Dragnet Girl (1933)

One of Ozu’s most accomplished silent efforts, this love story of jealousy and guilt set in the milieu of a small-time crook displays a mastery of visual storytelling.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,519

Dir. Yasujiro Ozu
1933 | Japan | Crime/Drama/Romance | 100 min | 1.33:1 | Japanese
Rating Exempted – likely to be PG

Cast: Kinuyo Tanaka, Joji Oka, Sumiko Mizukubo, Koji Mitsui, Yumeko Aizome
Plot: Joji, a washed-up boxer turned gangster, tries to find redemption with the inadvertent help of an innocent shop girl but his jealous girlfriend Tokiko will do anything to keep him.
Distributor: Shochiku

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

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

Thanks to the Asian Film Archive, I was fortunate to be one of the first audience members in the world to view the brand new 4K restoration of Dragnet Girl

Presented together with a commissioned score performed live by the talented and incredibly versatile filmmaker-cum-musician duo, Mark Chua and Lam Li Shuen, the screening was indeed one of the most unique experiences I ever had at the cinema. 

The music, a mix of jazzy and ambient styles, provides stimulating sound textures, particularly the creative decision to use percussion in the film’s climax. 

As one of Yasujiro Ozu’s most accomplished silent efforts, Dragnet Girl displays a mastery of visual storytelling, though there is heavy use of intertitles in this, which sometimes drag out proceedings longer than they should. 

“I understand why you fell for her. I’ve fallen for her too.”

This is, of course, mitigated by its strong visual style, which is mostly moody and evocative, and largely influenced by American crime noir. 

Dragnet Girl is more a love story than a crime tale as Ozu plays up emotions of romantic jealousy when a small-time crook sees an opportunity for redemption after an encounter with a gentle shopgirl who sells gramophones, to the dismay of his lowlife girlfriend (played by the great Kinuyo Tanaka who gives her character a manipulative badass vibe). 

Even at this early stage, Ozu was already experimenting with visual compositions that would become his signature, including a few tatami shots. 

My favourite shot, and also the film’s most poignant, centres on a knitting ball on the ground, left behind by Tanaka’s character in her room.  Sixteen years later, Ozu would treat the peeled skin of an apple with similar effect in Late Spring (1949). 

Grade: A-


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