A lesser known work by Ozu that is an astute observation of a self-centered society.
Dir. Yasujiro Ozu
1947 | Japan | Drama | 72 mins | 1.37:1 | Japanese
PG (passed clean)
Cast: Chishû Ryû, Chôko Iida, Hohi Aoki, Eitarô Ozawa
Plot: In post-war Japan, a man brings a lost boy to his tenement. No one wants to take the child for even one night. But finally, a sour widow does.
Subject Matter: Moderate/Life-Affirming
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on DVD – first published 19 Jan 2009)
Yasujiro Ozu’s simple tale of a lost boy taken under the care of an unwilling old widow was so well-written and the themes of hope, guilt, and forgiveness so well-observed that 70 minutes were all the late master director needed to make a film rich in emotion and cultural insight.
Record of a Tenement Gentleman was one of Ozu’s first successful forays into the family-drama genre, a category that he would later make his own in the 1950s with classic gems like Late Spring (1949) and Tokyo Story (1953).
It shows traits of Ozu’s filmmaking style (many of the scenes were shot at waist level) that is rarely copied by other filmmakers, but widely studied by film students because of its uniqueness and intimate perspective.
“You know, a dog starts wagging its tail without being aware of it. It’s like that. We can’t see them, but you and the boy have been wagging your tails.”
In addition, Ozu chose to employ a static camera for most of the shots. This establishes a setting in which the characters are able to roam about within the boundaries of the motionless frame. One striking example is the scene at the seaside where the old woman tries to no avail to evade the young boy who is hell bent on following her.
While the conclusion is predictable, the earnestness of the performances especially that of Chouko Lida (who plays the old widow) helps to elevate the straightforward narrative to another level, which viewers can feel and connect emotionally.
Even though it ends on a happy note, there is a tinge of sadness to it. In a nutshell, Record of a Tenement Gentleman may not be Ozu’s finest hour, but it is an astute observation of a society that is self-centered by nature, somehow reflecting ours with eerie similarity.