DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
A HEN IN THE WIND (Kaze no naka no mendori) (director/writer: Yasujiro Ozu; screenwriters: Ryosuke Saito/story by Shiga Naoya; cinematographer: Yuuharu Atsuta; editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura; music: Senji Itô; cast: Shuji Sano (Shuichi Amamiya), Kinuyo Tanaka (Tokiko Amamiya), Chieko Murata (Akiko Ida), Chishu Ryu (Kazuichiro Satake), Takeshi Sakamoto (Hikozo Sakai), Eiko Takamatsu (Tsune), Chiyoko Ayatani (Fusako Onada), Reiko Mizukami (Orie Noma), Hohi Aoki (Shoichi); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; Shochiku; 1948-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

 
"A lesser Ozu film, if this one is indeed such an animal, is still a lot better than what most filmmakers create."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Yasujiro Ozu ("Late Spring"/"Late Autumn"/"Tokyo Story") directs this conventional and overwrought postwar melodrama and somehow manages to keep it on track, something a lesser or Hollywood director probably would not have been able to manage. It's cowritten by Ozu and Ryosuke Saito. It's one of the director's darker works and features a troubling uncharacteristic scene for him of domestic violence. The film concerns itself with the loss of the traditional family system during the postwar period and how to come to terms with the defeats of the recent past. This is a rarely seen Ozu film, one the director himself questioned and considered one of his lesser works. But a lesser Ozu film, if this one is indeed such an animal, is still a lot better than what most filmmakers create. The film resonated with the Japanese women of that period, who strongly identified with the struggling heroine, the 38-year-old Kinuyo Tanaka playing a 28-year-old. She's one of Japan's all-time great actresses.

Warning: spoilers throughout.

The 28-year-old dressmaker Tokiko (Kinuyo Tanaka) has not seen her soldier hubby Shuichi (Shuji Sano) for four years and anxiously awaits his return from the war, as she struggles to exist in a downtrodden postwar Japan and is forced to sell her last kimono because she's broke. Tokiko lives in a small, second-floor apartment with her toddler son, Hiroshi. After giving him a slice of cake he craved, he gets sick and becomes hospitalized. A guilt-stricken Tokiko, thinking the cake caused the illness, is without funds to pay the medical bills. She gets the money by working as a prostitute for one night in a brothel. Hiroshi soon recovers from his catarrh of the colon condition, and she takes him on a picnic with her best friend (Chieko Murata). The best friend bawls Tokiko out for not coming to her for the money, but is told that she's as bad off financially as she is and it would have been a futile gesture. The women recall the past, writing off the war years as a time of unspeakable turbulence but speak fondly of their childhood days in the 1930s when they had dreams of success. Tokiko had wanted a house and a Max Factor compact. 

A month after the brothel incident, Shuichi returns home. Tokiko feels compelled to tell hubby she had no choice but to prostitute herself for one night with one customer to save her child. But Shuichi does not take it well, and grills her as a homicide detective would a suspect. He refuses to understand the sacrifice she has made and treats her with contempt, and acts with self-pity as if he were the victim. This leads Shuichi to visit the same brothel, and he will find sympathy for the 21-year-old prostitute assigned to him named Fusako (Chiyoko Ayatani) who is forced to work there to support her elderly father. Shuichi even goes to his office boss (Chishu Ryu) to see if he can get Fusako a proper job. The boss questions him why he can be supportive of a stranger but not his wife, and further tells him "You've got to change your feelings with your will power ... forget it as soon as you can."

Back in the apartment, Shuichi pushes his wife away from him when she tries to comfort him and she accidentally falls downstairs. He can only manage to stand atop the stairs to ask how she is and not go down to see her. She manages to crawl back up the stairs by herself and begs him to take out his anger on her anyway he likes, even to hit her. Instead he forgives her and says it's time to forget about the past and move on. This leads to a tight embrace. It proves to be an excruciatingly painful scene to watch. It combines her masochism and long-suffering with his paralysis of will to carry out his good intentions, but the incident does point the way for them to overcome all the past wrongs and find a way to love more deeply. 

This melodrama symbolically aims to find out what Japan lost by losing the war. For Ozu, always the compassionate one, Japan lost its purity and the mother of the country is symbolized by Tokiko. Tokiko is forced to become a prostitute to save her son, the next generation, and her shame is tantamount to a loss of national purity. While Shuichi's unnatural violence to his wife symbolizes the loss of humanity during the war years and the lost noble purpose to justify the war. The film's message is to forget the loss of national and personal purity, or else live an unfulfilled life of self-hatred. When the couple embraces at the film's climax, Ozu seems to be saying in an understated way without any patriotic speeches that the Japanese must have the inner resolve to come together and to forget about the past mistakes and to face the future without the same purity but at least with a sense of realistic expectation. 

REVIEWED ON 6/28/2008        GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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