Saturday, June 30, 2012

Tokyo no onna / A Woman of Tokyo

Una donna di Tokyo. JP 1933. D: Yasujiro Ozu. Story: Ernest Schwartz [Yasujiro Ozu] SC: Kogo Noda, Tadao Ikeda. DP: Hideo Mohara - 1:1,2. ED: Kazuo Ishikawa. C: Yoshiko Okada (Chikako), Ureo Egawa (Ryoichi), Kinuyo Tanaka (Harue), Shinyo Nara (Kinoshita), Chishu Ryu (il reporter). PC: Shochiku (Kamata). 35 mm. 46’ at 24 fps. B&w. English subtitles. From: National Film Center – The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo per concessione di Shochiku. Saturday 30 July 2012, Cinema Lumière - Sala Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). Earphone commentary in Italian. Grand piano: Mie Yanashita. Introduced by Alexander Jacoby.

Alexander Jacoby & Johan Nordström: “Though a wholly silent film, this melodrama by Ozu sheds fascinating light on the intersections between sound and silent cinema in this period of transition. By 1933, nearly 40% of Japan’s theatres were wired for sound, and the number of sound films was steadily increasing, while foreign sound films had been steadily imported into Japan since around 1930. But it was not until 1935 that sound films would constitute the majority of Japanese film production. Accordingly, Japan’s late silent cinema constitutes a near-unique case of a silent film culture which was profoundly influenced by the techniques and styles of sound cinema. Ozu was late turning to sound, but his last silent films clearly show the influence of the new medium, particularly in their use of dialogue intertitles delivered by offscreen speakers, which seems to reflect the new possibilities of offscreen sound. A Woman of Tokyo itself was apparently planned as a sound film, but was eventually shot silent. Nevertheless, it was filmed on sound stock, and consequently the frame is narrower than the standard academy format, a fact which has led the image to be cropped when screened on DVD or video. This is particularly unfortunate since A Woman of Tokyo is the first Ozu film to display his characteristic low angle shots. This screening at Bologna, of course, will preserve the original ratio.

“The film is a bleak melodrama about a young man who receives financial support for his studies from his sister, only to discover that she is engaging in prostitution to do so. The plot echoes Mizoguchi’s melodramas, Taki no Shiraito (Cascading White Threads, 1933) and Orizuru Osen (The Downfall of Osen, 1934), but the poignant and tragic aspects of the narrative are offset by a playful stylistic selfconsciousness and wit, at its most obvious when Ozu interpolates a comic sequence directed by Ernst Lubitsch from the Paramount portmanteau film, If I Had a Million (1932). David Bordwell comments that Ozu “cites the norm he dislodges, but for the first time in a surviving work, he uses not movie posters and photographs, but actual footage [...] Ozu’s playfulness reemerges when he refuses to show Laughton’s delivery of a raspberry to his boss. We must be cinephiles enough to fill in the gag’s payoff”. Bordwell might have added that the raspberry gag depends specifically on sound for its humour, so its absence here is arguably a self-conscious commentary on the film’s status as a silent in a film world increasingly dominated by sound.” Alexander Jacoby & Johan Nordström

AA: Ozu doing a Mizuguchi kind of story but in his own style with low angle shots, complete with chimney shots. The If I Had a Million scene has itself a Lubitsch style undercurrent because the access to a printed cinema programme raises the possibility of the cinema visit as an alibi. The sister is hard working, kind to her brother, popular among friends, and after work she "goes to the professor to help with the translations". But rumours are spreading. The only screenings of rare Ozu and Walsh screenings overlapped in Bologna, and I interrupted the viewing to see The Yellow Ticket. The print of Tokyu no onna is good, apparently printed from a good source, perhaps not too far removed from the original negative.

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