TOKYO CHORUS (Tokyo no kôrasu)


(director: Yasujiro Ozu; screenwriters: Kogo Noda/story by Kogo Noda & Komatsu Kitamura; cinematographer: Hideo Shigehara; editor: Hideo Shigehara; cast: Tokihiko Okada (Shinji Okajima), Emiko Yagumo (Tsuma Sugako, His wife), Hideo Sugawara (Sono Chounan, First Son), Hideko Takamine (Miyoko, First Daughter), Tatsuo Saito (Omura Sensei, Teacher), Chouko Iida (Mrs. Omura), Takeshi Sakamoto (Rou-Shain Yamada, Old employee), Reiko Tani (Shachou, Company President), Kenichi Miyajima (Hisho, Secretary), Isamu Yamaguchi (Hisho, Secretary, An Employee); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; Criterion Eclipse Series 10 Collection; 1931-silent-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

“This slice of life film represents a turning point in Ozu’s career, as it marks the beginning period of his more mature films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This silent family drama with Ernst Lubitsch and Harold Lloyd-like comical overtones was the film that proclaimed early on that Yasujiro Ozu (“A Story of Floating Weeds”/”An Inn at Tokyo”/”I Was Born, But…”) has arrived as a major director, after making his directorial debut in 1927. It’s a bittersweet comedy/drama that along with social conscience messages mixes in plenty of silly sight gags. It manages to be a light comedy and at the same time it tells a poignant story set during the Depression of a struggling family in Tokyo. The story is by Kogo Noda and Komatsu Kitamura, with the bachelor Ozu’s future longtime collaborator and lover Noda writing the screenplay.

It opens with a group of unruly middle-school students on a parade ground going through a physical exercise drill by their strict teacher Mr. Omura (Tatsuo Saito). The film skips several years and one of those independent minded clownish students, Shinji Okajima (Tokihiko Okada), is now a responsible married man with three small children, who is seen in his insurance company lining up with his colleagues to go into the president’s office to receive his annual bonus. Everyone amusingly tries to hide what they received while trying to spy on the other to see what they received. Okajima is a college grad struggling at his insurance office clerk job, and is eagerly anticipating his bonus will give him enough to buy a bicycle for his willful oldest son Chounan (Hideo Sugawara) and help make things better financially for his strapped family. But when an elderly colleague (Takeshi Sakamoto) gets fired unjustly because a few of his clients unexpectedly died just after he issued them policies, Okajima is the only one with the guts to argue with the boss over the firing and as a result gets fired. Soon Okajima’s daughter Miyoko (Hideko Takamine) takes ill and has to be hospitalized. In order to pay the bill, Okajima sells most of his sweet caring wife Sugako’s (Emiko Yagumo) kimonos. The middle child soon recovers, but a long time goes by and Okajima is depressed because he can’t get another job. In one marvelous scene, Okajima plays patty-cake with his kids and gets his teary-eyed wife to join in and wipe away her tears with a smile. By chance, Okajima runs into his former teacher in the street and gets recruited into promoting his restaurant by parading through the streets of Tokyo with advertising banners. Omura promises to help him get a more respectable job by contacting his friends in the Department of Ministry, if Okajima can meanwhile give him a hand working in the restaurant. Okajima’s wife thinks he’s degrading himself by taking such a low job, but he counters that “a drowning man will clutch at straws.” While Omura hosts a class reunion in the restaurant, where he charges his former students for the meal, Okajima receives a telegram of being hired to teach girls English in a middle school in the provinces. It ends with everyone at the gathering happily singing a sentimental school song.

The pleasing silent film has a crackerjack touch for comedy, while also telling a dark story about petty bosses and the hard times caused by the Depression. This slice of life film represents a turning point in Ozu’s career, as it marks the beginning period of his more mature films and shows that he can be viewed as a social realist who has something relevant to say about the human condition.