Ozu: The Student Comedies DVD
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Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Produced in 1929-32
Main Language - Silent with English subtitles
Mike Bartlett thoroughly enjoys Ozu's surviving student comedies: Days of Youth (1929), I Flunked, But... (1930), The Lady and the Beard (1931) and Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth? (1932).
'Life has become much more complicated.'
Watching this compilation of four features from Ozu's early career is rather like following the development of a young man, moving from the carefree days and boisterous antics of studenthood to the melancholy of the downtrodden businessman with his newfound responsibilities. It kicks off with Days of Youth (1929), a feather light comedy, heavily indebted to Harold Lloyd, with loads of sight gags and fratboy pranks, and ends with Where Now Are The Dreams of Youth? (1932), in which schoolboy humour gives way to a growing disillusionment that culminates in a genuinely shocking – and for Ozu – revelatory moment of violence.
The films, too, grow in confidence. Days of Youth is occasionally heavy-handed and the pacing of the comedy feels slack, while The Lady and the Beard (1931), is a broad farce with decidedly unnaturalistic performances, something of an odd-one-out in this collection and in Ozu's work in general. But by the time we get to Dreams of Youth, Ozu's mature style has manifested itself, and the narrative moves smoothly between slapstick comedy and genuine tragedy.
There's also the sense of a repertory group of actors coming together, as Ozu assembles his favourite performers for the first time. Kinuyo Tanaka appears as the fresh-faced young love interest, Chishu Ryu as a happy-go-lucky pal. This most family-oriented of directors is building a surrogate family of his own, who we will go on to follow as they and their characters age throughout Ozu's career. And these films also offer Ozu the opportunity to portray his extended 'family' offscreen, the scriptwriters and production designers, his friends and colleagues, whose breadline wages and ragbag lifestyles parallel those of the student protagonists.
I Flunked But... (1930), the fourth film in this group, is arguably the most straightforwardly enjoyable. Throughout his comedies, Ozu celebrates the slacker or chancer, someone who brazenly cheats at exams or sneaks out of class to enter a cheerleading contest. This joie de vivre reaches its apotheosis here, with a gang of five dancing into class, and their attempts to cheat the teachers taking up the first third of the narrative. This is a world where success cuts one off from one's friends and lazing around in the afternoon brings people closer together. 'Charming sinners' screams a poster in their communal bedroom.
It's also the film that most clearly demonstrates what's wonderful about Ozu. So much is communicated through so little, so that two feet standing on tiptoe, slowly lowering to the earth, convey the brutal disappointment of failure. In one meal scene, the rhythm which which the lads eat their rice articulates feelings which the strongest dialogue would struggle to get near. And Ozu shows that he is not afraid to use dead time, one long scene following the failed graduate as he skulks around at home eliciting an extraordinarily subtle performance from young Tatsuo Saito, that looks forward to the more complex work of Ozu's mature period.
Overall, this is an excellent package from the BFI, rounded out with contextualising essays by major critics – silent cinema curator, Bryony Dixon, and Asian cinema experts, Tony Rayns and Alexander Jacoby – a fragment of the now lost I Graduated But... (1929) and a useful 20-minute primer on Ozu, also from Rayns. One word of advice, though – avoid the newly-commissioned scores. Silence is golden.
Michael Bartlett on 31st January 2012
Author of 29 reviews
A collection that brings together all of Yasujiro Ozu's surviving silent student-genre comedies - Days of Youth, I Flunked, But..., The Lady and the Beard and Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth?
'Days of Youth' (1929), Ozu's earliest surviving feature, follows a love triangle between two college friends as they both try to win the affections of a girl they meet on a skiing holiday.
'I Flunked, But...' (1930) is roguish comedy reminiscent of Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman. In it a student with exams looming does anything he can to get out of doing revision.
In 'The Lady and the Beard' (1931) recently graduated traditionalist Kiichi Okajima finds that his impressive beard, worn in traditional style, makes it impossible to find a decent job or make a good impression, so he shaves it when he falls for a modern woman and, as he pursues her, attracts the attentions of two other women. A cheerful comedy that focuses on the tension between tradition and modernity, a theme Ozu revisited in some of his most profound postwar work.
In 'Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth?' (1932) Taichiro Saiki's friendships are threatened when he takes over his father's company and employs three of his former university buddies. As a new dynamic is added to Taichiro's relationship with the others, their friendships come under strain, eventually leading to a disturbing climax. Scripted by Ozu’s long-term collaborator Kogo Noda, this film subtly moves from light to dark and questions the durability of friendship.
Length: 357 mins
Aspect ratio: 4:3
Format: DVD B&W
Released: 20th February 2012
Cat No: BFIVD927
- 2 discs
- Surviving fragment of Ozu's 'I Graduated, But...' (1929).
- Newly commissioned scores for all films by Ed Hughes
- Ozu: Emotion and Poetry (2011, 20 mins) - Tony Rayns discusses Ozu's early work and influences
- 38 page illustrated booklet.