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July 12, 2011

Dragnet Girl

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Hijosen no onna
Yasujiro Ozu - 1933
Panorama Entertainment Region 3 DVD

One of the more striking moments in Dragnet Girl is of interest both for what is seen, as well as what is not seen. Tokiko, the girlfriend of small time gangster Joji, confronts the woman she perceives of as being a romantic rival, Kazuko. In a previous shot, the camera follows the lower legs and feet of the two women. Tokiko is in western style clothing, a stylish dress and leather shoes, with the lowerpart of her legs exposed. Kazuko is in a traditional kimono that covers her entire legs, wearing thick sandals. Tokiko is about to threaten Kazuko while the two are out on the Yokohama street. Instead we see Tokiko walking up to Kazuko, followed by a shot of the two women's lower legs against each other. Ozu cuts to a shot of Kazuko touching her cheek. We never see if Tokiko has kissed Kazuko although it is suggested by something Tokiko says later that suggests a definite attraction to the other woman.

While there are visual and narrative elements to Dragnet Girl that link the film to those more characteristic of what is known as an Ozu film, there is also plenty to make this different. Unlike the middle class families in the films with the interchangeable seasonal titles, where Setsuko Hara sacrifices her happiness so that Chishu Ryu is guaranteed a good nights sleep, this is a film about gangsters, loafers and other lowlifes. Joji, a former boxer, makes some money doing some unseen criminal activities, and lives with Tokiko, an office girl, coveted by the boss's son. A young boxer, Hiroshi, decides to follow Joji in a life of crime, concerning older sister Kazuko, a record store clerk. Aside from being Ozu's only film with a girl and a gun, people dance to jazz in a night club, waste their days playing pool, drink copious amount of alcohol, and get laid, in other words, the kind of stuff that doesn't happen in a film like Tokyo Story.

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There are also several (gasp) traveling shots, as the camera follows a row of typewriters in an office, tracks through the nightclub from the nightclub musicians to the dancing couples, or follows the lower legs and feet of people walking, or running, in the street. One very unusual shot is of the reflection of the rounded back of an exterior car light while the car is moving, so what is seen is a distorted view of Yokohama. There are also the kinds of shots that are more commonly associated with Ozu, such as the montage of the row of men's hats on a series of pegs, the wall clock, and other office artifacts. While perhaps not as pronounced as in some of his later films that Paul Schrader would characterize as looking at the world from a tatami mat, the characters are often filmed with the camera facing upwards.

What Dragnet Girl also shares with later, more well-known Ozu films is the emphasis on the female character. Tokiko is hardly demure, in fact the boss's son says he admires her for her frankness. The film might possibly be read as a critique of some aspects of the westernization of Japan. Certainly one might see this as the case of the stylish bad girl versus the more traditional good girl, who both in dress and actions would be considered more Japanese. Yet, Kazuko works at a record store filled with the RCA Victor logo of the dog listening to the gramophone. Joji is in a booth listening to what is presumably western classical music. It's the kind of moment of confusing cultural refinement with moral high ground that would later be upended by Robert Aldrich in Kiss Me Deadly.

In fact lots of western signs are visible. The boxing club name is in English. On the wall is a poster for The Champ. A small poster featuring Jack Dempsey is visible, as well as a French poster for All Quiet on the Western Front. The very Japanese Kazuko almost seems like the foreigner in the otherwise almost thoroughly western milieu of suits, evening dresses, coffee and cigarettes. It should be noted that this is a silent movie, and that the DVD version here is silent, the Dolby tag at preceding the film notwithstanding. Not even a music track, much less the sound effects or narrator that may have accompanied the film back in 1933. I mention this as it means that what we can see is not quite the film that Ozu had made, presented as originally intended. At the very least, Dragnet Girl is an eye opener for those who think of Ozu films as domestic dramas of people who are overly polite each other, with nary a moment of spontaneity. Here's an Ozu film with demonstrative expressions of love, where Joji tells Tokiko to "leap at me", and leap she does.

Posted by peter at July 12, 2011 08:54 AM

Comments

This is a great write up. I have not seen this film, only read about it. As much as I love all of Ozu's work, his silents were the most suprising once I got to see them. I hope they release more over here like they've done in the UK. I believe the more these become available, the more Ozu's rep will evolve. Thanks again.
p

Posted by: preston at July 12, 2011 05:21 PM