Yasujiro Ozu - The Lady and the Beard (1931)

A very literal musing on modernity: Okajima visits the birthday party of his friend's sister Ikuko. He is criticised for being conservative and obnoxious. He rescues a girl, Hiroko, from a robbery. When he can't find work, Hiroko suggests that he should shave his beard. He follows her advice and lands a job. Since he has entered the new corporate world, Ikuko takes a liking to him, as does Hiroko and Satoko, a tuff girl who was about to rob Hiroko before Okajima intervened. In the end, it is the homely Hiroko who wins his heart. An inornate comedy, The Lady and the Beard outlines Ozu's preoccupation with masculinity and how it is influenced by modernity. We also get a lot of Ozu's trademark editing gags.

The most obvious example (and perhaps the most famous) comes towards the middle of the film. Okiko tries to convince Okajima that he should shave his beard. He explains to her that a lot of important historical figures adorned beards and he points to a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on his wall. Cut to a close-up of said portrait. Fade to an intertitle reading "Lincoln, 1931". Cut to the hood of a car. It's a Lincoln. More than a throw-away joke, this sequence ties into the general theme of modernity and how it transforms us and our perception of the past. At Ikuko's birthday party, she and her friends, who all have a westernized lifestyle, vow to humiliate Okajima who is perceived as old-fashioned. Modernity, or what some people perceived as such, is shown here as openly defying tradition: the girls invite Okajima to dance (presumably to "modern" music) and he performs a Kabuki dance, whirling around his sword. It's a clash of two lifestyles, and Ozu does not much to mask his contempt for the blind march towards more glorious, more "modern" days through westernization.

Another gag underlines this. Ikuko converses with an admirer. She tells him that she wouldn't marry someone who doesn't practice Kendo because she wouldn't feel protected. When the man retorts that policemen and laws are there to protect her just as well, she counters: "then I'll marry the police or the law". "Modern" society appoints institutions and bureaucracies that regulate every day life. A romantic longing for past hardihood doesn't belong to an environment where efficiency is king and "progress" is the only important mantra. Ikuko's remark, however, shows the absurdity of such thinking: one can not marry the law or the police. Institutions exist because they create the illusion of their indispensability. Yet, it is tradition and craft that provides real stability.

It is tempting to interpret Okajima's beard as a simple metaphor for tradition: once he shaves, Okajima can finally participate in modernized society. However, one shouldn't ignore what it means for Okajima's masculinity when he gets rid of his beard. He sees himself as a bawcock, as an archetypal male. He despises western clothes and, at first, refuses to interact with women, let alone dance with them. This attitude is rooted in a strong sense of Japanese nationalism and values. But to the people observing him, Okajima seems outdated. Everything that constitutes real masculinity in his eyes is not valued by modern society at large. Only by watering down his customary male posturing (shaving his beard!) does he get recognition and he is courted by three women. Does modern society oust the traditional male and replace him with subordinate pansies? Does Ozu even initiate a sort of pissing contest between Japanese and Western masculinity? The smallest common denominator one can find in The Lady and the Beard is without a doubt Ozu's critical view of blind Westernization, and the effects it has on "tradition" and masculinity.

Yasujiro Ozu - Walk Cheerfully (1930)

Before I had ever seen Walk Cheerfully, I had read David Bordwell's book Ozu and The Poetics of Cinema. Writing about this film, he comments "Evidently the Japan of 1930 did not have true gangsters." I always found this remark funny and odd, and my interest in the film was awakened. I now came across a copy of the film in bad picture quality (apparently a VHS rip from someone who recorded it from an Italian TV station) and was both pleasantly surprised and somewhat disappointed by this often-cited movie. As Bordwell suggests, the depiction of street hoodlums is taken straight from Hollywood pictures of the time and the narration is disconcertingly bland in it's approach to the material. On the other hand, Ozu takes the opportunity to experiment a lot with form. Tracking shots and exterior shots abound, visual gags are accompanied by self-conscious editing, and at one point Ozu experiments with perspective. It is as if Ozu, conscious of the rather uninspired story, overcompensated by providing us with some of his most playful visuals.

The story is simple. Kenji, a street criminal, takes an interest in the calm and homely Yasue. When he knocks down her boss out of jealousy, Yasue rejects him, and Kenji and his brother decide to go straight. They find "honest" work as window washer and driver respectively. Kenji is approached by an old pal and asked to help with a lucrative job. He refuses. Having overheard that, Yasue realizes that Kenji is truly reformed and she takes him back. But Kenji is ratted out and has to go to prison. There is, however, a happy ending.

Thematically, Walk Cheerfully does not give us as much to chew on as, say, Where Now Are The Dreams of Youth? or The Only Son. One could read it as an examination of masculinity, as Ozu was always very preoccupied with this question. Is it more honorable to be an honest worker than to be a gangster? Does the hoodlum's reliance on physical force to ascertain his masculinity hold any value in the corporate world? How do women, love interests to be more precise, influence men's behavior? From this perspective, Ozu seems to have a rather conservative view of male-female relations. The only way Kenji can get the girl at the end (remember that we are in deep Hollywood territory here) is by quitting his outlaw life and being domesticated. There seems to be no room for transgressions of any kind. On the other hand, the plot machinations force the narrative to go this route and maybe one shouldn't read too much into it. Another way of looking at Walk Cheerfully is to see it as a sort of deconstruction of modernity. Clearly, the imported gangsters (complete with white three piece suits and cigarette holders) are a product of the time and their presence in the modern city landscape speak to certain concerns a contemporary could have with the modern city. But then, going straight only means entering the emerging corporate world that synchronizes people's behavior and thoughts. As far as incarnations of modernity are concerned, Kenji can only jump out of the frying pan into the fire.

Stylistically, the Walk Cheerfully captivates with its dynamic camera work and editing gags. Ozu uses a lot of fade outs. In one scene, the image darkens as if we are in for another fade out, but it is revealed that the camera tracked into a tunnel. When we emerge into daylight again, Ozu fades out in earnest. In another scene, Ozu tempers with perspective and off-action movement. Kenji and Yasue sit in the foreground, while Yasue's younger sister plays with a ball a few yards behind them, which creates visual tension with the immobile primary action in the foreground. A towering statue in the far background compresses the entire image. All these elements combined make for an usual shot in Ozu's catalogue. When the film opens, we are in a naval yard. Ozu shoots it in an extreme wide shot, capturing a pack of men running to the site of an alleged wallet theft, his camera moving at a vibrant pace - a teaser for the exciting formal experiments yet to come.

All in all, a satisfying offering that offers a lot of visual playfulness, despite a somewhat uninspired script.

Yasujiro Ozu - Story of Floating Weeds (1934)

Maybe I am interpreting too much here, but it seems to me that Story of Floating Weeds could be the starting point of Western critics' focus on Ozu's "japaneseness", while ignoring his former stylistic playfulness. In this film, Ozu employs religious motives for the first time and the action takes place in the Japanese countryside, the cradle of Japanese tradition as seen by Western critics. The subject of the film is family relations in a broad sense, and more specifically the absent father figure. Having to deal with the iconography of kimonos, the Japanese countryside, and Buddhism seems to somehow limit Ozu's formal inventiveness. The unusual setting however enables his camera to capture some striking images. The script is as sharp as ever and combines a variety of themes and motives already employed in earlier films or bound to show up later in his catalogue.

Kihachi and his acting troupe take up residence in the town where Kihachi fathered a child with the local cafe owner Otsune almost two decades ago. His son, Shinkichi, thinks that his father is dead and Kihachi looks forward to spend as much time as possible with him. When his mistress Otaka finds out about his situation, she forces the young actress Otoki to seduce Shinkichi. Otoki does as told, but Shinkichi and her fall in love. The theater group's bankruptcy coincides with Kihachi finding out about Otoki and Shinkichi. In a violent confrontation, he exclaims that he doesn't want a father and Kihachi leaves town to start anew with the manipulative Otaka.

