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Four silent films of Ozu

screened at the Summer Film College 2013, with live piano accompaniment by Hilde Nash:

  1. Otona no miru ehon / Umarete wa mita keredo (I was Born, But… / A Picture Book for Grown-ups, 1932)
  2. Dekigokoro (Passing Fancy, 1933)
  3. Sono yo no tsuma (That Night’s Wife, 1930)
  4. Hijosen no onna (Dragnet Girl, 1933)

His first 35 films were silent, and his last 20 were talkies. Many of the silent works are now lost, but the ones we still have display a stylistic range and freedom that are almost absent from the talkies. The silents were often assignments, yet Ozu made them his own. The “James Maki” credited with many of the stories (and those of Ozu’s first two sound features) is actually Ozu writing under a pen name, and the actors and crew members are many of the ones he would use throughout his career. Made over just nine years, these 35 works display a remarkable diversity and authority.” Source: Jonathan Rosenbaum, in: Chicago Reader, January 14, 2005. URL: http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.com/?p=5988

  1. I was Born, But… A Picture Book for Grown-ups (1932)

Boys will be boys. A family moves to a suburb, the two sons have difficulty to adapt to their new neighborhood. The film offers a comparison between the social interaction among kids and among adults. In both worlds there is a hierarchy system, with a set of power games and conventions. The kids prove more transparent in showing their emotions and also more flexible in accepting changes. Ozu makes a wonderful funny and subtle observation of the bond between the two brothers, touching upon intimate family life by doing so. The younger boy is the charming comedian of the two. His elder brother is a bright boy. He is also brave enough to confront his father in demanding an explanation of embarrassing social structures.

Further reading:
  1. Passing Fancy (1933)

The film is set in a poor neighborhood of Tokyo. The main character is a simple man, who is careless, impulsive and unpredictable. His young son runs the household.  Deep down they have an affectionate relationship, but on the surface is a lot of rough treatment. The father is in essence a lazy person, without sense of responsibility. This becomes obvious among others in his passing fancy for the young waitress next door. The whole film gives a lively portrait of the neighborhood: his strong friend who works at the brewery, the barber who is a wise and generous man, and the madam of the bar who is the center of this small universe. It’s a sad movie, because the main character remains a silly loser and also an inadequate father. Still, there is a lot of vivid comic relief in this film. The surprising ending reminds me of BOUDU SAUVÉ DES EAUX (Jean Renoir, 1932), because Boudu is also such a charming, impulsive opportunist.

Further reading:
  1. That’s Night Wife (1930)

A combination of crime film and melodrama. In the first reel a robbery occurs, the police chase the criminal. The city is shown as an abstract labyrinth city. The robber manages to escape, and returns home to his wife and child. He needed the money for his little daughter, who is critically ill. A police detective tracks him down. From this point the mood changes into a psychological confrontation, with a clever staging of three people in a crammed room. The interior is a fascinating combination of objects (the robber is painter of bill boards for movies and revue shows).

The detective is played by actor Togo Yamamoto, who started his film acting career in Hollywood films, mostly playing Chinese characters, for instance in THE MIDNIGHT PATROL(1918), THE CITY OF DIM FACES (1918), and FLESH AND BLOOD (1922, starring Lon Chaney). In SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT (Cecil B. DeMille, 1920) he played a Japanese servant.

  1. Dragnet Girl (1933)

Gangster film, featuring two couples: a gang boss and his girl, and a student and his sister. The film is set in a boxing school, billiard bars, shady nightclubs, and a modern record shop. Ozu has been influenced by UNDERWORLD (Josef von Sternberg, 1927), but his film has also the same atmosphere as SCAR FACE (Howard Hawks, 1932), a prominent use of a neon sign included.

Further Reading:
General resources on Silent Ozu
 Reviews and essays:
Four silent films of Ozu at the Royal Film Archive
  • David Bordwell, ‘Umarete wa mita keredo… (Ozu, 1932)’, in: Kroniek van de stille film, no. 23 (oktober 1993), Brussel: Koninklijk Filmarchief.
  • David Bordwell, ‘Seishun no yume imaizuko (Ozu, 1932, Where are the Dreams of Youth?)’, in: Kroniek van de stille film, no. 19 (oktober 1993), Brussel: Koninklijk Filmarchief.
  • David Bordwell, ‘Degigokoro (Ozu, 1933)’, in: Kroniek van de stille film, no. 5 (oktober 1993), Brussel: Koninklijk Filmarchief.
  • David Bordwell, ‘Ukigusa monogatari (Ozu, 1934, A Story of Floating Weeds)’, in: Kroniek van de stille film, no. 22 (oktober 1993), Brussel: Koninklijk Filmarchief.
 Silent Ozu on dvd
 Criterion edition (2008, Eclipse series 10): Silent Ozu: Three family comedies, scores by Donald Sosin:
  • Tokyo no korasu (Tokyo Chorus, 1931)
  • Otona no miru ehon / Umarete wa mita keredo (I was Born, But… / A Picture Book for Grown-ups, 1932)
  • Dekigokoro (Passing Fancy, 1933)
BFI edition (2013): Gangsterfilms: Three Silent Films of Yazujiro Ozu, scores by Ed Hughes.
  • Hogaraka ni ayume (Walk Cheerfully, 1930)
  • Sono yo no tsuma (That Night’s Wife, 1930)
  • Hijosen no onna (Dragnet Girl, 1933)
BFI edition: The Student Comedies of Yazujiro Ozu, scores by Ed Hughes, featuring The Camilleri Trio and Richard Casey.
  • Wakaki Hi (Days of Youth, 1929)
  • Rakudai Wa Shita Keredo (I Flunked, But…, 1930)
  • Shukujo to Hige (The Lady and the Beard, 1931)
  • Sieshun No Yume Ima Izuko (Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth?, 1932)
BFI edition: Three melodramas of Yazujiro Ozu- Women of Tokyo (1933), score by Ed Hughes.
Criterion edition: Two films by Yazujiro Ozu: Story of Floating Weeds (1934) & Floating Weeds (1959)
Japanese dvd-edition: An Inn in Tokyo(1935, his last silent film)
Ozu silent movie, not yet on dvd: Walk Cheerfully(1930).
‘Silent Ozu’ could be compared with the silent movies of Mikio Naruse and Kenji Mizoguchi: