A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, March 13, 2017

Passing Fancy (Yasujiro Ozu, 1933)

Den Obinata and Takeshi Sakamoto in Passing Fancy
In Passing Fancy we can see Yasujiro Ozu edging, however reluctantly, toward sound. For a silent movie it has an extraordinary number of intertitles, reflecting a stronger reliance on dialogue to carry the story and the relationships of the characters. Ozu even departs from convention on occasion to show a title card before the character has spoken the line. The film also shows more of the development of Ozu's personal style as a director than some of his contemporary silent films do: There's a greater reliance on low-angle camerawork, his so-called "tatami shots," and a more frequent use of shots of streets and buildings that don't necessarily carry information about the plot and characters but serve as something like "chapter breaks" in the narrative. But film technique aside, Passing Fancy would be remembered as one of Ozu's most charming early films. Takeshi Sakamoto plays Kihachi -- a character name the actor would retain in other films by Ozu, including A Story of Floating Weeds (1934) and An Inn in Tokyo (1935). The several characters are discrete from one another, although the Kihachi in Passing Fancy bears some resemblance to the one in An Inn in Tokyo in that they are both single parents of a son played by the marvelous child actor Tomio Aoki. (If you're not confused yet, let me also add that in Passing Fancy Aoki is billed as "Tokkan Kozo," the title of a 1929 Ozu short film based on O. Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief" in which Aoki appeared. Oh, and that in Passing Fancy, the character is named Tomio.) Anyway, Kihachi and Tomio share rundown lodgings with Jiro (Den Obinata), who works with Kihachi in a brewery. Tomio is a good student, and he's a bit embarrassed by his illiterate and occasionally drunken father. One night, Kihachi and Jiro encounter a young woman, Harue (Nobuko Fushimi), who has just been fired from her job and is looking for a place to stay. Jiro is suspicious that Harue is "no better than she ought to be," as the saying goes, but Kihachi is smitten with her and arranges for her to live with and work for Otome (Choko Iida), a woman who owns a neighborhood bar-restaurant. Kihachi begins to spruce himself up to woo Harue, but she's more attracted to the younger and handsomer Jiro. Eventually, Otome persuades Kihachi that he's too old for Harue and that he should try to get Jiro to return her affections. Then Tomio falls ill and, following the familiar sick-child motif of many Japanese films in the 1930s, Kihachi is pressed to find a way to pay the doctor bills. Ozu's generous humor and genuine affection for his characters suffuses the film, and the splendid rapport of Sakamoto and Aoki as actors provides a special insight into the often volatile father-son relationship. There's a wonderful scene, for example, in which Kihachi slaps Tomio once too often and the boy turns around and begins to pummel his father, who submits, resulting in a deeper understanding between them. The screenplay is by Tadao Ikeda, from a story by Ozu under his pseudonym James Maki. The cinematographers are Hideo Shigehara and Shojiro Sugimoto.