu’s characters are engaging. I particularly liked that the boy was sometimes the model son, who has to make his drunken father get up for work, sometimes a victim and sometimes a brat. It isn’t often that children are so multi-dimensional in film.
Here’s an essay on the film on Criterion Collection.
In Ozu’s 1959 film Good Morning (Ohayo) two young brothers take a vow of silence when their parents refuse to buy them a television. Complications ensue when the neighbors and teachers read in all kinds of things into the silence. Gossip spreads and at one point to boys run away. The youngest brother, who’s probably 6, is particularly cute.
All in all, it’s a charming film that shows Japan on the brink of prosperity.
In 1931 Ozu made Tokyo Chorus, a silent movie about a salary man who promises his son a bicycle when he gets his bonus. From the early school scenes we see the hero has a problem with authority and can be a troublemaker.
Anticipating the father’s bonus all is sunny at home. However, the hero speaks up for an older colleague who was unjustly fired and winds up losing his job at an insurance agency. He doesn’t know how to break this to his family, life is changing and hard times lie ahead. (Remember the downside to life long employment is it’s awfully hard to find a job as a mid-level professional. There are no openings.) He tries to satisfy his son with a scooter, but it doesn’t satisfy. The other kids have bikes and the son, who gets very bratty in a very realistic way, won’t accept anything less.
The film shows the man trying to find work, but without luck. Then his daughter gets ill and has to go to the hospital. It’s sad when we see how he had to pay the hospital bill. Throughout the film his wife is long suffering. She’s a serious woman who’s married a man who often can’t control himself. At times he unwittingly humiliates her, but she never gets angry. She seems to understand that won’t help and believe that endurance is the key to survival.
The film is well paced and kept my interest. It’s further evidence that silent films can say more than many talkies. Often the characters speak, but we don’t get cards saying what was said. That’s okay because we can infer the dialog and in that way the film is universal. The actors, particularly the hero, who’s played by Okada, Tokihiko is very likable and expressive. According to imdv.com, he died a couple years after making this film. It’s a shame because he could have had a long career.
I was in the mood for something from Japan since I’m working on a script about Japan. I remembered liking Tokyo Story so I thought I’d try something else Ozu directed, thus I clicked on Tokyo Twilight and added it to my Netflix queue.
Many of the actors from Tokyo Story are in Tokyo Twilight so it was a lot like visiting old friends. The mood again is somber as Ozu looks at the broken ties between a father, his daughters and the wife who left (or was thrown out) when the youngest daughter Akiko was 3. Akiko is now grown and in shorthand school. She’s hiding a broken heart and a pregnancy. She tries to find her elusive boyfriend, to borrow money from her relatives for an abortion, and to hide what’s going on from her kind father. She clearly fears his reaction to her situation, even though he seems like a gentle and probably forgiving man.
I loved the black and white photography of Tokyo, the homes and the mahjong parlor. The emotions run strong and the characters all hold them in as much as they can. The characters in this 1957 drama are a world away from Juno. Both are well worth watching.
I added two more Ozu’s to my queue, but am tempted to buy the 5 DVD set for $39 on Amazon.