FilmSnob

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  1. Movie of the Week #4: Tokyo Chorus (Ozu, 1931) Starring: Tokihiko Okada, Emiko Yagumo, Tatsuo Saitô, and Hideko Takamine Written by: Kôgo Noda Cinematography by: Hideo Shigehara Silent, Black and White, 1 hour 30 minutes. Comedy, Drama Review: Yasujiro Ozu's last and most important film from 1931, Tokyo Chorus marks a new high standard for the director's early career. It was here that the Ozu picture began to take form. Okajima (played by Tokihiko Okada in his best role yet) works for an insurance company during Great Depression Japan. Like all of Ozu's male protagonists in these early films, Okajima looks Westernized. His wife (Emiko Yagumo) and two children (including a very young Hideko Takamine) seem much more traditional Japanese. On the day he is to receive his yearly bonus, Okajima promises to buy his son a bike. (Tokihiko Okada in Tokyo Chorus) Unfortunately for his family, Okajima gets fired from his job when he protests the wrongful termination of an older colleague. The rest of the picture concerns his struggle to find work and provide support for his wife and kids. Ozu's thoughts: Ozu's career had started with nonsense student comedies in the 1920s, more often than not starring his comedic alter ego, Tatsuo Saitô. By this point, he still directed occasional screwball comedies like The Lady and the Beard, but had also tried his hand at salaryman comedies, melodramatic love stories, and sentimental pastiches like Walk Cheerfully. Saitô gradually moved into background supporting roles -- he plays an over-the-top former teacher with a fake mustache here in Tokyo Chorus -- while the sometimes comical, sometimes dramatic Tokihiko Okada became Ozu's new leading man. Okada's acting performances were rather mixed in his previous Ozu roles, but here the character and the tone suit him best. Perhaps that's because by this point, Mr. Ozu had started to question his motives and objectives in filmmaking. Ozu may have started with comedy and gags, but gradually his films became more and more serious over time. (Hideko Takamine, Emiko Yagumo, Hideo Sugawara, and Tokihiko Okada in Tokyo Chorus) The best scene in the movie occurs just after the mid-act climax. Okajima's daughter falls ill and she must be hospitalized, but the wife can't imagine how they will pay for such bills. After the little girl recovers and the family returns home, it gets revealed that Okajima has sold all his wife's kimonos. She finds the drawers empty and drops to her knees on the floor, quietly devastated. Meanwhile, Okajima is singing and clapping with the children nearby. Not wanting to concern them, he merely gives his wife a look and reminds her of the circumstances. The boy calls for his mother to come over and join them. She does. What happens next is the first time Ozu pierced the surface of one of his stories, probing for further depths. The camera cuts back and forth between the father, the mother, and the children. The kids are always smiling; they are delighted. The mother tries to smile for them, but her facade cracks. So too does Okajima's brave face. They have this unspoken conversation going on between them, husband and wife, despairing over their situation, then remembering they must be happy for the children, all while they continue to play the game. It was a beautiful scene shot in much the same manner as the famous Noh scene in the middle of Late Spring. (Tatsuo Saitô helps Okajima find a job in Tokyo Chorus) Final Grade: Tokyo Chorus might be the best Ozu film so far in this series. It placed second in the Kinema Junpo rankings for best picture in Japan in 1931. There was one bad scene in the office when Okajima gets fired, kind of nonsensical and overly melodramatic, but the rest of the picture finds Ozu focusing on domestic drama, and touchingly, that's what he does best. RECOMMENDED Added to Essential Ozu: Student Romance: Days of Youth (1929) Walk Cheerfully (1930) Tokyo Chorus (1931) Unfortunately, just as he was finding his stride, Mr. Okada became sick and died the following year, and this would be his final role. Watch this (with the added sound turned off) if you can!
  2. Beauty's Sorrows (Ozu, 1931) -- lost film Two friends meet a sculptor and his daughter, whom they both desire. The playboy friend (Okamoto) gets the girl, while the serious friend only gets a statue that looks like her. Later on when she suddenly dies, Okamoto demands the statue from his friend, but he refuses. They fight and kill each other. The end. Ozu's thoughts: Beauty's Sorrows was Ozu's longest film and apparently one of his worst. It was a colossal flop, universally derided by critics. The script survives and reads as heavy-handed melodrama. The director was especially criticized for an alleged infatuation with the main actress, Yukiko Inoue, who was part German. Later in his career, Ozu favored another actress, Setsuko Hara, who was one-quarter German herself. Donald Richie and David Bordwell both noted that Ozu's romantic melodramas were almost always bad films. Perhaps because of how bad this one was received, Ozu avoided them for the rest of his career.
