I Flunked, But.... (Ozu, 1930)
Tokyo Chorus (Ozu, 1931)
I think the films of Yasujiro Ozu are the perfect exemplar of that powerful task of motion pictures: to enlarge human sympathies. Ozu typically does it by working in his characteristic milieu: the family. Most of us have families, and when we don't (or when we recognize intolerable flaws in the ones we find ourselves in), we form something to substitute for them: clubs, cliques, fraternities, political parties. These three silent movies, lesser or little-known parts of Ozu's oeuvre, shine with their director's deep understanding of human connections. They also document the impact of the Great Depression, not just on Japan but on daily lives around the world. Two of them are about actual nuclear families, the other about a kind of surrogate family. They range from crime melodrama to slapstick comedy to a domestic drama threaded through with humor. All of them reveal Ozu's knowledge of American genre film as well as his ability to transform the generic into the personal.
|Emiko Yagumo and Tokihiko Okada in That Night's Wife|
That Night's Wife begins with a touch of gangster film as we watch the police patrolling the nighttime streets, rousting a homeless man from his perch between the towering columns of a building, then witness a daring robbery of an office by a man masked with a bandanna and the police pursuit that follows. But we gradually learn that the man (Tokihiko Okada) has committed the robbery because he has a sick child and can't pay the doctor. Most of the film takes place in his small apartment, where his wife (Emiko Yagumo) is tending to the child, who the doctor says will be all right if she survives the night. Then a detective (Togo Yamamoto), who has posed as a cab driver and brought the man home, arrives. There's a standoff between the couple and the detective in which, after trying to stay awake all night, the detective prevails. But the film ends with an unexpected turn that in other hands might come off as sheer sentimentality but in Ozu's manages to feel like the working out of an ethical dilemma.
|Tatsuo Saito in I Flunked, But....|
|Tokihiko Okada in Tokyo Chorus|