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Ozu's "Tokyo no Onna" (Women of Tokyo) is a short film that delivers alot of tragic import for its length, timing and execution. It is a simple tale, concerning the lives of a Japanese college student and his sister. Things go awry when he finds out that his sister is actually a "hostess"/prostitute at a local bar, and that she is actually financing his college education by means of that career. There are a series of fine indoor shots, perfectly lighted and composed in a dark, (pre-film noir) mood. There is one great outdoor shot I remember, and that is when the sister looks outside, seeing the steam coming from a nearby chimney, and hanging clothes/socks out to dry. The scene where the student/main character walks in the dismal street is also nicely done. Overall, the film is a great example of a strong short film narrative, and has a slightly (unexpected) tragic twist at the end.
When I watched "Woman of Tokyo", I was struck by the theme which
reminded me of Mizoguchi's works which were often on prostitution and
its effects. With this film, Ozu also shares Mizoguchi's compassion for
self-sacrificing women. See for yourself : in a poor working-class
district of Tokyo, a woman named Chikako (Yoshiko Okada) shares a
modest apartment with her brother Ryoichi (Ureo Egawa). Chikako works
every day as an office typist and every evening on commissioned
translations for a university professor, so Ryoichi can devote himself
completely to his studies. However, Chikako comes under scrutiny when a
police inspector pays an unexpected visit to her office one day. The
nebulous and undisclosed nature of the investigation leads to
speculation, and rumors begin to surface about Chikako's disreputable
conduct by working as a cabaret hostess. In an attempt to mitigate the
embarrassment of the brewing scandal, the well-intentioned Harue
(Kinuyo Tanaka), Ryoichi's girlfriend, decides to alert Chikako of the
gossip, but instead, reveals the information to Ryoichi. Outraged and
ashamed by his sister's behavior, Ryoichi rejects Chikako and leaves
There are many things to enjoy in "Woman of Tokyo" (the plot and the acting, to start with), but first of all it is an interesting film for all those who would like to see en early elaboration of Ozu's style, especially in his use of domestic setting and confined, interior shots. There is also an overt tribute to Ernst Lubitsch (much admired by Ozu) with a full-frame excerpt from Lubitsch's short film entitled "The Clerk" taken from "If I Had a Million". Ozu will get only better and better after this "Woman of Tokyo".
Seeing this a second time in a healthy restored print, I still can't say I'm entirely won over by this early melodrama involving a woman who is scandalized when her brother's girlfriend learns of her prostitution to help cover his student expenses. The chief interest of this film lies in its unusual structure: as J. Hoberman notes, the film is "a subtle riot of discordant formal devices -- two- character crosscutting is complicated by weird eye-line matches and bizarre special jumps, inexplicable interpolations, and exreme close-ups." (There's also some interesting non-matching of dialogue intertitles with the characters speaking them, which David Bordwell discusses in his study on Ozu.) Hoberman concludes that "inadvertant or not, it's a masterpiece," though I think one would have to appraise the film on strictly formalist experimental grounds to come to that evaluation (Hoberman was probably thinking of his favorite cut- and-paste classic ROSE HOBART as he wrote this). There certainly is plenty to baffle over, such as the sudden wild digression to two journalists bantering happily at the end of the film, which seems to suggest Ozu's contempt at public indifference to a private tragedy, a theme that gets a real workout in the much later masterpiece TOKYO TWILIGHT.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In this medium length Japanese silent film (three quarters of an hour long), Ryoichi and Chikako (Ureo Egawa and Yoshiko Okada) are brother and sister living together in Tokyo. Ryoichi is a student at the university, while Chikako works at an office, and helps Ryoichi with his expenses. Unbeknownst to him, she also moonlights as a prostitute. When he learns the truth through his girlfriend, tragedy ensues. The material of this simple tale might seem today as outdated and melodramatic, but Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu's fluid, elegant direction makes it very compelling to watch. Chisyu Ryu, who appears in many later Ozu masterpieces, has a bit part as a reporter.
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