Yasijuro Ozu is best known for his sensitive domestic dramas after Word Word II, but he was a master filmmaker long before that, in the last days of silent film. Now Criterion has released this collection of three beautifully shot and edited dramas that loosely fit into the film noir category. They were, of course, originally titled in Japanese and now the subtitles are in English, but most of the action and storytelling takes place without words of any kind.
These films are gorgeous in black and white, crisp and clear and thoroughly engrossing. From an historical point of view, they are fascinating in the way they show the mix of modern and traditional in Japan of that time. The men dress in European style, while the women usually still wear kimono. There is strong emotion between the male and female characters but little physical contact. It is extraordinary how Ozu managed to convey so much with just brilliant visual storytelling.
The first film is Walk Cheerfully, Ozu’s first homage to the American crime movie, and tells the story of a gangster who wants to go straight for his good girl. It moves quickly and holds both emotional depth and humor. It was released in 1930.
Next is That Night’s Wife, also from 1930. That is a somewhat confusing title but it is a marvelous story with a very good-looking leading man who looks like a Japanese James Dean more than 20 years before James Dean. He commits a daring robbery, but it turns out that he is no real gangster. The wife of the title is a traditional woman who must act entirely out of character to save her family.
The last film was shot in 1933. It is Dragnet Girl and concerns a love triangle between a gangster, the sweet sister of a younger hoodlum, and the gangster’s long-suffering moll, Kazuko. It is a stunning film from this master of the genre.
All three of these films are effortlessly cool, smooth flowing, and tell their stories with no excess and yet no sense of hurrying. They each run between an hour and an hour and fifteen minutes, and that is all they need to deliver stories that cross cultural boundaries and hold up exceptionally well after more than eight decades.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00SC8KU2U]