  3. The Lady and the Beard (Ozu, 1931) Starring: Tokihiko Okada, Hiroko Kawasaki, and Satoko Date Written by: Yasujiro Ozu Cinematography by: Hideo Shigehara Silent, Black and White, 1 hour 15 minutes. Comedy, Romance A bearded kendo champion has difficulty finding a job and getting along with women because of his old-fashioned, conservative ways. Ozu's thoughts: The film begins with Okajima, the invincible kendo champion, vanquishing a number of opponents, one after another, to the delight of all young males in the audience. But as soon as 'The Beard' gets invited to the birthday party of his friend's younger sister, the ladies mock him for his rough appearance and old-fashioned ways. Okajima comes across as socially awkward, to say the least. (Tokihiko Okada in The Lady and the Beard) It's kind of amusing because Okajima is both uncouth, and the images are often implicitly vulgar (seen in the picture above). To make matters worse, Okajima then fails to land any job offers, presumably because of his beard. One of the girls tells him to shave it, and he finally does, so his life starts to improve from there. (Satoko Date and Tokihiko Okada in The Lady and the Beard) There are actually three ladies in The Lady and the Beard -- Ikuko, the superficial, mean-spirited young sister of Okajima's best friend; Hiroko, the sweet girl once again played by Hiroko Kawasaki; and Furyou, Satoko Date's gangster girl persona, as always, but this time less villainous and more sympathetic. The film left an impression on me not because of its comedy -- sometimes amusing, never hilarious -- but because it gradually gave way to more pathos, revealing a rough draft of Ozu's later works. The genre mismatch was a dramatic misfire, to be sure, especially compared to Walk Cheerfully, however Ozu's appreciation for the conflict between old and new can be seen throughout the film. By the end, the main character reluctantly modernizes, he dismisses the superficial female archetype out of hand, then must decide whether he wants to pair up with the kind and old-fashioned girl, Hiroko, or the modern girl, played by perhaps his real-life lover, Satoko Date. Twenty years later, those two roles would come together as one -- played by Setsuko Hara -- the traditional-yet-modern girl, or moga, Ozu's perfectly balanced feminine ideal.
  4. I think it's probably just one automated program with multiple accounts.
  5. Spam fairy is back at it now. Will probably be hundreds of pages of spam soon. It's a shame the site administrators have not figured out a way to eliminate this problem.
  6. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Schedule for Week #4: Movie of the Week: Tokyo Chorus (Ozu, 1931) Also: The Lady and the Beard (Ozu, 1931) --------------------------------------------------------------------- The Lady and the Beard is considered one of Ozu's more amusing comedies from his early years, while Tokyo Chorus marked the beginning of his celebrated domestic dramas. My summer working vacation is over now and I'm back home, so hopefully I will get to watch these and post updates more regularly. Looking forward to it!
  7. There were hundreds and hundreds of spam pages last night/this morning. Only 75 now.
  8. Young Miss (Ozu, 1930) -- lost film Ozu's last film from 1930 was a screwball comedy starring Tokihiko Okada (That Night's Wife), Sumiko Kurishima (the first female movie star in Japan), and his comedic alter ego, Tatsuo Saitô. Okada and Saitô played two reporters who repeatedly get scooped by a mysterious girl reporter named 'Young Miss'. The film was a star vehicle for Kurishima, and it was heavily promoted with huge production values. Shochiku studio was shocked when, for the first time in Ozu's career, one of his films was nominated for best picture in the prestigious Kinema Junpo awards. Young Miss took 3rd place in Japan in 1930. Ozu's thoughts: The reviews for Young Miss were positive, and the Japanese press believed it was the kind of film that would appeal to all audiences, even Americans. (Movie poster for Young Miss) According to various estimates, more than 90% of silent films are lost forever. Most were destroyed when sound was introduced to motion pictures, because the studios believed that silents no longer had any value. Other times, vault fires consumed entire archives, a particular problem with older nitrate-based film stocks that were highly combustible. In the case of Japan, many more silents were also lost during the course of the war. Still, given its commercial success and best picture ranking, it's a bit surprising and disappointing that 'Young Miss' became lost to the ages and will never be seen again. Ozu's Breakout Year Ozu directed a career-high 7(!) films in 1930, many of them hits, including his first Best Picture consideration. His short A Straightforward Boy from the previous year had become a viral sensation in Japan, so much so that the kid actor even changed his name to Tokkankozô, the Japanese title of the movie. From this point forward, Ozu would begin to concentrate his work, directing fewer and fewer pictures each year, but with more depth and universal acclaim.
