director Yasujirō Ozu
viewed: 06/01/2014 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA
In Film Noir and its literary analogues, there is the “hard-boiled” tough-guy world. In Yasujirō Ozu’s uncharacteristic genre gangster film, we might have a slightly more “soft-boiled” criminal underground.
Shown as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Ozu’s 1933 Dragnet Girl is a stylish oddity in the oeuvre of Japan’s venerated cinema master. But this is the thing about early Ozu, particularly silent Ozu, his later post-war films for which he is so well known were yet to come. Ozu himself and the whole Japanese film industry was very different, a different man and a different world.
Interestingly, from the few films that I’ve seen of pre-War Japanese cinema, it seems that genre was alive and well. And in this case, it owed a lot to the popular American forms of the time. Dragnet Girl in particular owed a lot to the gangster movies of Hollywood.
But this is no mere knock-off of a film. There are aspect’s of Ozu’s later style that seem imminent, such as the low camera placement in scenes and the ultimate melodrama that drives the film.
It’s a story about a low level gangster and his moll, Joji Oka and Kinuyo Tanaka respectively. It is the moll who is the title character, after all. When a young wannabe tough guy tries to join his gang, the wannabe’s straight-laced sister tries to pull him back to the right side of the tracks. Her quiet goodness and beauty influence both gangster and moll, throwing their sense of what they want in the world awry.
Ultimately, I call it soft-boiled because it’s more melodrama than gangster pic. Which is not to discredit it at all. In fact, the cinematography, framing, and camera work make this film constantly interesting, a fascinating construct largely outside of genre. Though it’s also quite interesting on that genre front too.
Kinuyo Tanaka seems quite the interesting figure herself, compared by Eddie Muller to a Ida Lupino, she seems definitely worth investigating more.