Mikio NaruseJapanese
Flunky, Work Hard!
Also known as: Koshiben ganbare!
Medium: film
Year: 1931
Writer/director: Mikio Naruse
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Shizue Akiyama, Seiichi Kato, Tomoko Naniwa, Tokio Seki, Hideo Sugawara, Isamu Yamaguchi
Format: 28 minutes
Url: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022036/
Website category: Japanese old
Review date: 28 May 2022
It's Mikio Naruse's earliest surviving film, although it looked to me as if the copy I saw was missing some material at the beginning. (Maybe that was just my copy?) It's sort of vaguely comedy-ish. It starts out almost like a Japanese version of Laurel and Hardy, except with a more serious, grounded tone. There's a solid-looking bloke (by Japanese standards) called Okabe and a silly little bloke called Nakamura who are competing insurance salesmen. They play leap-frog with the local children, leading to the odd genuinely amusing moment.
Even the film's premise reminded me of Laurel and Hardy. Ordinary working-class blokes in a silent film are short of money and looking for work. (That's Laurel and Hardy's default state.) Okabe has a hole in his shoe, which the children laugh at.
The difference here, though, is that the tone's realistic. Okabe has a wife who's unhappy about the financial situation, a son who gets into fights with other children and a baby he's carrying on his back in the film's opening scene. When Okabe finds that his son's been fighting, he flip-flops between defending his son (because it really had been the other boys' fault) and doing the correct thing as a father who doesn't want to let his son get away with behaviour like that. It's understandable... but hurm. He's also overreacting a bit after a bad day.
Then there's the child who gets hit by a train. Offscreen, but even so.
It's very good. Mind you, Naruse's my favourite of those old-timer arthouse Japanese directors. (I'm excluding Akira Kurosawa, who's so famous that he feels like a category all his own.) I'm sure no one would have called Naruse "arthouse" at the time, mind you. He's entertaining, sparky and holds my attention in a way I don't get from, say, Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi. He's known for his socially aware "common people" dramas with lots of female protagonists, but this is slightly different in that the focus is more on children than women. It works well. It's engaging and watchable, with very few intertitles to remind you that you're watching a silent film. (You could almost forget otherwise.)
Recommended.