That Night's Wife (Yasujiro Ozu, 1930, Japan)

That Night's Wife is an early silent effort from legendary Japanese auteur Yasujiro Ozu. Before adopting his well-known style of low-angle shots, ellipses, static camera, and other methods, Ozu was more of a director-for-hire, directing dozens of silent films into the early 30s. That Night's Wife is one such film. Very heavily inspired by the great German Expressionists but also D.W. Griffith, the film is a crime melodrama. A man and wife have a very sick daughter. She needs money for treatment, so the man commits a robbery to pay for it. The film opens with a very dynamic and exciting robbery sequence. Ozu uses single shots, such as a bloody hand, to convey the action.

The man, Shuji, returns home to his family. He confesses to his wife what he has done, but promises to turn himself in once his daughter is better. In the meantime, the investigator following him - played by Togo Yamamoto, who resembles a Japanese Charles Bronson - ends up at the apartment. The wife Mayumi holds him at gunpoint overnight until the doctor arrives. The latter half of the film takes place almost entirely in the apartment, reflecting the domestic settings of Ozu's later career. The family apartment is an interestingly realized space, full of bric-a-brac but especially present with Western movie posters.

While the film deals in stereotypes (the devoted and loving wife, the good-hearted cop, the desperate father), the performances are sensitive and particularly restrained compared to American films of the same period. Ozu was still honing his craft here and bears the influence of Western cinema. Still, it is proof that the great Japanese auteur could make very commercial, melodramatic cinema when he wanted to. That Night's Wife is worth a watch for Ozu fans or fans of silent cinema in general. 



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