Takeshi Sakamoto and Tomio Aoki in An Inn in Tokyo
Does any filmmaker have a clearer, less sentimental view of the moral conundrum of childhood than Yasujiro Ozu? We tend to think that because children are innocent they are naturally good, when in fact their egotism leads them into trouble. In Ozu's I Was Born, But... (1932) and Good Morning (1959), the naive self-centeredness of children causes problems both for them and for their middle-class parents. Much the same thing happens in An Inn in Tokyo, one of Ozu's late silent films, but the consequences are more serious. Kihachi (Takeshi Sakamoto) is a single father down on his luck, trudging the road through an industrial district in search of work, accompanied by his two small sons, Zenko (Tomio Aoki) and Masako (Takayuki Suematsu). Kihachi is a loving father -- there's a wonderful scene in which he pretends to be drinking sake that Zenko is serving him, after which the boys pretend to eat the food they can't afford -- but perhaps a little too indulgent. The boys capture stray dogs which they turn in to the police because there's a small reward, part of a rabies-control effort. But when Zenko collects the reward, he spends it on a cap he has wanted, instead of the food and shelter they need. Later, when Kihachi goes to a job interview, he tells them to wait for him by the side of the road with the small bundle that contains all of their possessions. But after a while they decide to follow him, and squabble over which one is to carry the bundle. Zenko takes off, leaving his younger brother behind, but Masako abandons the bundle, and when they go back to retrieve it, it's gone. And when they are left with only enough money for either food or lodging for the night, Kihachi unwisely leaves the decision up to the boys, who naturally choose the immediate gratification of food -- leaving them out in the cold when it starts to rain. The film is often compared to the neo-realist films of Vittorio De Sica that were made more than a decade later, and it has the same graceful sensitivity to the plight of the underclass that De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948) demonstrates. Life improves for a while for Kihachi and the boys when he meets an old friend who helps him get a job. But in the end he is undone by his own kindness: He has met a young woman with a small daughter on the road, and when the little girl falls ill with dysentery, Kihachi resorts to theft in order to help her pay the hospital bills. In a heartbreaking ending, he turns himself in to the police. The performances are quietly marvelous, and while the existing restored print still shows the ravages of time, it's still possible to appreciate the cinematography of Hideo Shigehara, who collaborated frequently with Ozu in the pre-War period.