Ozu Yasujirō in CineConcert

Three years ago, I undertook to convince you to watch Ozu Yasujirō’s movies because of five solid reasons: realism on the screen, the opportunity to hear/read spoken Japanese (dialects), excellent actors, the Japaneseness and the stylised, interactive way of filming. I was again impressed by all of these things characterizing director Ozu’s style after watching the silent movie “Gosses de Tokyo” (original title: 大人の見る絵本 生れてはみたけれど otona no miru ehon – umarete ha mita keredo “A picture book seen by adults – I was born, but …” 1932) at Film Fest Gent last week. This film festival showed a selection of Japanese movies as a tribute to the 150 years of friendship between Japan and Belgium (I wrote something about this here!). The screening was accompanied by beautiful live music, a new score written by Gwenaël Grisi and brought by a quintet.

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I had watched a bunch of Ozu’s movies in the past, but “Gosses de Tokyo” was my first silent Ozu movie. The story revolves around two young brothers in a middle-class family who have to deal with bullies at school and the harsh reality that their father is not “the best”. On the contrary, he works for the father of one of their own schoolmates, over whom they gain “power” once they teach their bullies a lesson. The boys rebel by skipping school, quarreling with their parents and going on a (failed) hunger strike. The coming-of-age perspective was also riddled with humor. This line had the audience bursting into laughter:

  • Dad: Did you enjoy going to school today?
  • Son: Yeah, going was fun and coming back was fun too, it  was only the part in between that was really boring.

Other comical elements were the boys’ behavior, in which we all resemble ourselves as a child, and the younger brother constantly mimicking the older one.

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Title screen of the movie (Sorry for the bad quality)

Because it was a silent movie, language use was limited and depended for a great deal on correctly interpreting the context. In some cases, it really helped having some insight in Japanese culture. For instance, there was a scene in which the boys, who had skipped school, asked the sake delivery boy to write the grade “A” (甲 kō) on a fabricated calligraphy homework. Unfortunately, the delivery boy drew the middle line so that it emerged on top, producing thus an entirely different character, 申 (saru, meaning among many other things, “monkey”). When one of the boys proudly presented this homework to his father, he wisely covered the upper part of his ‘grade’. Apart from such rare occasions, the visual story line spoke for itself and was nicely complemented by the music.

Fun Fact: I later discovered that Ozu reworked “I was born, but…” for his color and sound movie “Good Morning” (お早よう Ohayō), which I believe I have watched many years ago. I guess I should watch it again to be sure…

Thanks to Jana for the invitation!