Tokyo Chorus
Director: Yasujirô Ozu
Year: 1931
Rating: 7.0

I continue my very slow exploration of the films of Yasujirô Ozu. And I am trying to do it in chronological order as much as possible. Many of the films he directed prior to this film have been lost but I think from this point on the majority of them are available in some form. So it will take me a while before I get to his post-war films that much of his reputation is built on.

Ozu is still making silent films with this one, but it is a move towards the family centered films that were later to be his specialty - the small quiet dramas within the family. Here he presents the family structure - husband, wife and three children - as both the central vital support in our lives but also a structure that binds you with obligations that can cage you in. But that is unspoken in this film. It is a comedy for the most part - a genial kind one - but around the edges is a scenario in which the husband is judged both by his wife and young son negatively when things begin to go wrong. When he is no longer the bread earner in the family. It is painful when his son calls him a liar and his wife speaks of her shame when he takes a job that she considers beneath him but also how it reflects on her. Ultimately though, Ozu papers this over and gives his audience a cheerful ending - yet one that still has a long ways to go.  And you sense that disappointments lay ahead.

The film begins with a short prologue that takes place in university, a subject that Ozu had focused on a few times. It is a lighthearted scene in which Professor Ōmura  (Tatsuo Saitō) is trying to discipline his unruly students to little effect - with one student in particular standing out as the class clown. This is Okajima portrayed by Tokihiko Okada, who had starred in the last four Ozu films. He is a very congenial actor here with a smile a yard wide and an ability to change emotions with simple subtle facial movements of his mouth and eyes. This turned out to be his last film as he was to die from tuberculosis a few years later.

The film then jumps ahead a number of years - he is married with three children - a boy of about 7, a daughter about 5 and a baby girl. He works at an insurance company and it is bonus day. But he stands up for another older employee who has been fired for what Okajima thinks are poor reasons and he too gets fired for his trouble. This is during the Depression -  at one point he says I guess Hoover's policies are not working. The unemployed are everywhere. He has to break his promise to his son to buy him a bicycle that sets up a conflict that feels like it will be an ongoing issue as his son has reached the age of rebellion. He runs into his old Professor who now owns a restaurant that serves curry and pork. I immediately wanted to order some but it was too late at night. Japanese vegetable curry has become one of my go to dishes. The Professor gives him a job carrying a banner advertising the restaurant which is very humbling to a university graduate.  His wife and children by chance see him.

But again this is a comedy and there are a number of bits that are very light and amusing - even his fight with the boss takes on a slapstick approach as well as the employees hiding their bonus's from each other - even going into the urinal to keep it secret. It never edges into tragedy - but one always senses that it is knocking on the door to get in - but in the end it is this family unit that keeps it out. The film is also very observational - the small things that people do are often a focus - just brushing a fly away or changing clothes - it gives it all a sense of reality - life is all the small parts combined.

The wife is played by Emiko Yagumo, the son by Hideo Sugawara but of special interest is the at the time the seven year old actress who plays the daughter, Hideko Takamine. She would go on to a legendary career in many of the films of director Mikio Naruse - the classic When a Woman Ascends the Stairs and for director Keisuke Kinoshita - Carmen Comes Home. But at this point she is just a little girl fighting with her brother!