A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

An Inn in Tokyo (Yasujiro Ozu, 1935)

Takeshi Sakamoto and Tomio Aoki in An Inn in Tokyo
Kihachi: Takeshi Sakamoto
Otaka: Yoshiko Okada
Otsune: Choko Iida
Zenko: Tomio Aoki
Kuniko: Kazuko Ojima
Policeman: Chishu Ryu
Masako: Takayuki Suematsu

Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Screenplay: Masao Arata, Tadao Ikeda, Yasujiro Ozu
Cinematography: Hideo Shigehara

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 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 and Masako. 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.