Some of the main conflict in Story of Floating Weeds is derived from the fact that a lot of characters live in different realms and can't cope with the fact that they are separated by opposing realities. The obvious example would be Kihachi and his son Shinkichi. But the performers of the acting troupe are rather mediocre, although Kihachi claims he aspires for a one year long run at the local theater, which shows the divide between the performers and the audience. Another example would be Kihachi, who acts out of love and concern for his son, and his mistress Otaka, who's actions are ascertained by jealousy and bad faith. As soon as the bubbles containing these differing realities burst, confrontations ensue, which is a nice way of setting up conflict. Ozu varies this by introducing the notion of the passing of time and what it does to people. When Kihachi and Otsune reunite for the first time in a while, they have to readjust their vision of each other. Kihachi has to do the same thing when he sees Shinkichi, as well as when his son learns the truth about who his father is. The reality we live in changes constantly, and it is our relationships to the people surrounding us who are responsible for that most of the time, Ozu seems to tell us.

What the great David Bordwell called the "extended family plot" in the case of Ozu's later work is applied here to the theater company, as we get introduced to a wide variety of characters who all have their specific importance within the plot. Kihachi, as the patriarch of this "work family" and the secret patriarch of his "real" family, has to reconcile both and another source of conflict in the movie emanates from his increasing difficulty to keep them both separated and running smoothly. Although Ozu's focus is not chiefly on masculinity, the role of the father figure (be it biological, affective, or symbolical) is dissected thoroughly and it is interesting that, like in An Inn In Tokyo, the patriarch has to leave at the end in order to ensure a better life for everyone else.

Not Ozu's best, but an interesting experiment with setting and style. The violent climax at the end of the film is memorable as well.

Yasuzo Masumura - A Lustful Man (1961)

Masumura's no holes bared-style is capable of the best and the worst. He does not shy away from anything and it is this characteristic that makes for exciting and unpredictable cinema. However, it can just as well end in muddled and uninspired moments and A Lustful Man struggles to find a balance between the two. Roughly the first and last 30 minutes are invigorating, the middle passage being unfocused and losing itself in an episodic structure that doesn't let any room for the story to breathe. While the incessant forward-motion of the narrative is characteristic to all of Masumura's films, at times, like in Irezumi, this story bulwark hinders us to absorb enough of it to fully enjoy it. Which doesn't prevent the director from giving us interesting glimpses into his gender politics and his critical view of materialism.

Yonosuke is a young man who's only reason to live is to bed women and allegedly to make them happy. He is the son of a rich business man and is disowned by his father when he fails to live the responsible life that is expected from him. Stealing money from one of his father's businesses, he buys a geisha so she can be free to live with her lover. He subsequently travels from place to place, meeting women, embarking on strange adventures with them, until he finally gets back home where his father lays dying. Dad hands him down all his fortune just before kicking the bucket and Yonosuke spends all of it on parties and women. When it is time to pay taxes on his new-found riches, Yonosuke flees because he can't pay them, having spent all the money.

Based on a novel by Saikaky Ihara, the film depicts a lot of different sexual practices, tapping into prostitution, arranged marriages and even homosexuality when Yonosuke finds himself in a bordello filled with transvestite geisha's. At the same time, Yonosuke, the carefree whippersnapper, is the only character in the film who seems entirely happy and finds a solution to every situation. Most of the women he encounters either wind up dead, broken or humiliated, Yonosuke emerging as the only insouciant character. One explanation may be that in a world, as envisioned by Masumura, where virtually every human interaction is based on an economic transaction, our protagonist is the only one who refuses to prescribe to this mode of interplay. The fact that love, sex and happiness seem to hinge on wealth and influence is everybody's downfall, but Yonosuke, by not participating in this spiel, remains unaffected by the destructive nature of money. As soon as he acquires some, he immediately finds a way to spend it all. His father is introduced as a greedy bean counter and nothing in the film suggests that this way of life provided him with happiness.