  9. The Luck Which Touched the Leg (Ozu, 1930) -- lost film The title played on Yutaka Abe's The Woman Who Touched The Legs, a comedy that won the first Kinema Junpo award for "Best Film" in Japan in 1926. This was Ozu's first film back after his vacation at the spa, a salaryman comedy once again starring Tatsuo Saitô. The main character stumbles upon a large sum of money on his way home from work. Saitô doesn't make much money, and it's the Great Depression, so you might expect him to keep all the cash, but he's an honest fellow. He turns it in and gets a nice reward. Unfortunately, his co-workers immediately hit him up for loans, and his wife spends the rest on sewing machine and kimono. They fight, and Saitô despairs when the money is gone so quickly. Ozu's thoughts: Well, there you have it from the director himself. It seems as though Ozu was burned out and pretty much mailed in these last couple films. After all, he had directed five consecutive hits from late 1929 - mid 1930. Trade magazines wrote features, yet Shochiku wouldn't even allow him to vacation without making another movie. The quality suffered and the reviews for this film were terrible. The Kinema Junpo critic described it as a mixture of melancholy and humor that wasn't particularly funny. It's easy to see how this silent picture was lost to the ages after the advent of sound and the destruction of total war.
  10. It depends on the film. Some films over 2 hours, even more than 3 hours, are masterpieces. My favorite film is 1 hour 47 minutes long and there are others about 90 minutes that are just fine. Why do these films work? Because they don't adhere to some dumb arbitrary time limit. They are perfectly constructed, such that if any of them were longer or shorter, they wouldn't be nearly as good. And then there are some films that are waaaay too long or waaaay too short. They either drag forever or they aren't fleshed out because they are bad, hollow films. Just an idea that the scriptwriters and/or the director never got to work. The 2-hour limit or 100-page limit is just a generic, bad idea. It probably works on average, but then again, the average film or script ain't that good.
  11. Ozu directed three more films before the end of 1930, starting with ... The Revengeful Spirit of Eros (Ozu, 1930) -- lost film Walk Cheerfully, That Night's Wife, and I Flunked, But ... were all phenomenally successful, such that Shochiku studio sent Ozu to a vacation spa so he could recuperate from physical stress, lack of sleep, etc. But around this time the magazine Eiga Hyoron published the very first special coverage on Ozu's career for its July 1930 edition. To capitalize on the publicity, Ozu's boss demanded that he not return from his vacation without another finished film. Thus, The Revengeful Spirit of Eros was born. It was a quickly thrown-together nonsense comedy featuring Ozu regular Tatsuo Saitô, coupled with actress Satoko Date, who had played the gangster's moll in Walk Cheerfully. The plot involved Saitô and Date throwing themselves into the ocean, committing a lover's suicide pact, except both live and they wash up separately on shore. Each carries on a new life and haunts the other. Ozu's thoughts: Now lost, The Revengeful Spirit of Eros was considered Ozu's slightest and also his sexiest film. It ran afoul of the censors and was heavily edited. Ozu and Date were rumored to be dating at the time.
  12. FilmSnob

    Caligula (1979)

    I Claudius was a very highly acclaimed series, but John McEnery also gave a great performance as Caligula in the original NBC series, A.D. Anno Domini.
