TOKYO CHORUS (Yasujiro Ozu, 1931)

Yasujiro Ozu’s silent Tokyo no kôrasu begins hilariously. Like his classmates, student Shinji Okajima (Tokihiko Okada, endearing) seems incapable of keeping in line—literally, I mean, quasi-militarily, on the college grounds. Ozu’s film leaps forward “several years,” where rhe comedy deepens. At the insurance company for which he works, Shinji confronts his boss over the baseless termination of a fellow employee, Mr. Yamada, an older gentleman, one year shy of his pension. This confrontation includes a riotously funny exchange of pokes, jabs and fan taps. With lovely tact Shinji explains to Yamada the upshot of all this: “It turns out this is my last day of work also.”
     This is the Depression; Tokyo is the “City of the Unemployed.” Shinji and his wife, Tsuma Sugako (Emiko Yagumo, miraculously sensitive and restrained), have a baby girl and two very young children. (Hideko Takamine, age 7, plays the elder daughter.) Shinji desperately looks for work.
     Much of the film’s later part is conventional, even sentimental; Shinji ransacks drawers of Tsuma’s cherished kimonos in order to pay the hospital bill when one of their offspring falls ill. One stunning image remains: a street curb tracking shot surveying the backs of the seated jobless.
     Shinji’s former teacher, who runs a restaurant (“Our Portions Really Fill You Up”), solicits his help in advertising the place—tactfully: “If you’re out of work, how about helping me for a while?” At a dinner reuniting Shinji’s former class, the former teacher makes a toast: “May all of you continue to prosper through hard work and self-reliance.” But we’ve seen that hard work is insufficient and one must rely on others.
     Shinji’s new teaching job means that the family must move. Mrs. Okajima’s wistful remark grazes: “I’m sure we can return to Tokyo someday.”

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