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Watch Ozu with Me (plus the films of his muse, Setsuko Hara)

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Movie of the Week #7:

Passing Fancy (Ozu, 1933)

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*** WINNER KINEMA JUNPO AWARD BEST FILM 1933 ***

Starring: Takeshi Sakamoto, Nobuko Fushimi, Den Obinata, and Tokkankozô
Written by: Tadao Ikeda
Cinematography by: Shôjirô Sugimoto

Silent, Black and White, 1 hour 40 minutes. Comedy, Drama

Review:

The first of many Ozu films starring Takeshi Sakamoto as the endearingly affable but comically stupid Kihachi.

Quote

While I was growing up in Fukagawa, there was a good-natured lay-about who frequented our house. He became my model for Kihachi. Since Tadao Ikeda had also come across many such fellows in Okachimachi, we delineated his character together.

(Source: Ozu-san website)

Passing Fancy is actually two movies. In the first half, Kihachi-- a 35 year-old single father working what must be a minimum wage job in some Tokyo slum-- becomes infatuated with young Harue, attractive but destitute 18 year-old homeless girl who is looking for work and a place to live.

Most or all men reach a point in their lives where they can relate to Kihachi's situation, and his hopeless preening works to great comedic effect. He will buy the teenage girl a gift, he will compliment her beauty, he will dress up with his nicest outfit, he will shave his mustache, and more. But will he ever get to consummate his desire or manage to snag himself a beautiful young wife?

"Go back to work, old man". That's what his strapping young friend, Jiro (Den Obinata) tells him over and over again.

 

(Takeshi Sakamoto in Passing Fancy)

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For her part, Harue is played by Nobuko Fushimi, in the role of a traditional Japanese girl. More than once her position is compared to that of a prostitute or geisha. When Kihachi first meets her, Jiro tells him "don't fall for that old trick". Later, there is a provocative scene where Jiro stands in front of a kneeling Harue, his hands holding his belt and pants up, as if he could drop them any time.

This is a family comedy though, so for the most part everyone is really nice to her. Nobuko Fushimi's performance was passable, that's about all, but she did strike me as probably the most lithe of Ozu's young actresses so far.

 

(Nobuko Fushimi in Passing Fancy)

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About halfway through the film, the story starts to shift gears and focuses on the father-son relationship. Kihachi has been skipping work to flirt with this girl and drink at the pub. His son Tomio gets laughed at by the other boys because his father is so pathetic-- he's stupid, can't read, doesn't work, etc.

Tomio finally loses it and goes home and throws a fit. He tears apart Kihachi's precious flower plant, one petal at a time.

Most of their relationship gets characterized by comedy, such as when Kihachi scolds Tomio that he can't put the flower back together (Kihachi tries anyway, stupid enough to believe it might work). And there is an earlier scene where Kihachi doesn't wake Tomio up for school and dress him, but it's the other way around.

 

(Tomio Aoki a.k.a. Tokkankozô in Passing Fancy)

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But the best and most dramatic scene of the movie comes at the end of the flower pot fight. Kihachi gets mad and spanks his kid. Tokkankozô musters up the courage to walk back over and hit his father repeatedly in the face. Kihachi and the audience understand the boy's frustration, having to grow up smarter and more mature than his own father. Kihachi acknowledges his shortcomings and apologizes, then they hug it out.

More from Ozu:

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There's a scene in which Kihachi's son gets teased by his classmates because his father is always running off to flirt with a girl he fancies. When the boy comes home from school, he ruins Kihachi's favorite plant. When Kihachi returns all flustered after seeing his dream girl, his glee turns to anger, and he gives his son a good thrashing. The boy hits back and the two get into a big scuffle. Eventually, Kihachi cools down and so does his son, who then bursts into tears. If the negatives still exists, I'd love to watch that scene again.

I'm not sure how universal this scene was, or the whole film for that matter, but anyone who has ever grown up in a run-down, working class family, can probably relate. There was something real and tangible about the subsistence level poverty, the disappointment in life, the clutter, the bad parenting.

But despite those embarrassments, there is still the love between a father and son. Kihachi may be all the negative things he tearfully acknowledges about himself, but his kid loves him anyway.