  13. Movie of the Week #3: That Night's Wife (Ozu, 1930) Starring: Tokihiko Okada, Emiko Yagumo, Tôgô Yamamoto Written by: Kôgo Noda Cinematography by: Hideo Shigehara Silent, Black and White, 1 hour 5 minutes. Proto-Noir, Suspenseful Crime Drama Review: A common man commits a desperate robbery in order to pay the medical bills for his sick daughter, who may not survive the night. Yasujiro Ozu's 16th film, and the last that survives from 1930, takes place entirely within a single twelve hour overnight period. Shuji, a devoted husband and father, has no money and no job during the Great Depression. His daughter has just been diagnosed in critical condition. His wife looks on helplessly, tears in her eyes. What will this family do? Where will they find the money to pay their bills? That's the setup for That Night's Wife, a title which either describes Shuji's role in caring for his daughter (after he completes the heist), or his wife Mayumi, who takes matters into her own hands when the cops close in. German expressionist influences loom large, beginning with the opening scenes. Buildings and streetlights tower over men, creating a world in which people must feel hopeless against society. Darkness and shadow further establish the mood and setting. There's never a doubt this picture will be a more serious crime drama than the one Ozu shot before. And yet, That Night's Wife is not as gritty as the first scenes would imply. There is some violence, yes, but nobody gets shot. There is a robbery, but Shuji only takes the needed amount of cash (the rest he leaves behind). Finally, there's a chase to finish off the first act of the film, where a small army of police officers pursue their robber through ominous and foreboding streets. Some of these shots reminded me of Janusz Kamiński's work in Schindler's List, where faceless German soldiers marched through the cold, dark night. Beautiful (and yet sinister) black and white cinematography. (Tokihiko Okada, Mitsuko Ichimura, and Emiko Yagumo in a movie poster for That Night's Wife) The rest of the film bears resemblance to more familiar Ozu territory: it was the first time he wanted to film an entire picture in a single room. Shuji returns home with the money; his wife confronts him over where he found it. They take time to care for their daughter, hoping she won't die. Before long, Detective Kagawa shows up looking for his man. I won't spoil the film's second half, but suffice to say, a compassionate standoff ensues. The acting ranged from serviceable to exceptionally good. The star of the film was unquestionably Emiko Yagumo, who played the mother/wife. I've never heard of this woman before, but her performance deserved high praise. Tôgô Yamamoto was perfect as the gruff genre detective with a sensitive side. More mixed was the acting of Tokihiko Okada in the lead role -- sometimes weak, sometimes strong. The only character I really had a problem with was the small child, and perhaps that was Ozu's fault himself. She just seemed too lively at times to be on her deathbed. Final Grade: Expertly shot and composed, with a compelling narrative, That Night's Wife was a great (if short) silent movie until the last ten minutes or so. Why? Ozu's thoughts: The problem was that Ozu had trouble filling out the story, and it shows in the closing scenes. Barely an hour long, the ending nevertheless drags and drags (it's repeated three different times). And the denouement devolved into moralizing once again. Both criticisms could be levied against Walk Cheerfully, but that film had a different tone. I wouldn't say that film's ending was perfect, but it certainly felt good. Still ... RECOMMENDED. Added to "Essential Ozu" for further viewings. He hadn't mastered endings very well at this point, but watch this on Filmstruck if you can!
  14. I Flunked, But ... (Ozu, 1930) Starring: Tatsuo Saitô, Kinuyo Tanaka, Tomio Aoki Written by: Akira Fushimi Cinematography by: Hideo Shigehara Silent, Black and White, 1 hour 5 minutes. Student Comedy Review: As he did in Ozu's earliest surviving film, Student Romance: Days of Youth, Tatsuo Saitô returns and once again plays a university student struggling through final exams. He and his classmates think up ingenuous ways to cheat, one example being the way they write answer cribs on the back of their shirts. Unfortunately for Saitô, the old cleaning lady takes his shirt to the laundry on the day of the final, so he fails his test. Student comedies were enormously popular in Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, and Ozu made several of them. I Flunked, But ... was a follow-up of sorts to I Graduated, But ... released the previous year. It was filmed in just a week, and the lack of quality shows. The picture was mostly devoid of humor, and felt more like a sitcom than a feature film. (Kinuyo Tanaka in I Flunked, But ...) If there was a bright spot to watching this, it was the opportunity to see Kinuyo Tanaka play Saitô's love interest. Miss Tanaka starred in a few Ozu movies around this time, but she's much more famous and well-known for being Mizoguchi's muse later in her career. She went on to have award winning performances in masterpieces such as Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff, and The Life of Oharu. She also became the first female director in Japan. Final Grade: Something to watch for completists(?), but otherwise not that funny and even pretty weird towards the end.
  15. I'm also starting a memorabilia list, one item I would love to have from each Essential Ozu film. For Walk Cheerfully, it would be this Clara Bow poster hanging up in Ken's apartment. The poster comes from Paramount's top 1927 Rom-Com, Rough House Rosie, starring Clara Bow. Cool picture, but I think the poster version looks even better. There's a game wheel or something with a bunch of college names on it in Student Romance: Days of Youth -- Stanford, Yale, Princeton, etc.-- that's the other item I would pick so far.

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