04 mars 2007

I Graduated But... (1929/Ozu)

Daigaku wa deta keredo / I graduated, but... (1929/Ozu Yasujiro/Japan)

10th B&W silent film made (Shochiku Kamata studio), 3rd surviving film (incomplete). Only 12 minutes remain from this feature length film, completed by intertitles. But it's not too difficult to follow the plot. Original screenplay by Hiroshi Shimizu, friend of Ozu. Filmed and released in the summer before the NY stock market crash (October 1929). The economic crisis is perceptible, young graduates struggle to find a job.

Tetsuo, the protagonist, is proud and turns down a receptionist job offer because it is not good enough for his level of qualification. When his mother visits him and his young wife, afraid to lose face, he lies about having found a great job. The japanese social status is identified through the work position held. It is primordial never to lose face in society. This distance between the fantasized role expected by the parents, the significant other, the neighbors, the colleagues... and a more modest reality is the root of many dramatical situations in japanese films. Saving appearances in the present is prioritized over the planning of a comfortable future. Thus extravagant expenses are made to impress visitors even if the family cannot afford it. Likewise the poor couple in The Only Son (1936), will sacrifice savings to honor the visiting mother.

Nevertheless he's happy to take out his mother for Tokyo sightseeings, but she's worried taking a day off from his new job would be impolite. So he's forced to live up to the condition of his lie, to wake up early and not spend time with his family like he'd want to.

After his mother left, he confesses to his wife through a visual cue, an interesting interplay between the silent image and the written intertitle. We see the cover of a "Sunday" newspaper, and the carton says "For me, everyday is like this". A discreet allusion, an euphemism, helping to communicate a shameful truth without the obligation of spelling it all out.

A wall-sized poster of Harold Lloyd's movie Speedy (1928/Ted Wild) takes a prominent place in the interior scenes, sometimes filling the entire background of a medium shot. I haven't seen this film, so I don't know what comparison we could thread from this citation. Although it's fascinating to see a contemporary foreign movie exposed this way, which is frequent in early Ozu silent films. The release of Speedy is only a few months earlier than I graduated, but...
We couldn't imagine this type of honor in today's cinema, with movies citing each other or showing the poster of last year's movie (except for intentional parodies), let alone the copyrights infringement and studio competition issues!

Ultimately, Tetsuo takes down his personal pride and lowers his expectations in order to find the smallest job at all costs, when he finds out the temporary job his wife has found to support the household was of a bar hostess, in a bar he visited with one of his student friend. We find this socially degrading situation in Brothers and Sisters of the Today Family (1941), where the unmarried daugther of a rich family is lectured by her older sister(-in-law?) about family humiliation. She's opposed to her project to take a job as a shop clerk, in the case she would face the humiliation to be served by her own relative.
The job of a bar hostess, who lights the cigarettes of customers, is also highly connoted sexualy.

Tetsuo comes back to the first company to accept the receptionist job. The moral lesson is well stated: His boss, who had a smirk and complicite looks with a colleague to emphasize the pressure in the first scene. Since Tetsuo has matured since their last interview, he concedes to give him a decent position in the company. It was only a test of modesty and submission to channel his young ego.

1 commentaire:

HarryTuttle a dit…

Read also the background details about the film production in the ozuyasujiro.com review