DRAGNET GIRL (Yasujiro Ozu, 1933)

From a row of hats on hooks on an office wall, one pops off as though a poltergeist were at play; this fedora is light, whereas the others are dark. Recalling Pudovkin’s The End of St. Petersburg (1927), an overhead shot of workers from this office depart for the day, their stark shadows competing with waning sunlight: sparse humanity competing with the temporarily ended office bustle, and reminding us of the odd-hat-out and the single vacated typewriter. The boss’s son gives Tokiko (a young Kinuyo Tanaka), the “missing” typist, a ruby; why does she accept this? Tokiko’s personality is split, between the seeming “good girl” typist by day and the slinky, vampish small-time gangster’s moll by night. Jyoji (Joji Oka, marvelous), this former boxer and, it will turn out, soft-hearted criminal, will help out an innocent, who could be a projection of what Tokiko used to be; Kazuko wants Jyoji to discourage her brother’s interest in being part of Jyoji’s gang. Kazuko’s brother, beneath his tough-punk façade also an innocent, could be a projection of what Jyoji used to be. Nostalgic, Jyoji haunts the local boxing club; divided, he stops (and stoops) to re-tie an errant shoelace even while fleeing the police. Jealous of Kazuko, Tokiko, herself, remains divided; while fleeing from the police along with her Jyoji, she shoots him in the foot and pleads for him to give himself up! We won’t get much prison-time for theft, she argues; “We’re still young!” Does she really have so little inkling of how old Jyoji feels?

Yasujiro Ozu’s silent Hijosen no onna fuses expressionism and histrionic redemption; those who miss the black comedy may deem the film overly sentimental. Even those who “get it” may be disappointed—at least (pardon) divided about Ozu’s achievement here.

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