Friday, July 12, 2019

Ozu’s A Straightforward Boy

In the history of cinema, probably no director had a finer touch when it came to working with child actors than Yasujiro Ozu. He became known for his mastery of domestic dramas, but he also made a few crime melodramas early in his career, because that was the work he could get. This silent short always sounded like a hybrid of the various types of Ozu films, but we didn’t know for sure because it was missing. Then a few years ago, sixteen minutes of the thirty-eight-minute film were re-discovered. Recently, another six minutes were uncovered. The resulting re-assembled and restored twenty-two-minute cut of Ozu’s A Straightforward Boy premieres today on Le Cinema Club.

Essentially, Straightforward Boy is a Japanese riff on O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief,” but in all honesty, Tetsubo does not seem like such a relentlessly punishing Helion. Nevertheless, he will prove to be too much for Bunkichi and his accomplice to handle. Basic math tells us there is still sixteen minutes missing from Straightforward Boy, but the latest restoration is quite cohesive in terms of narrative—especially by the standards of silent cinema, with no obvious gaps.

Still, it inevitably feels somewhat dated, particularly during the scenes in which Bunkichi tries to buy Tetsubo’s trust with toys and sweets. Frankly, his smarmy leering makes him look like a pedophile on the prowl to contemporary eyes, but that is not Ozu’s problem. It is a problem of our times.

Regardless, Tatsuo Saito definitely has a flamboyantly villainous, Snidely Whiplash kind of thing going on as Bunkichi. Tomio Aoki, who later starred in Ozu’s great classic silent feature I was Born, But… (in which Saito also appeared as his father), is suitably mischievous but not abrasively annoying as Tetsubo.

A Straightforward Boy is a perfectly nice little film, but the best way to see it is as part of a deep dive into Ozu’s collected filmography. In any event, it is great to have even more of it available, so hats off to Le Cinema Club for programming it. Recommended for all fans of Ozu and silent cinema, the freshly restored A Straightforward Boy streams 7/12-7/18.