Eclipse Series #42 – Silent Ozu: Three Crime Dramas (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
April 12, 2015 by Dennis Amith
“Eclipse Series #42 – Silent Ozu: Thee Crime Dramas” is a fantastic DVD release. The Criterion Collection has been a solid supporter of Ozu’s work and to see these three crime dramas finally be released in the U.S., has been a long time in waiting for fans of his films. If you are a big fan of Yasujiro Ozu and his films, then this Eclipse Series set is a no-brainer, “Eclipse Series #42 – Silent Ozu: Thee Crime Dramas” is highly recommended!
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TITLE: Eclipse Series #42 – Silent Ozu: Three Crime Dramas
YEAR OF FILM: Walk Cheerfully (1930), That Night’s Wife (1930), Dragnet Girl (1933)
DURATION: Walk Cheerfully (96 Minutes), That Night’s Wife (65 Minutes), Dragnet Girl (100 Minutes)
DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, Piano Score, Optional English Subtitles, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio
COMPANY: The Criterion Collection
RELEASED DATE: April 21, 2015
The great Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu is best known for the stately, meditative domestic dramas he made after World War II. But during his first decade at Shochiku studios, where he dabbled in many genres, he put out a trio of precisely rendered, magnificently shot and edited silent crime films about the hopes, dreams, and loves of small-time crooks. Heavily influenced in narrative and visual style by the American films that Ozu adored, these movies are revelatory early examples of his cinematic genius, accompanied here by new piano scores by Neil Brand.
Yasujiro Ozu is one of the world’s beloved directors. Having made many films since the 1920’s, the director is best known today by cineaste for his films about the Japanese family and often its dissolution.
And while the Criterion Collection has released Ozu’s silent films via the Eclipse Series which depicted the Japanese family, during his time working for Shochiku, he also took on the gangster genre which were inspired by Hollywood cinema during the ’30s.
To showcase the films of this era, the Criterion Collection will be releasing “Eclipse Series #42: Silent Ozu: Three Crime Dramas” featuring the films (please click on the link to read the review):
Yasujiro Ozu’s 14th film “Hogaraka ni ayume” (Walk Cheerfuly) revolves around Kenji Koyama (portrayed by Minoru Takada), also known as “Ken the Knife”, who runs a group of thieves.
While accompanying his right hand man Senko (portrayed by Hisao Yoshitani), he is captivated by Yasue (portrayed by Hiroko Kawasaki), a woman he sees walking to a jewelry store and assumes that she is wealthy.
In truth, Yasue is poor and works hard to pay the bills to take care of her mother and her younger sister. She hates working for her boss, because each time she is alone in his office, he sexually harasses her, often blocking the exit way, so she can leave the office.
As Ken tries to pretend he is wealthy and tries to learn how to play golf, during a drive with one of his thieves, they nearly run over a young girl. The girl turns out to be Yasue’s younger sister and Kenji comes to their rescue.
This is the beginning of Ken and Yasue’s relationship as he learns that she is not wealthy but he loves spending every moment with her.
But when Chieko (portrayed by Satoko Date), one of the female thieves becomes jealous of Kenji going after Yasue, she tries to tell her the truth that Kenji is a gangster and that he is using her.
She finds out that Chieko is telling the truth and for Ken, the thought of not being with Yasue hurts him. Enough for him to want to change his lifestyle and be a man that plays by the rules.
But can this former criminal escape from his past?
It was very interesting to watch an Ozu silent that revolves around a group of criminals but the film is not so far removed from the Japanese family struggles that he tended to depict in his earlier films.
“Walk Cheerfully” is no doubt a story about a man who wants to change his life, get away from crime and do all he can in order to make the girl he loves, respect him.
We see the transformation that the character Ken goes through as being a cold thief to a man with integrity.
A mix of comedy, romance and drama, “Walk Cheerfully” is an easy film to watch because of its characters but you can’t help but root for Ken and his willingness to change for Yasue. You also want to see Yasue happy because you realized that she came from a poor family and has done all she can to take care of the family and help make ends meet.
Actor Minoru Takada does a great job at playing Ken, but he also becomes a male actor that you eventually see more and more in an Ozu film. Actress Hiroko Kawasaki also shines as the character Yasue, a character that has to play a wide range of emotions but you also can’t help wanting to see more of her, because she brings vibrancy and innocence to the film.
“That Night’s Wife” begins with a man committing a robbery at a nearby office. He beats and ties up everyone in the office and leaves with bags of cash.
As the police are on the lookout for this criminal, when he gets home, we realize that at home, he is hardly a thug.
The criminal is Shuji Hashizume (portrayed by Tokihiko Okada), a married man and loving husband to Mayumi (portrayed by Emiko Yagamo) and has a child named Michiko (portrayed by Mitsuko Ichimura) who is very ill.
The reason why Shuji has been stealing money is primarily for his daughter as he doesn’t have any money to pay for medicine or a doctor. And she is so ill, that she may not survive the night.