On the other hand, Yonosuke appears as possessed, crazy and irresponsible. Clearly Masumura's theme of love as a state of mental illness is made very explicit here, where Yonosuke's quest for women is nothing more than a bender of self-destruction. The question then becomes what the solution might be. Masumura depicts rich and poor individuals as equally grotesque, seems to make fun of Samurais and presents women purely as objects ready to be bought and disposed of.  Yonosuke, the character who seems to defy the rules of the game, is the only one who appreciates women for what they are: human beings who can enrich a man's life. "Treat her like a queen and she will be a queen", he says. "Treat her like a witch and she will be a witch". Might it be that Masumura argues for a better treatment of women? In any event, the individual actions of one single protagonist manage to defy the prevailing order. In that, A Lustful Man, while not one of Masumura's more successful offerings, ties neatly into his body of work.

Yasuzo Masumura - The Double Suicide of Sonesaki (1978)

The Double Suicide of Sonesaki could be described as the Japanese incarnation of Romeo and Juliet. Two lovers, outcast from society but obsessed with each other, decide to commit suicide together in order to preserve their pride and the purity of their love. As this synopsis suggests, this is also another Masumura picture in which he explores the insanity of love. Based on a popular doll play by Monzaemon Chikamatsu (1653-1725), the story was adapted to the screen before, most notably by Masahiro Shinoda in 1969 with the surreal Double Suicide. But where Shinoda's version veered frequently into the fantastic, Masumura, though working on a noticeably very slim budget, turned in a more realistic effort, concentrating on the madness of love, rather than the mechanics of the story.

Watching the movie, I kept thinking about a German gameshow that was popular during the 1990's called Geld oder Liebe (Money or Love). Singles were paired up and had to accomplish different tasks. During the course of the evening, the pairings would change so that at the end, the audience would have seen everyone interact with every other contestant. The audience could vote on their favorite couple. The winning pair then had the choice between going on a date paid for by the network, or taking money they had won by performing the tasks during the show and go home alone. In Double Suicide, there is something similar going on. The woman, Ohatsu, is a prostitute and has been sold to an old merchant who wants to take her away from Osaka. The man, Tokubei, has been raised by a merchant and has been promised to a woman, with which he could hold a new shop in Edo, also far away from Osaka. They have the choice between betraying their love and live in luxury, or stay true to their feelings and reject wealth.

Our lovers have to fight against the power structures created by the money, and their only way out, it seems, is death. The people subjecting them would have spent a lot of money in vain if Ohatsu and Tokubei were to keep up the relationship, refusing to bow to the forces of society. This ties into the larger thematic that can be found throughout Masumura's work: society's constraints and individual actions to "fight the power". The lover's relationship is illicit. They break out from the societal mold and try to live a life on their own terms. But since this is not possible in a highly regulated society like 1700's Japan, their only way out is suicide. In the afterlife, a place that is thought of as more free, where individuals can do as they please, they will reunite and finally be able to consummate their love, without the strains of their cast. Only in death can they live out their individuality.

I don't want to push it too far, but I discuss in my post about Masumura's 1971 film The Music how Reiko, the female main protagonist, could only experience sexual pleasure with impotent men or during necrophiliac acts. Could death as an agent for liberated love be seen as a common theme in Masumura's late oeuvre? Unfortunately, only few of the director's later films are available to the Anglo-Saxon audience. But taking into account the 1969 film Blind Beast, in which the sado masochistic sexual practices of a kidnapper and his captive lead them to kill each other as a substitute for the ultimate orgasm, we may be on to something here (Further considering what one can read about films like Lullaby of the Earth (1976) and Eden No Sono (1980) which I wasn't able to find but who are both described as psychological sexploitation films may reinforce this theory). In any event, The Double Suicide of Sonesaki is a wonderful offering from a director who's commanding style and meticulous camera blocking overcomes what must have been an evanescent budget (at times, the clunky lighting looks like taken straight from a halting student film). The two main performances are convinving in all their histrionics and Masumura's usual ironic detachment from the film text makes its glorious pathos all the more satisfying.

Yasuzo Masumura - The Music (1972)


Part of David Cairns' Late Show at Shadowplay.

The Music, a late submerged Masumura classic available only through backdoors via a VHS rip with antic image quality, is obviously the work of a mature director who has found his subject and knows where to go with it. What Jonathan Rosenbaum called "a cinema of mad people", I call the exploration of love as a state of mental illness and The Music is the culmination of this probing. More shocking than Blind Beast (which is a feat in itself), more radical than Manji, more twisted than Irezumi, Masumura, who co-wrote the script, distilled everything that made his cinema exciting and frenzied into an even stronger brew, mixing surreal imagery, a hyperventilating camera and a keenly Freudian approach to character work.

