Monday, December 04, 2006

Watched November 27 - December 3, 2006

Wasei kenka tomodachi / Fighting Friends, Japanese Style (Yasujiro Ozu, 1929)
Tokkan kozo / A Straightforward Boy (Yasujiro Ozu, 1929)

Two short, incomplete "nonsense" comedies by Ozu. Both foreshadow future films -- albeit in different ways.

The first involves two proletarian friends who fall for the same (homeless) young woman. At first, this disrupts their friendship -- but then when she falls in love with another young neighbor (more handsome and better educated), they work together to ensure her happiness. We will see plot elements and visual motifs from this recur in the great films of the 30s -- most notably in "Passing Fancy".

"Tokkan kozo" is a very loose adaptation of O. Henry's "Ransom of Red Chief" -- with a very young Tomio Aoki as the kidnapped child from Hell. Not only does this early film introduce us to Aoki (who would be an Ozu regular for the next eight years), but also to Tatsuo Saito (Ozu's first regular leading actor) and Takeshi Sakamoto (his second recurring leading actor) as the ill-fated kidnappers.

Even if absolutely complete, these would probably not constitute "major works" -- but even incomplete they afford considerable enjoyment -- and demonstrate Ozu's solid roots in the silent comedies of Hollywood.

Hana-kago no uta / Song of the Flower Basket (Heinosuke Gosho, 1937)

Gosho strikes me as an inconsistent director. Especially when he feels he has something important to "say" in a film, his work tends to get overly plot-heavy and overly wordy -- despite many moments of visual beauty. But when he deals with relatively inconsequential fluff, his work can be enchanting. This story centers around Kinuyo Tanaka, a waitress at her father's don-katsu restaurant. It depicts her dealings with her family (including an aunt and uncle wanting to marry her off suitably) and three handsome young (and poor) suitors -- Chishu Ryu, Shujio Sano and Shin Tokudajii. Nothing earthshaking here -- but thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.

Cheryomushki (Rappaport, 1963)

My favorite film musical -- ever. The tale of ordinary folk dreaming of an apartment (and bathroom) of their own. The Title refers to the name of the promised land -- poetically named Cheryomushki (Cherry Town) -- a real suburban housing development in the suburbs of Moscow, started in the late Stalin era. See:

Greedy bureaucrats are out to thwart expectations, but all turns out well -- for all but the connivers (and the gold-digger wife of one of them). Some evocations of Wilson's "the Music Man" (among other Hollywood influences) -- as our principal hero (Vladimir Vasiliev) is a bit of a trickster and our heroine (Olga Zabotkina) is a prim museum curator. But the music is Shostakovich at his most tuneful and rollicking. A few screenshots:

Shiawase no kiiroi hankachi / The Yellow Handkerchief (Yoji Yamada, 1977)

One of Yoji Yamada's most beloved comic melodramas (not quite a romantic comedy, despite plenty of comic moments). Ken Takakura plays a man just released from prison (for manslaughter) debating whether he should visit his ex-wife (Chieko Baisho). He insisted that she divorce him, after he was convicted -- so she could be "free" to go on with her life). Along the way, he is adopted by two aimless wayfarers touring Hokkaido Island -- Tetsuya Takeda (who has just gotten dumped by his girl friend) and Kaori Momoi (a hitchiker Takeda picked up, who has just dumped by her boyfriend). Plenty of giggles and sniffles as the trio makes their way towards Takamura's former home (with Takakura always on the verge of chickening out from the visit, afraid he might discover his ex-wife really _has_ moved on).

Ahiru no waltz / The Duck's Waltz (2006)

A wonderful little animated film about a young secretary and her pet duck, who share dreams of Paris -- set to a song sung by Aoi Miyazaki (Eureka, Nana). This is an outgrowth of an advertisement she made for AFLAC -- but transcends its origin:

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