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Let us imagine you are someone from Japan who enjoys a lot of different films. You like American films, and have seen several hundred of them, mostly westerns, but only about twenty made before 1945. You've seen almost all the pictures that Frank Capra directed from 1928 on, one non-Capra drama from 1926 -- let us say, FLESH AND THE DEVIL -- and enjoyed it, thinking it full of weird and wonderful images, and then you are confronted with a melodrama from 1921. I submit you may like it or not like it, but you have little context to understand whether it is good or bad, either innately or for the year 1921. It might be Ingram's FOUR HORSEMAN OF THE APOCALYPSE or it might be an utter piece of hackwork.
Well, that's my problem with SOULS ON THE ROAD. I like Japanese films, but more than half of them have been Samurai flicks. I have seen a about ten of Ozu's silent films and one silent drama from 1926. So what can I tell you about this movie?
I can tell you that, by and large, I thought it interesting, but the style of acting is not something I can comment on. Characters' motivations are not clear -- the main character has suffered a nervous breakdown, but we're not sure of the pressures that led to it -- and they maintain their positions until something drastic happens. People do things for the sake of the plot, seemingly to illustrate the story's moral, not because of who they are. Perhaps to a Japanese audience of 1921, motivations and actions would be clearer.
Is it a good movie? Is it a good movie for a 1921 Japanese production? I don't know. I enjoyed it, but in large part I enjoyed it because it helps fill in a little of my background of Japanese films. I have a somewhat academic appreciation of early film and can spend hours pleasurably looking at Zecca experiments in scene changes or industrial films of Westinghouse factories.
You probably can not .... but then, you're reading this review, are you not?
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