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Friday, February 26, 2016

SONO YO NO TSUMA / THAT NIGHT’S WIFE (1930)

This early silent from Yasujirô Ozu shows less of his late style then the other five titles out on a pair of Criterion DVD sets. But that’s no problem, since Ozu shows unexpected levels of comfort & easy cinematic flair working inside unfamiliar (to him) genre boundaries -- here, crime & kiddie medical crisis -- just as he will on his classic post-WWII intimate family dramas. So it’s robberies, melodrama, urban chases & sentiment; a ‘job of work’ in John Ford's phrase, for a natural filmmaker testing the waters. The first act is particularly strong, jumping right into the middle of an armed robbery, and the subsequent chase by a score of armed cops thru moody streets in the warehouse district. We might be in an episode from a Fritz Lang DR. MABUSE thriller, all dynamic angles, shadows, ‘dollies in’ & monumental building columns for quick hide-and-seek escapes. As an opening, it probably sets the bar a little too high for the rest of the pic where we discover that the criminal on the run is the father of a sick little girl in need of expensive medical treatment. Mom & Dad (it’s the same couple Ozu uses in the more lighthearted TOKYO CHORUS/’31) stay up all night with the child, along with the craggy detective who’s been on their tail all along. Will he bring the criminal in or let the parents have a night for the child’s sake? Here, the film switches tones & slows its pace, moving from Lang to something more like Borzage or von Sternberg. (And with Hollywood posters covering the apartment walls, Ozu puts his preferences right in our face.) You’ll miss the sheer excitement of the opening, but the rest is equally satisfying, just in a different way. Very strong, though not yet very Ozu.

DOUBLE-BILL: Find more early silent Ozu Write-Ups below. All highly enjoyable. And on a separate disc, the start of his true form in I WAS BORN, BUT . . . /’32.

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