“A Straight Forward Boy” (fragment) and “A Woman in Tokyo” + Last of the Samurai Photography Exhibit

First of all, if you’re ever in Chicago and want to see a film showing at the Music Box Theatre, you absolutely should. The mood of the theatre absolutely added in the most unexpected of ways to both the short and full film. I’ve been there previously to see “We Are X” a few years ago, but I haven’t been there since.

The theatre is gothic style sandwiched between new buildings and small boutique stores. It’s dark, but cozy with only two full theatres. Mine was the larger of the two, towards the back. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being alone (I went by myself) but surrounded by people in a theatre that has been open since the films were originally aired.

First off, was “A Straight Forward Boy” (1929), directed by Yasujiro Ozu was only 12 minutes. Unfortunately, the majority of the film noticeably the beginning and end as well as other parts of the middle are missing since it is a fragment. The fragment is actually in really good condition considering it’s age and probability of finding the whole film.

We got a straightforward 12 minutes clip of a young boy, being persuaded by a kid napper to come with him. Of course, bribed with toys and treats the kid follows and some slap-stick comedy ensues. It’s the type of comedy that translates well, from Japan to America even many years later. It’s not appropriate to describe it as cute, but that’s the word I’m picking.

It’s really cute and flows well. It’s a genuine treat that we were able to see. The fragment has been really well taken care of and edited from I believe 9mm (the casual style of filming from that time) to a larger version, I believe 35mm? Anyway, it showcased Ozu’s directing abilities, especially as a deep contrast between this fragment to the whole film of “A Woman in Tokyo”.

There were a LOT of films being shown that day.

Firstly, this is the description from the official event page on Facebook:

“Live Accompaniment from Music Box Organist Dennis Scott


Directed by Yasujiro Ozu • 1933

Japanese intertitles with English subtitles

Although the Japanese film industry had been producing sound movies since the dawn of the decade, Yasujiro Ozu continued to turn out silent features until 1936. Ozu’s silent output was not a dead end, but a site of fervent experimentation and refinement, as demonstrated by “Woman of Tokyo,” a masterful miniature that applies the lessons of Ernst Lubitsch’s narrative shorthand to a new milieu. (A scene from Lubitsch’s “If I Had a Million” segment is excerpted at length, and the screenplay is credited to one “Ernst Schwartz” — an Ozu pseudonym.) Two pairs of adult siblings attempt to eke out a living in Tokyo: a university student (Ureo Egawa) shares an apartment with the sister (Yoshiko Okada) who pays for his education while his girlfriend (Mizoguchi regular Kinuyo Tanaka) lives with her policeman brother (Shin’yô Nara). When Nara learns that Okada may be supplementing her typist income with disreputable side gigs, the cheerful cop ruins one life and another in turn. A staunchly feminist tragedy that envisions gender roles as pernicious traps for men and women alike, “Woman of Tokyo” plays like a melodrama refracted through a prism of avant-garde technique. Upon the belated American premiere in 1982, critic J. Hoberman cited “Woman of Tokyo” as the year’s best film. (KW)

47 min • Shôchiku Eiga • 35mm from Janus Films “.

I’m not sure how to approach reviewing this film, if I even should review it at all. The film is available online, but not legitimately. It’s a dark piece about life in Tokyo in that time, and to be honest is not for everyone.

Silent film is something I think fans of K or J Dramas, really can’t get into. I know it was hard for me at first. There’s dissonance between modern film which is bright, exciting, famous actors/actresses compared with silent film with constant cut scenes to dialogue cards, black and white, and dated acting for obvious reasons. What’s better in silent film then modern film at least for me is the ability to interpret mood and the music.


There was nothing more fantastic to me then life music. That’s why orchestra showings of film sell out so quickly. Having a life organist playing music, improvised for the film brings a new interpretation. Obviously, the music wasn’t exactly like it was aired in Japan but having something to stimulate your hearing while watching and reading lips on screen it was a whole new experience. I can’t recommend seeing it in theatre enough, if you ever have the chance.

The movie, sets up two different families as mentioned above. It’s pretty simple, but set up among the first ideas in Japanese film of ‘family drama’. There’s no outside forces acting on these two groups, just a rumor, accusation and the repercussions of those actions. While we see tons of people running about the film, none of them are named instead focusing on our four main characters. I wish more films would zero on the main cast, rather then have such large ones.

A lot of scenes are framed very interestingly. I always mention it seems in my reviews for film that I’m a big fan of framing. Framing for me, makes or breaks a scene. If the protagonist is framed just right, you can see an implied halo or something more nefarious. We see Chikako framed in one of the earlier scenes, framed between her household items, further in the back out of focus. Almost implying that at this moment, Chikako isn’t important and that the items are. This is repeated again with Ryuichi, and then Harue.

Additionally, with framing was the use of showing scenery both in the beginning and the end of the film. The beginning is setting up film, we see the smokestacks outside and some street views. The end follows a similar pattern, showing the street and a two men walking, adding a close up on a foreboding message, and then cutting back to the street trash and smoke stacks. This realistically, seems to be indicating to the circular nature of life, with the beginning and ending matching in cinematic sequences.

There are many implied images in the background, indicating what happened to Ryuichi. The emphasis is bold, and rather striking coupled with the last scene were Ryuichi is physically seen. I can’t get too far into the details too but is rather unique to the film. Sadly, a lot of people did not seem to understand the full implications of the film and laughed inappropriately at times. There’s always some dissonance between the intended audience and then abroad.

It’s a bitter-sweet piece of cinema. Seeing it in a theatre enhanced my experience personally, and I personally enjoyed watching. Again, not for everyone though.


As a bonus, on the same day I was also able to visit a photography exhibition. Entitled “Last of the Samurai” it was really striking. To remember the context of why a Japanese mission came abroad, the unfair treaties mostly, and the curious nature of Western’s when it came to Japan. Seeing the use of photography to capture to ‘ancient’ samurai which made America have an ass-backwards perspective of Japan, was an eye opener for me personally. There’s reading about it, and then seeing it in context with news paper articles and a presentation. 

It was pretty limited run in the Chicago Japanese Culture Center, so I hope you’re able to see it one day.

Any comments? Questions? Was someone there I missed meeting in person?

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