Shukujo wa nani o wasureta ka / What Did the Lady Forget? (1937/Ozu Yasujiro/Japan) ++
37th B&W film made (Shochiku studio), 19th surviving film. 2nd Talky fiction.
Opening Sequence : Camera onboard a car, looking into the reflection of the back of a chrome spherical headlight. The car is driving across the rich neighborhood of a Tokyo suburb (Kojimachi). An odd shot we see in The Lady and The Beard (1931) and Dragnet Girl (1933), or in Epstein's La Glace à trois faces (1927).
Wealthy wives are established as castrating dominators in the house, controlling their husbands' timetable and activities, sharing gossips on neighbors and concerned by fashion and beauty. In an hilarious scene, the older lady tells the others how she muffles her laughter to avoid aging lines around the eyes. This ravishing comedy departs from Ozu's usual filmography (student films, mafia films, family drama) with an upperclass setting and a world essentialy dominated by powerful women.
Komiya, the husband, is a respected doctor at the university, cheerful and relaxed. We meet him his eyes into a binocular, answering the phone without looking away, and comfirming abruptly to the caller his sterilty from what he sees. Whereas at home he's bland and submissive. He lies and hides away to pass the compulsary golf weekend imposed by his ruling wife, Tokio.
The arrival of their liberated niece from Osaka, Setsuko, will expose the contradictions of their sustained routine. Setsuko, 16 yold, came to Tokyo for its modern life, and feels sorry for what she finds in this backward household. She wears western clothes, drives, smokes, drinks sake, and goes to the Geisha house. The spoiled brat of a rich provincial family, but so cute and high-spirited. Unexpectedly, as open-minded as she may be, she lectures her uncle for his passive attitude, and begs him to take control of the house back like a real man, even suggesting to beat his wife!
"I drink upon occasion, sometimes upon no occasion." Don Quixote
Ozu films twice this citation written in big letters above the bar counter, in a slow Close Up shot revealing word after word. We also see this citation in the bar of the film The Munekata Sisters (1950).
There is a scene in a Kabuki theatre where we see the faces of the audience, but never the stage, only music and voices are heard off screen.
Again Ozu repeats the trick at the Geisha house, until he finally films the dance number of 2 geishas in a long uninterrupted take!
Many comical situations punctuate the little household until the secret is discovered. Notably another hilarious scene where Komiya is supposed to lecture the undisciplined niece, but was asking her a favor instead, as his wife enters and they fake the argument.
Finally, Komiya explains to the young girl that sometimes a man should take the "opposite approach" : to let the wife believe she's in control. And she automatically notices this gimmick in the behavior of her boyfriend because he seems to approve whatever she says too often. A great comedic treatment of a critique of the conversational phrases and the mundane etiquette, just like in Ohayo (1959).
The ending is beautiful! After telling her (admirative) friends she got slapped in the face, almost proud, Tokio is transformed, in love again, as if she had lost hope in the virility of her husband. Back home she's all sweet and treats her husband with a late coffee, even though he's afraid to be unable to sleep if he takes a cup. Precisely it's what she has in mind. And he understands her unspoken desire while she's away, with a smile on his face. In one ultimate stationary shot : the lights go down in the house, one by one. All excited he walks in circle, backlit in the bedroom. And his wife comes back with the coffee at the end of the corridor. Black. The End. Isn't it a more subtle and amusing allegory for marital sex than Hitchcock's train/tunnel or fireworks metaphors? ;)
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