A good woman redeeming more people in Ozu’s “Dragnet Girl”

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“Hijôsen no onna” (1933), available in a set of Ozu silent “crime movies” as “Dragnet Girl” is similar to “Walk Cheerfully” in portraying redemption of a hoodlum/thief (mugging rather than picking pockets) by a woman. This time, instead of spurning his moll companion, Tokiko (Tanaka Kinuyo, who would later become the muse of Mizoguchi Kenji and directed some films herself), the boxer turned robber, Jyoji (Oka Jôji) agrees to surrender to the police at the behest of the moll, who has been transformed by the Victor record-store clerk), Kazuko (Mizukubo Sumiko) who has also moved her man. Hiroshi (Mitsui Kôji), Kazuko’s school-skipping brother is training to be a boxer (as Jyoji has), at the gym where Jyoji still hangs out, but wants to be a thug and presents himself to Jyoji as an admiring disciple, though, as Jyoji tells him, Jyoji does not have a gang and is a small-time hoodlum.

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Kazuko twice goes to Jyoji to beg him to release her high-school student brother, which Jyoji twice does. Tokiko is initially jealous of Kazuko, whose humbleness and virtuousness has impressed her man. When Tokiko goes to confront Kazuko, she is also impressed by Kazuko’s demure goodness. This inspires her to turn over a new leaf. To do so requires being punished (imprisoned) first, a path of which Jyoji is very dubious.

There is a ludicrous “one last job” (could that not already have been a cliché in 1933?), a holdup of her boss (who has wanted to make her his mistress) at gunpoint. Obviously, the robbed man knows her and can aim the police at where she lives with Jyoji. The ending in which Tokiko convinces Jyoji to surrender to the police is very, very protracted.

There are many scenes like those of Ozu sound pictures in which the camera is fixed and people and/or things move through the frame. And many of the frames have the camera about a meter above the floor (eye level for adults kneeling on the floor). There are two incongruous pans around a coffee pot (shots of objects with no people: “pillow shots”), and some tracking shots in addition to those of people walking through the frame.

I don’t recall any signs in Japanese. The office of the boss has “PRIVATE” on its door, the boxing gym has Roman letters for its name, the boxing posters (including one featuring Jack Dempsey) are in English, and there is a poster (in French) for “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Kazuko is the only character who wears Japanese garb (kimonos), and the visuals look American (like Sternberg’s “Underworld” more than like Warner Brother gangster movies). Tokiko appropriates a pistol, albeit one significantly less long-barreled than the one that Jyoji uses in their final robbery. In 1933 I doubt anyone would guess that Ozu would later be considered “the most Japanese” of Japanese film-makers. At the time, he was fascinated by American technology, by German and American movies.

And there are no parents in either of the two Ozu movies about redeeming criminals (willing to pay for their crimes with imprisonment). Kazuko is something of a mother surrogate for Hiroshi and foreshadows the dutiful daughters of later Ozu movies, but she is his sister, not his mother. The focus is on the two women. Ryû Chishû was on hand already, but only as an unnamed policeman.

I guess there is a dragnet in the last part. The Japanese title refers to the yarn with which Tokiko starts to knit socks for Jyoji. After the two of them surrender, the incomplete first sock is tossed up on a wire by one policeman, and the movie closes with a shot of the ball of yarn back in the apartment. I have no idea why Ozu focused on that barely-begun domestic production.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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