The Lady and the Beard

Director: Yasujirô Ozu
Year: 1931
Rating: 6.5

This is my second Ozu film and I am trying to start off with his early movies as much as I can. Many of the ones he directed in the 1920's are lost or are missing large sections. By the time of this film he had already directed 20 films - many of them are comedies which might surprise those who think of Ozu and his serious family oriented post-war films that for years were what was available to Western audiences and considered his classics. He is now held in such high regard that DVD companies have gone back to release many of his pre-war films with subtitles.

Ozu had to spend much of his teenage years outside of the Tokyo that he loved and later set so many of his films in. He was a poor student, not popular with the girls and spent as much time as he could at the movie theater gobbling up American films. All kinds but in particular loving the silent comedies. These influences were brought into his early films. He also preferred modern settings for his films - he had no interest in period films and only his first film for Sochiku (who he stayed with for all of his career) was set in the past.

This is a playful film in which Ozu seems to place himself in the middle of the debate on modernity and tradition and makes gentle fun of both. It needs to be mentioned that this is a silent film - though Japan produced its first talkie (Fujiwara Yoshie no furusato) in 1930, Ozu didn't direct his first (The Only Son) until 1936. Japan in general transitioned to talkies much slower than in the West. Part of the reason for this was the popularity of the Benshi - a live narrator of the film who would act out the various characters, add his own take on the film, try to gin up excitement - audiences loved them and some of them became famous. Ozu was in no rush and loved silent films. So the comedy here is generally visual - a few lovely comic scenes play out in near pantomime.

The film begins with a friendly university Kendo match (with sticks) in which Okajima (Tokihiko Okada) wins his duels. The duels are not serious matches - more what you might expect Chaplin to do. When he removes his mask, it turns out he has a messy beard like tumbleweed taped to his face and hair that looks like it just came in out of a hurricane. He is a traditionalist - wears clogs and an obi - he later tells one person who spots a portrait of Lincoln on his wall that he admires Lincoln because he grew the beard to keep women away. Not exactly historically accurate.  Oddly, a wealthy friend has a portrait of Marx on his wall. Also of interest is that Okajima has a movie poster on his wall with Laurel and Hardy in the cast and in large print it say a Talkie! Apparently, one of Ozu's little inside tributes is to have a film poster show up in most of his films. In Dragnet Girl (my other Ozu) he showed two posters - The Champ and All Quiet on the Western Front. Like spotting Hitchcock.

Okijima is invited by a student to come to his home where his sister (Toshiko Iizuka) is celebrating her birthday with friends. Modern girls who smoke, play music on the turntable and dance together. As soon as they get a look at Okijima they start laughing - ask him to dance - which he can't do - but instead he puts on a kendo demonstration and they go off running.   Japan was itself going through a transition in a rush to modernity in clothes, the economy, style, the military and beards were no longer in fashion. On the way to the house he had rescued a girl from a female gangster (Satoko Date) who has two male cohorts - when they attack Okijima his kendo training comes in handy. He later runs into this same girl (Hiroko Kawasaki - a long career in film) and she advises him to shave the beard if he wants to find a job. He does and not only finds a job but soon has three women falling for him - Hiroko, the traditional girl, the sister of his friend, the modern girl, and the gangster girl. Two of them are in the midst of going through the arranged marriage process that Ozu makes fun of. It was a popular film at the time and it is easy to see why.