Hen in the Wind, A (1948)

An underrated postwar effort by Ozu, featuring an indelible performance by Kinuyo Tanaka whose character must do whatever it takes to fulfil her responsibilities as a mother to a sick child. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,509

Dir. Yasujiro Ozu
1948 | Japan | Drama | 84 min | 1.37:1 | Japanese
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Kinuyo Tanaka, Shuji Sano, Chieko Murata, Chishu Ryu, Hohi Aoki
Plot: A man returns from World War II to find his desperate wife had resorted to one night of prostitution to pay for their son’s hospital bills.
Distributor: Shochiku

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Family; Motherhood; Prostitution
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Oldham Theatre – Asian Film Archive’s Kinuyo Tanaka Retrospective
Spoilers: No

Made in between his first postwar film, Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947), and his first great work, Late Spring (1949), A Hen in the Wind might strike a curious note for Ozu-philes.  It is one of his more underrated if also ‘shocking’ films, dealing with the theme of prostitution in an otherwise gentle and poignant work that is typical of his signature style. 

Headlined by Kinuyo Tanaka, whose performance here is not just indelible by her towering standards, but at times physically punishing, A Hen in the Wind puts her character, Tokiko, in a moral dilemma when her young son, who suddenly falls very ill, needs immediate medical attention. 

“Isn’t it silly to just suffer?”

The medical costs are not cheap, which leads Tokiko to do whatever it takes to fulfil her responsibilities as a mother—in this case, to sell her body for one night in order to pay the bills.  When her husband returns from the war, their relationship expectedly sours. 

A Hen in the Wind calls into question the role of mothers in a country where most men have gone off to fight, leaving them as both breadwinners and caregivers, raising kids on their own.  As Japan rebuilds, the temptation of making a quick buck to alleviate concerns of unemployment or rising costs is not beyond even the most righteous person. 

As men sacrifice their bodies for their nation, women must seemingly do the same for their family, physically and transactionally.  Ozu asks us to think about personal duty, to look at the bigger picture, and to move on, yet as Tanaka’s performance shows us, it is not easy to be courageous and honest in the face of guilt and regret. 

Grade: A-

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