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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ozu with a different flavour, 7 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Ozu Collection - The Gangster Films (2-DVD) (DVD)
With his recurring emphasis on the domestic, familial, undramatic and understated details of relationships, Ozu's reputation with such films as "Tokyo Story" and "Early Summer" is of a great, but essentially Japanese director. His films certainly speak of the universal, but they seem much less "Western" in nature than those of Kurosawa or even Mizoguchi. (The only aspect of these films which seems to make any concession lies in his accompanying music, which often sounds surprisingly westernised.)
So it comes as a surprise to encounter a group of "Gangster Films" by Ozu, and even more to see them in a slip case displaying shadowed handcuffs, and, both front and back, revolvers! The films reveal that Ozu was much more influenced by American cinema and iconography at this early stage in his career than might have been suspected, and certainly these films are replete with the paraphernalia of Hollywood gangsters--fedoras, American movie posters, pool halls, boxing clubs and gyms, posters advertising international bouts, golf courses, fast cars, and faster women!
All three films are silent, made between 1930-33; they are accompanied by the only surviving remnant of a 1929 gangster film (played largely for laughs), and by an exemplary booklet which contains 4 illuminating articles, by different writers, on the three films plus additional information about the added musical score.
The films can be termed "gangster films" only by the broadest definition -- this is no case of "Murder Inc." or professional hit- men. The gangsters here are all young - from street gangs, boxing clubs, or, in one case, a young husband pushed into crime by poverty and family illness. Two of the three prints, "Walk Cheerfully" and "That Night's Wife", are marred by the blotchy signs of early decomposition. This is worst in the former, but "That Night's Wife" (understand it as "the wife on that night") is dramatically so strong that one quickly ignores such intermittent blemishes. It is tightly constructed, the action taking place during one night, with a small cast, and after the vigorous opening, largely one location. It was based directly on an American short story, and, despite plot implausibilities, is dramatic and moving. The early scenes strive visually for the atmospheric expressionism and low-key lighting of film noir, as in fairness does also the final part of the third film with the very un-Japanese title of "Dragnet Girl" , and both films convey a bleak sense of fate and inevitability as they near their conclusions.
Ozu's recurring concern with "family" is evident in all three, although often the family is that of the street gang. "Walk Cheerfully" is to my mind the least successful of the three, largely because of the uncertainty of tone and its romantic core, but all three are interesting in part because of the way Ozu has constructed a totally imaginative and unJapanese world from his Western models, yet one which still comments obliquely on Japanese concerns of the time. Plot elements recur and are re-examined in two of the films (not least, the dropping and retrieving of hats!) in a way which anticipates his later works, and the films reward re-viewing. They are always visually interesting, with much more variety of shot than one has come to expect of Ozu, and with dramatic images carrying strong premonitory associations, hanging handles in a gym for example that resemble pairs of handcuffs. The accompanying illustrated booklet is extremely informative, and the set is thoroughly worth-while.
The soundtracks accompanying the films are more problematic. It is right that the BFI encourages new composers to work for the screen, and we here have a talented composer and lecturer who has provided the scores. The degree to which they augment or work for the films is, to my mind, questionable. The scores do respond to overall changes in mood and tempo, but not to specific moments or particular events on screen, and at times the music stops abruptly as a movement or composition concludes, leaving silence which is quite unrelated to events on screen. The music is "modern" in the sense that, to my untutored ears at least, it is often atonal, un-melodic, discordant and unattractive. My wife termed it "painful" and had to leave the room (although she was not actually watching the films). Four and a half hours of this seems a big ask! This may all be as much of a comment on my musical taste as on the music itself, but unusually, the three films come with a default position of silent play, suggesting that someone else may have had doubts. I found this music more "alien" than any of the scores accompanying Ozu's sound films, and I do not believe he could have intended an accompaniment so far removed from the time and place, real or imaginary, of the films' settings. Nor would he have intended that they should be screened silently. The tracks do not, generally, draw the viewer into the films; their effect is rather of detachment and alienation, yet these films are unlikely to be re-released in any other form for many years, if ever. If the BFI really wants to encourage people to watch and enjoy these films, there really ought to be an alternate and more amenable choice of music available. I am all in favour of encouraging new composers and, in the States, Turner Movies has begun a very successful programme of competitive commission of orchestral scores, but the music must never be a barrier to enjoyment and appreciation of that which it accompanies; at least, not without the provision of an alternative. The first responsibility, in a permanent record of the director's work is to the films themselves and to ensuring their accessibility, not in promoting experimental scores. I might add that I was equally unhappy with the "sounds" that accompanied the BFI release of Pathes "Fairy Tales", but at least each of those was only a few minutes.
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Ozu Collection - The Gangster Films (2-DVD)
Ozu Collection - The Gangster Films (2-DVD) by Yasujiro Ozu (DVD - 2013)
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