Reiko, a middle-aged woman, seeks out the help of a psychiatrist because she feels sick and can't hear music. Soon, however, doc discovers that her problems are of an entirely different nature and that her repressed sexuality is at the roots of all her psychological troubles. "Music" is a metaphor for sexual arousal and pleasure, and Reiko does not enjoy sex (does not hear the music!) unless it is with weak, emasculated men, or corpses. We get a scene with Reiko at a young age, playing rock-paper-scissors with three other boys. The looser of the game, it is established, is getting his penis cut off. Reiko loses first, and the boys hold her against a wall, pull down her pants while one of them kneels in front of her with a pair of scissors...and doesn't find anything to cut. The boys' explanation is that her penis has already been cut off and she is left humiliated, vilified, vanquished. Reiko, then, develops an obsession with scissors and imagines, in a disturbing dream sequence, her legs as a pair of scissors poised to cut off the penises of her lovers, upon which a bull appears to her with horns in the form of overdimensioned penises.

Furthermore, we learn that she had her first sexual experience with her brother, and that she was raped by her fiance which prompted her to leave her native village and flee to Tokyo. However, once she learns that said fiance is dying, she comes back to him and is turned on by the fact that he breathes his last. Once he is dead, she engages in an affair with an impotent man but leaves him once he makes sweet love to her, since his new-found sexual expertise prevents her from hearing "the music". We then get a lot of Reiko's relationship with her brother, a doomed co-dependency that is the key to her sexual repression, and if all of this doesn't seem to make any sense, Masumura and his co-writer Yukio Mishima, the world-famous novelist who played the lead role in Masumura's Afraid To Die, actually pull it off to give a somewhat sensible explanation for all of this when the psychiatrist finally "cures" Reiko.

As crazy as all of this sounds, The Music is as intricate a character study as one is likely to find. Granted, Reiko's character is almost exclusively reduced to her sexual behavior, but we explore it in all its alarming facets and Masumura makes it very explicit that his investigation into lovesick and sick-sexual behavior serves him as a way to unearth greater societal ills of rampant modernity in a confused society. Kisses and Seisaku's Wife are prime examples of this, and although The Music is less focused on issues of society, it can not simply be shrugged off as a sexploitation flick. Themes of family ties and traditional obligations are touched on, albeit obliquely, and Masumura's controversial status as a "women's director" takes on a new facet.

Highly recommended.

Yasujiro Ozu - A Mother Should Be Loved (1934)

Today is Yasujiro Ozu's birthday.

When the patriarch of the Kajiwara family dies, his young sons Sadao and Kosaku are told that they have to support their mother Chieko. Eight years later, Sadao, now a college student, learns that he is not Chieko's biological son but the offspring of his father's first wife. He scolds Chieko for treating him better than Kosaku and tries everything to alienate them both because he does not feel worthy of their care. In the end, the family pulls together and all the conflict is resolved. Ozu himself has said about A Mother Should Be Loved that "the script should've been polished more (...) the film turned out to be rather dull". I for one rather enjoyed this film as it presents an interesting variation of his favorite theme, male authority. But watching this movie, from which the first and last reels are missing, I kept thinking about something that bothered me about Donald Richie's account of how the director and his collaborators put together their scripts in his 1974 book Ozu.