He doesn’t like the fact that he has to steal to pay for his daughters doctor bills but he has no choice.
But when the police detective Kagawa (portrayed by Togo Yamamoto) pays a visit to their home in order to capture him, the detective realizes the criminal’s true intention, but does that pardon him from the crimes that he has done?
And for those who like a little comedy, romance and drama, will surely find Ozu’s “Walk Cheerfully” to be an entertaining silent film!
The second film featured, “Sono yo no tsuma” (That Night’s Wife) is the shortest of this crime dramas and is a film adaptation of a novel by Oscar Shisgall. It also has a more darker storyline compared to the other two crime dramas.
Watching “That Night’s Wife”, it does have a banal theme of a man driven by bad luck of his daughter’s ill health and now must steal to pay for her doctor’s bills.
While the storyline has been done and redone over again, “That Night’s Wife” is much different in the fact that you get this back-and-forth between characters, not knowing how this film is gong to end.
There is no doubt a message in the film of how crime doesn’t pay but this is a film that tries to have the viewer put themselves in the shoes of the criminal. How far would you go for your sick child who may die any minute?
In this case, Shuji and also his wife, will do all they can to protect their family.
But as mentioned, it’s rather interesting to see how the three actors, Tokihiko Okada, Emiko Yagumo and Togo Yamamoto interact with each other through the back-and-forth scenes of who will outbest who.
Also, the film shot primarily in the family’s home and so, it’s very interesting to see how Ozu was able to capture the plight of each individual in such cramped quarters.
Once again, this film is another wonderful addition to the “Eclipse Series #42 – Silent Ozu: Three Crime Dramas”. It’s shorter and much darker than the other two films, but still, entertaining and keeps you on your feet as how you think the film may end, may keep changing, because of the way the final 10 minutes is structured.
Still, “That Night’s Wife” is a short, entertaining silent film from Yasujiro Ozu with a wonderful performance by Tokihiko Okada, Emiko Yagumo and Togo Yamamoto.
With his inspiration coming from Hollywood films, as there were films that combined gangster activity, pool playing and even boxing, all those elements can be seen in Ozu’s “Dragnet Girl” which was shot in 1933.
The film revolves around former boxer Jyoji (portrayed by Joji Oka). Often at the boxing club to spot the latest talent, including rookie featherweight Hiroshi (portrayed by Hideo Matsui), he is often working with his secretary Tokiko (portrayed by Kinuyo Tanaka).
Often seen as the stylish right-hand gal for Jyoji, she quickly becomes jealous when she hears that Jyoji is spending a good amount of time with Kazuko, the nice and gentle sister of Hiroshi. And her good nature makes Jyoji think about his own life.
Jealous…how far will Tokiko go to keep Jyoji and stop him from messing around with other women.
With the third film featured in the “Eclipse Series #42 – Silent Ozu: Three Crime Dramas”, “Dragnet Girl” has a lot in common with the other two films but also the Hollywood gangster films that Ozu was enamored with.
The recurring theme of criminals wanting to get out of the profession is common. The recurring theme of a criminal changed by another woman outside of their world is common, but where Hollywood would take risks of showing a woman going so far to kill due to their jealousy (and we have seen this happen with many men), “Dragnet Girl” is fascinating in the fact that the jealous woman finds herself taking a liking to the good-natured woman as well.
Similar to “Walk Cheerfully” as the protagonist, a criminal wanting to make a change in their life for the better good, Ozu no doubt makes the viewer (especially during that era) feel that a life of crime doesn’t pay and there is always an escape.
But the obstacle in the film is that the main character, Jyoji, is being tied to that criminal world by the woman that loves him, but it’s the woman he really loves that makes him want to quit and that is the conundrum.
But leave it to Ozu to show that there is always a glimmer of hope, even for those who have committed crimes.
“Dragnet Girl” is a wonderful inclusion to the “Eclipse Series #42 – Silent Ozu: Thee Crime Dramas”. It’s no doubt a film that is inspired by Ozu’s love for Hollywood film noir.
And with these three films featured in the “Eclipse Series #42 – Silent Ozu: Three Crime Dramas”, this release gives the Ozu cineaste a chance to see more silent films created during the silent era but also another side of Ozu’s oeuvre that we would not be able to see in his other, later feature films.
Sure, they are gangster films with message of hope but you can see a glimmer of the Ozu style that he would exhibit in his later films. From the way he shoots his characters, the way he is able to utilize small sets but also location shots.
Overall, “Eclipse Series #42 – Silent Ozu: Thee Crime Dramas” is a fantastic DVD release. The Criterion Collection has been a solid supporter of Ozu’s work and to see these three crime dramas finally be released in the U.S., has been a long time in waiting for fans of his films.
If you are a big fan of Yasujiro Ozu and his films, then this Eclipse Series set is a no-brainer, “Eclipse Series #42 – Silent Ozu: Thee Crime Dramas” is highly recommended!
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