A HEN IN THE WIND (Yasujiro Ozu, 1948)

Postwar human devastation and national tragedy: Yasujiro Ozu’s Kaze no naka no mendori mines a vein that looks back to his silent Woman of Tokyo (1933) and ahead to his Tokyo Twilight (1957). An upstairs boarder in Tokyo’s bleak, industrial, working-class outskirts, Tokiko Amamiya (Kinuyo Tanaka, Kenji Mizoguchi’s future star, wonderful) struggles to survive and support her toddler by making kimonos. When Hiroshi falls ill, Tokiko resorts once to prostitution to pay for his medical treatment. When he belatedly returns home from war, Shuichi, her husband, reacts to her “choice” with coldness, accusation and violence. When he rapes her, their son’s ball—echoing Fritz Lang’s M (1931)—drops to the floor.
     Hiroshi’s recovery, especially as recorded in a peaceful passage in the grass, constitutes a brief respite before the storm of Shuichi’s reappearance. But, even here, Tokiko and a friend acknowledge the discrepancy between their younger dreams and current realities. Tokiko, exhausted, lies on the ground, and Ozu cuts to an ambiguous shot of the calm, cumulus-clouded sky.
     At a “Time Life” workplace—a sign of the U.S. occupation—a friend comments on the inflation that is ravaging Japan and lends Shuichi money. Thus Shuichi sells off a bit of his dignity. We are reminded of his wife’s earlier remark that she would “sell anything” to take care of Hiroshi.
     In a stunning shot, Tokiko falls downstairs after Shuichi pushes her away—it turns out, in self-disgust. Tokiko crawls back up and begs forgiveness. Shuichi understands that she had no choice and says so. They will put this past “behind them.” They tightly embrace. Ozu’s closing shots, however, imply a circularity and enclosure as much as a moving ahead. We realize that Shuichi’s sense of shame is inextricably bound to Japan’s defeat in the war.

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