Richie's description of Ozu's work method and his diary excerpts are fascinating. What troubles me is Richie's assertion that Ozu's scripts are superior to most others because of his unorthodox approach to writing. He observes about "conventional" scripts: "they are begun at some hopefully propitious juncture, and character is observed to form. The story or plot rises from this character, or the story or plot forces the character to evolve in a certain way, and when action is over and a change observed, the script is considered finished." He goes on to write: "Ozu had little use for [this model], feeling that it distorted character and destroyed verisimilitude." Ozu's stories, one can read, emanate exclusively from character, are purely anecdotal and incidental and don't follow any common (western) plot arc. Let's now, just as a mind game, consider A Mother Should Be Loved and how, if one wanted, one could divide its story into a regular Hollywood three-act structure. Usually, and speaking in very broad strokes, the first act of a Hollywood script establishes the world the movie will take place in, as well as the characters and their relations. Act two break occurs when a major incident forces the main character(s) to go on a journey of some kind in order to fulfill a need or overcome an obstacle that upset the order we have seen in Act 1. Midpoint is reached when the main protagonist realizes that his need is much deeper or his problem different from what he thought, propelling him into a new direction. Act three break occurs when the protagonist finally figured out how to overcome the obstacles and complete his journey. Act three is, to speak with Jaccob Krueger, "kicking ass or getting ass kicked".

Now consider the film we are discussing here. The first reel, as I mentioned, is missing, but from what one can read about it, it establishes the family dynamic (especially the relationship between the father and his two sons). I would consider this the first act. Act one break occurs at the father's death, creating the need for both sons to care for the mother and exposing the conflict between Chieko and Sadao. I would argue that Sadao is in this case the main character who's emotional journey is dictated by the want to belong emotionally to a family structure that he feels has been taken away from him by the news that Chieko is not his biological mother. The story's midpoint is reached when Sadao alienates Chieko so much that she cries, prompting Kosaku to confront his brother about it. It ends in a physical fight and Sadao leaves the family. Chieko then tells Kosaku the truth about Sadao's origins. Act three break occurs when Sadao is finally convinced to accept his family situation and recognizes that Chieko and Kosaku love him no matter what. The missing ninth reel, the family's reunion and their move to the suburbs, constitutes the third act, or "kicking ass".

Of course, all the above is a wholly artificial mind-game, over-simplyfied and probably inaccurate. And my point is not to argue that Ozu in fact worked with a Hollywood type blueprint (although he was a fervent admirer of Hollywood cinema which doubtlessly left many traces on his work - one example would be the americanized Dragnet Girl). Of course his stories are more deeply concerned with character than most others, and his films generally very meditative. But can't they be just that? Why must Western critics always infuse his work with some kind of Eastern mysticism that seemingly elevates his films above the rest, but doesn't make much sense once one takes a closer look? To get back to Richie's account of Ozu's writing process, he describes how the director and his frequent collaborator Kogo Noda went from the original idea, to an outline and disposition of characters, to the actual script writing. Both men would write ideas for scenes on cards and arrange them in a way that seemed satisfactory. Sometimes they shuffled the cards on a table and rearranged them from there, as it was commonly done for animated cartoons. "Even then", Richie writes, "'work' had not even begun".

Firstly, the author completely misunderstands what a screenwriter actually does. What we call "breaking" a story, in Ozu's case writing down scenes on cards and shuffling them on a table, is the lion's share of what Richie calls here the actual "work", the writing. It is the creation of characters and plot, before tackling it in script form, that constitutes the real work of the screenwriter. In that, Ozu is not different from anyone else. He is just very good at it. Furthermore, doesn't the fact that Ozu and his writing partners took meticulous care that individual scenes would be placed at the exact right spot contradict Richie's prior assertion that Ozu's work consisted simply of intuitive character work? Ozu might have said once that plot "bores" him, but Noda writes in his diary: "March 15. Started, but decided some large comic incident is lacking. March 16. We've constructed something or other, but something is missing". If Ozu "decides" on plot points and "constructs" events, what, then, does Richie mean when he writes "certainly there is in his films rarely anything resembling [plot]"?

Sure, Ozu doesn't stage skating robots and broom riding contests, but what else than "story [rising] from character" (Richie about Western-style screenplays) does he give us in A Mother Should Be Loved when he invents a family situation that will lead to inevitable confrontations between the different family members, all resulting in a certain fallout that creates new conflict so as to reignite the story every 10 or so minutes? What Richie ignores is that in the absence of external conflict (skating robots) the writer turns to internal conflict (Sadao's guilt and resentment) and makes it his plot. And as he demonstrates in chapter 2 of his book, Ozu went to great length to get that plot right.