 

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Final Grade:

I don't know why this film didn't resonate with me more. I found it funny and touching at times, but perhaps too loosely structured and not cinematic. In that way, Passing Fancy reminded me more of I Flunked, But ... Maybe I'm tired of seeing another scene with a kid getting sick and the parent struggling to pay the doctor bill. That's the third time in an Ozu movie, so far.

Probably the major weakness though was that the film didn't build towards anything. The major plotline gets resolved in the middle, then comes the most dramatic scene. Half the movie remained.

If you want to watch an early Ozu family dramedy, I would still recommend Tokyo Chorus. It was a better film.

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Schedule for Week #8:

Movie of the Week: A Story of Floating Weeds (Ozu, 1934)

Also:
A Mother Should Be Loved (Ozu, 1934) -- partially lost film

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If you've seen Ozu's classic 1959 color remake, then A Story of Floating Weeds is the original upon which it was based. Some people prefer this film. It won best picture in Japan in 1934.

Several scholars also cite this as the first 'masterwork' of Ozu's career, and it's appropriately the first Ozu film to receive a running commentary on the Criterion collection.

Looking forward to it!

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Speaking of A Story of Floating Weeds, it will be airing on TCM this Sunday night.

So will the remake. Be sure to watch!

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A Mother Should Be Loved (Ozu, 1934) -- partially lost film

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Starring: Den Obinata, Mitsuko Yoshikawa, Kôji Mitsui
Written by: Kôgo Noda and Tadao Ikeda
Cinematography by: Isamu Aoki

Silent, Black and White, 1 hour 14 minutes. Drama

Review:

The first and last reels of A Mother Should Be Loved have been lost. It's speculated that because the film operated at a loss, it would have been common practice at the time for distributors to omit these sections in prints, which mostly contained the credits. Probably a benshi just narrated the beginning and ending to the audience.

Before the first scenes, Sadao and Kosaku, two brothers, are taken to school by their father. Later, he dies. The surviving film starts there.

 

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When Sadao grows up and goes to college, he learns that his mother died when he was very young, and it was actually his stepmother who raised him. He suddenly resents the fact that she has always favored him over Kosaku, her actual son, and he vows to never return to the family. There are fights with his brother, and general melodrama ensues.

 

(Mitsuko Yoshikawa in A Mother Should Be Loved)

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Generally speaking, I thought this film has been over-criticized. Some critics have rightfully pointed out that it's too melodramatic and almost monotonously lachrymose-- there's no letup in sad scenes. Ozu's father died while he was making this movie, so that was probably a significant contributing factor.

Still, I found myself continuously pulled back into the story. For the first time in this series, I felt that slow Ozu burn. :)

 

Final Grade:

Marred by mixed acting and some ridiculously melodramatic fight scenes, this nevertheless feels like it marked a transition in Ozu's career to more serious films.

Next up, that would lead to one of Ozu's real classics: A Story of Floating Weeds.

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Sorry, but I will be stopping this thread and boycotting Turner and Time Warner AT&T in the future, as they have announced they will discontinue Filmstruck on November 29.

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Now THIS is a thread one can really study and learn from. Wow. I've seen some Ozu and some Ichikawa and would like to see more and know more about what I've seen.

But, I hope its not going back too far "to an older discussion". I stumbled over this looking for any chat I could find about Satajayit Ray and his 'Apu' trilogy. I'd still like to find some talk about Ray. Any objections to this goal?

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If you were watching TCM way back in the Stone Age, you would have been able to see the trilogy, though as I recall the prints were a bit murky. Maybe a request for a repeat viewing is due, since they probably still have the films in their vaults.

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3 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

You can request TCM air a specific movie? :huh:

Hard to believe

There used to be a "Request a Movie" place somewhere on the TCM.com website. All I recall are numerous people saying that it wasn't functioning. However, others have intimated that some movie or other has been shown after being discussed on the message boards. 

As for the Apu Trilogy, they were shown sometime in the last year or two or three, since the remastered Criterion Blu-ray set was released. I have the discs, and reviewed them somewhere on some other thread (probably "I Just Watched").

 

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This thread rocks

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After his debut in 1927, Ozu directed five movies in 1928, six movies in 1929, and seven in 1930.

Yowza!
 

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"It's all very well for the so-called film auteur to have artistic ideas but one also needs the professional flair for handling all the different aspects of filmmaking.


 

Says it all, right there

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