Intertitle of the Week: Big in Japan


I’m excited about watching Ozu’s DRAGNET GIRL because it’s an unusual subject for him, and because it’s influenced by josef Von Sternberg’s crime films of the ’20s. Since Sternberg’s THE DRAGNET is apparently a lost film, looking at Ozu’s response to it may be as close as one can get to recapturing the experience of seeing it.

This intertitle apparently translates as “Joji, why don’t you train again?”

30 Responses to “Intertitle of the Week: Big in Japan”

  1. Just thinking about Ozu when I clicked on. I Was Born But. . . is my personal favorite. I also love There Was a Father, Record of a Tenement Gentleman, Tokyo Story, Floating Weeds and his last, The Taste of Autumn Mackrel.

    Major gay filmmaker.

  2. Looking forward to your upcoming post on this. Everything I’ve just read has it sounding juicy as hell.

  3. Just heard Ann Savage died on Christmas Day. This is getting ridiculous. I am going to sleep every night praying for Tura Satana and LQ Jones and anybody else I remember to worry about.

  4. Oh my. And she’d just made the Comeback of All-Time for Guy Maddin in My Wiinepeg.

  5. Sternberg’s influence on Japanese cinema in the 20’s and 30’s perhaps surpasses that of any other major Western film-maker. And the influence actually works both ways. There’s a poster on Dave Kehr’s blog Junko Yasutani who mentioned that Sternberg in the mid-30s came to Japan and met Mizoguchi and they both checked out erotic prints and talked about art.

    When Sternberg came back in the 50’s to make ”Anatahan” he had lunch with both Mizoguchi and Ozu and the studio in which ”Anatahan” was shot was the same one in which Mizo later made ”The Life of Oharu”.

  6. I love Ozu too. My favourites are ”The Only Son”(a stunning devastating masterpiece), ”Passing Fancy”(his remake of Vidor’s ”The Champ”), ”A Hen in the Wind”, ”Tokyo Twilight”, ”Tokyo Story” and maybe his best film ”Late Spring”.

    I have heard about the possibility that Ozu was gay. Is it confirmed?

    Another example of Sternberg’s influence on Japanese cinema is a film I saw recently. Hiroshi Shimizu’s ”A Star Athlete”, it was made in the 30s and it’s set around a military school and there’s one scene where they are parading that everyone they pass by makes jokes at them. Then they pass a group of cute ladies and they start following the cadets. One of the soldiers looks back and his pal says something to the effect that “Looking for your Dietrich at the end of ”Morocco”, well you are no Gary Cooper.”

  7. I’m on a quest to obtain I Was Born But… but it keeps eluding me. As a fan of visual comedy I need to see it. The only Ozu comedy I’ve seen is the surviving fragment of A Straightforward Boy, which one could crassly describe as a cross between Home Alone and O Henry’s The Ransom of Red Chief. It’s very good!

    I’d identify the Sternberg connection as having something to do with JVS’s highly aestheticized portrayals of criminal or decadent behaviour — that’s such a huge part of Japanese culture, from manga (literally, “irresponsible pictures”) to pornography to much of the finest cinema.

    Devastated about Ann Savage. A screening of My Winnepeg in her honour looms.

  8. Along with ”Passing Fancy” and ”Tokyo Chorus”, ”I was born, but…” recently came out on Criterion’s Eclipse label. Rare quality films for cheap prices(by their standards that is). It can be got for less than $20. The box-set costs a little more of course. It is a visual comedy but it’s quite different from the Chaplin, Keaton or even Lloyd variety. It’s a real mixture of comedy and drama, the world as children see it, are children are told about it. And the strange thing is that it doesn’t feel silent. The acting is very natural and watching it you don’t feel the need for sound at all(so much so I refuse to see the film with music if I have a choice).

    I don’t know about aestheticizing decadent and criminal behaviour. I thought it was the eroticism that got them interested and the very mature approach to the characters in Sternberg’s films as well as the slower or more deliberate pace of his films. ”Morocco” apparently became for Japan what ”Sunrise” was to the Americans. i.e. it’s use of sound was considered revolutionary and a perfect marriage of aural and visual storytelling.

    Japanese cinema took it’s time to take to sound and Ozu took the longest not making a sound film until 1936! He held out longer than Chaplin. The results of course – ”The Only Son” is stunning, you get the sense that the director has only made sound films with that film, even if it is his first. One of the ten best films of the 30s.

  9. My favourite Ozu’s: “The Only Son”, “Early Summer”, “End of Summer”,
    “Autumn Afternoon”, “Tokyo Story” “Flavour of Green Tea over Rice”, “Good Morning”. “Good Morning” is a lovely comedy.

  10. I’m very fond of Shimizu’s Mr.Thank You and Ornamental Hairpin.

  11. “Confirmed”? What do you want? A blue semen-stained dress from the GAP, perchance?