This is not to say that Ozu's work is interchangeable with the myriad other authors who simply crank out by-the-numbers scripts, and he surely developed his very own style over time. A Mother Should Be Loved simply reminds us that sweeping generalizations about Ozu ignore a lot of facets of his work. Western critics have not done right by the complexity and diversity of his oeuvre. Especially his early films would be a great starting point for a general re-evaluation of Ozu's body of work by more adept minds than myself.

Yasujiro Ozu - I Flunked, But... (1930)

"Exams are only a game of astuteness", says one of the characters in I Flunked, But... which describes exactly the attitude of most of the characters in this funny but sometimes surprisingly crude offering. Takahashi, his pals, and his roommates all take their final college exams. They cheat by writing down notes on the back of one of Takashi's pals' shirt and relaying the answers from one to the other. After Takashi prepares another shirt for the next day's test, the house lady takes it to the dry cleaners. Takahashi and all his pals flunk, while his roommates all pass. But, unable to find employment, they long for the care-free days of college, while Takahashi and his gang become cheerleaders.

I Flunked, But... is a straight forward college comedy that touches on a few themes Ozu will develop later on in his career. Male bonding is obviously of great concern here, as the film features only one single female character, but it is not really developed. The altering nature of time is another theme that is hinted at. But contrary to The Only Son, where the passing of time is something that has to be endured and has an exclusively negative outcome, I Flunked, But... exhibits a more positive approach where melancholy functions as romantic reminiscing, as the four roommates think back to their time as benchwarmers. Although they are unemployed, there is no social commentary, no despair, no lesson to be learned. Ozu also seems to introduce the idea that time passes more quickly when one is young and is having a good time. The bleak reality of life - finding a job, having to shoulder responsibilities- decelerates time considerably, making the adult life all the more dull. Ozu illustrates this by juxtaposing Takahashi and his pals having a good time as cheerleaders at their school with the four unemployed roommates staring at a clock that doesn't seem to move, wishing they were back hitting the books (which also introduces the theme of college as a reformative time that will later be featured in Tokyo Chorus).

It is important to point out this cross cutting, not only because Ozu will abandon this stylistic pirouette altogether later on, but because, in this instance, he uses it as a narrative agent. In the first half of the film, Ozu frequently uses tracking shots of lined up or sitting students that accentuate the unity of the student corps, and their shared destiny. Once the results of the exams are announced, Ozu uses cross cutting to accentuate Takahashi's and his roommates' now diverging life lines. With relatively few intertitles, Ozu shows with I Flunked, But... a commanding sense of visual narration. Another example is the film poster of Charming Sinners that hangs on the wall of Takahasi's dorm. Not only is it a humorous commentary on the mischieveous behavior of Takahashi and his friends, but it also features the two main characters of that film in an embrace. Once Takahashi's girlfriend brings him food to eat and a clean shirt, he hangs the shirt on the wall, covering most of the poster, leaving out only the two lovers - a direct comment on the lovebird's relationship. Later, after Takahashi flunked, the shirt, returned from the cleaners but still adorning some of the cheating notes, hangs there again, almost accusatory, reminding Takashi that he deceived his girlfriend.

Despite all of Ozu's narrative mastery, I Flunked, But... is startlingly clumsy at times. The most shocking example of unconfident framing is given after the first exam scene, as Takahashi and his pals all walk in unison towards the camera. Ozu tracks back but doesn't keep everyone in frame, panning shakily back and forth over the five men. Not only does he use two camera movements rarely employed later in his career, but its very use appears sloppy to me. Other instances of unfocused framing and lighting occur later in the film as well. For all their humor and funny moments, the two pivotal exam scenes that show the students' elaborate cheating methods (that also introduce the theme of defiance of authority) seem to have been used by Ozu as a kind of rehearsal and springing board for Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth? which features much more intricately staged cheating scenes from the point of view of editing and story as well.

Maybe I am missing something, but with a 65-minute playing time and relatively little substance, I Flunked, But... feels like a minor effort from Ozu, who would put a lot of the elements already present here to much better use in subsequent films. It is nonetheless an enjoyable offering.