Question marks around the Japanese Economic Miracle
This is the story of a married office-worker in Tokyo having an affair with a typist from the office, but do not expect a movie about illicit love and overwhelming passion. For Ozu, the story of the affair serves only as a framework for a portrayal of the life of ordinary white-collar workers. And what a bleak portrayal it is! In Ozu's vision, to be an office-worker means going through a mind-numbing routine every day for little pay, waiting on a promotion that may never come until you leave empty handed on the day of your retirement, and should the rumor spread that you're bonking your stenographer, you risk being banished to the Japanese equivalent of Siberia.
So all-encompassing is the grip of the corporation on the characters in this movie that events such as pregnancy and death are almost exclusively discussed in terms of money earned and time clocked. Even the affair itself seems less motivated by desire as by a need to alleviate the drudgery.
While this examination of working life is, at 143 minutes runtime, just a tad too long and never reaches the emotional depth found in Kurosawa's Ikiru, another movie about an ordinary guy stuck in a meaningless job, it's nevertheless interesting to see that compared to Kurosawa's movie, Ozu, often considered the most conservative of great Japanese filmmakers, has made a much more overt and damning criticism on the Japanese work-ethic.
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