    Every gay Japanese knows all about Ozu. he never made films abotu himself — only the family from whence he came. His famous camera position is his POV — just outside the door, sitting patently andwatching as life rolls by. There are references in several films to a boywho was thrown out of schol when the teachers discoevred love letters he’d written to a male classmate.

    That was Ozu.

    In the films said classmate is recalled wistfully by the others — now old family men who meet ritually to drink and bullshit over lengthy dinners.

  12. And it’s pretty damend obvious that he was madly in love with Chishu Ryu.

  13. What I meant was more in line of letters and other paraphernalia or reports from people who knew and worked with him and of course the story of that classmate which you just now relate. Which film is it from?

    Chishu Ryu kind of makes sense except he doesn’t come of as an erotic presence in Ozu’s films.

  14. Take a closer look at There Was a Father Arthur.

    The story of the student is in a couple of the late films — I forget which.

  15. I just came across this link where Donald Richie talks about Ozu. It’s really interesting I think. Scroll to the middle where the interviewer asks Richie(who met Ozu) what he was like…

  16. Richie is gay and has made gay erotic films in Japan (not pornos.) Setsuko Hara is a lesbian.

  17. Funnay about how Richie describes Ozu at parties.

    As for his drinking the fist shot of the remake of Floating Weeds (a truly lovely film) is of a couple of empty saki bottles propped up in the sand by the ocean. Their contenst have obviously been imbibed by the director.

  18. Are the films any good? Richie’s that is.

    Ozu’s drinking habit is legendary. Some say that if Ozu had met Peckinpah and Huston at a party, the two of them would have turned teetotalers after seeing a master in action.

    Setsuko Hara being lesbian makes sense too. Especially ”Late Spring” and even a non-Ozu film like Naruse’s ”Sound of the Mountain”. A very beautiful woman who’s radiant in her films. She’s still with us but refuses to do interviews. Just like Garbo and she’s way better than her.

  19. Dragnet Girl shows the drinking theme in full flow already — a beautiful shot of Joji Oka amidst a forest of cocktail glass — both boozy AND homoerotic.

    It’s a staggering film. Too bad the intertitle translation is gibberish. But I’ll write something about it soon: can’t wait to sample some of those compositions.

  20. I’m heartbroken to hear that Setsuko Hara is lesbian.

  21. Heartbroken… yet strangely aroused.

    Dragnet Girl also seems to suggest lesbian subtext galore: the women competing over the hero seem like they’d be much happier if he wasn’t there, and there’s a kiss between them that ozu shyly avoids showing, cutting to their feet on the ground instead: a strategy he elsewhere uses only during a fight scene.

  22. Saw one of them years ago an it wasn’t bad.

  23. ———-
    Heartbroken… yet strangely aroused.
    I suppose it adds to the mystery and beauty of the woman. Most of our lives are composed of fantasy to a greater or lesser extent anyway.

  24. Apropos Chishu Ryu, he is very good in Shimizu’s gentle and humorous “Ornamental Hairpin”. I watched it again recently. It has quite a Chekhovian feel to it, and the ending is wonderful. Very poignant.

  25. I wonder if it’s obtainable here?

  26. Arthur S. Says:

    It’ll be out on Criterion Eclipse as part of their box-set for February,(January is Rossellini month), called ”Travels with Hiroshi Shinizu”, four films which include ”Japanese Girls at the Harbor”(a silent) and along with ”Ornamental Hairpin”, ”Arigato-San”(Mr. Thankyou, I prefer the Japanese transliteration over the literal translation) and ”The Masseurs and a Woman”. Of these I’ve seen the latter two and ”A Star Athlete”. They are all stunning films of breathtaking vitality and beauty.

    If a film like ”The Masseurs and a Woman”(my favourite of the lot) became an international sensation in the late 30s, much of Post-War European cinema would look less original. The closest thing like it is Boris Barnet’s ”Outskirts” both in the use of sound and the vignette narrative. Like a series of connected short stories happening one after another. Shimizu would have made a terrific adaptation of ”Dubliners”.

    They all feature extensive location shooting of the Japanese countryside something that’s not often seen in most Japanese films seen internationally. And visually it’s very beautiful. Shimizu apparently made a lot of films on-hire and never had the cache of Ozu or Mizoguchi to go his own way but on the basis of the three I’ve seen, he’s very special and deserves to be re-evaluated.

  27. I love the idea of Shimizu’s Dubliners, great fun picturing what that might be like. His work sounds like a must, I shall look out for it.

    Now to write up Dragnet Girl!

  28. Matthew McKavitt Says:

    Why anyone would be heartbroken to hear that Setsuko Hara was a lesbian, apart from an ego-hungry heterosexual male point of view is beyond me. What would be heartbreaking were if she were closeted so tightly that she never enjoyed a mutually fulfilling gay relationship.

  29. It’s the same movie-star-loving instinct that caused women to be distressed when Valentino married. Someone already totally unavailable to us just because officially unavailable. The fantasy got a little knock.

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