Yasujiro OzuJapaneseTokihiko OkadaChishu Ryu
That Night's Wife
Also known as: Sono yo no tsuma
Medium: film
Year: 1930
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Writer: Kogo Noda, Oscar Schisgall
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Keywords: silent
Actor: Mitsuko Ichimura, Tokihiko Okada, Chishu Ryu, Tatsuo Saito, Emiko Yagumo, Togo Yamamoto
Format: 66 minutes
Url: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0021406/
Website category: Japanese old
Review date: 21 February 2019
It's a Japanese silent film. It's by Yasujiro Ozu, but the good news (for casual viewers) is that it doesn't have his later cinematic trademarks and indeed is pretty entertaining. It's fast-paced at only 66 minutes, a bit noir-ish and not at all weighed down by being a silent film.
It's also not bawdy, by the way, despite the title.
It starts with a robbery. Tokihiko Okada holds people at gunpoint, ties them up and gets chased by police. (There's something immortal about police chases in silent films, but this one's more reminiscent of German Expressionism than the Keystone Kops.) The police really make you feel the gap from now to the 1930s, incidentally, carrying swords and being happy to smoke like chimneys at their desks at work.
However we then see a girl in bed. "If she makes it through the night, she'll be out of danger," says a doctor. (Until then, I'd thought that was a boy.) She's a bit of a brat, demanding to see her father and refusing to listen when Mum says he's gone off to get money for medicine. However we'll see when Tokihiko Okada gets home that he's even more of a big softy than she is. He hadn't wanted to steal that money. "When Michiko recovers, I'll pay it back."
Unfortunately there's a policeman at the door. What happens in the rest of the film is pretty good.
Okada has a great face and eyes. He reminded me a bit of Johnny Depp and he was a big Japanese star in the silent era. (He died aged only 31.)
That lugubrious, leathery policeman is played by Chishu Ryu and he's cool too. (He kept working all the way into the 1990s, in what was a 65-year screen career.) You can see that he's tough and clever, but you never know quite what he's going to do.
The eponymous wife, Emiko Yagumo, is the flattest of the three leads, but in a way that's not really the actress's fault. She's got a face like a mask. She's a traditional Japanese wife, wearing a full kimono and suppressing her emotions even as all the male characters wear Western suits and wear their hearts on their sleeves. That said, though, there's a good case for arguing that she's the film's most important character, with some of its most important realisations, decisions and actions.
It's a pretty good film. It's not the best Japanese silent I've ever seen, but it's doing some cool stuff in that little apartment. It's based on a story by Oscar Schisgall, incidentally. Well worth a look.