A strong woman and her weak husband in silent Ozu crime drama


I don’t understand the title of Ozu Yasujirô’s 1930 (silent) “Sono yo no tsuma” (“That Night’s Wife” both in that the wife (Yagumo Emiko) is less central a character than her husband (Okada Tokihiko) who is committed armed robbery at the start of the movie and that she is not a wife for just one (that) night. Supportive she is, especially when her husband decides to turn himself into the police once their daughter, Michiko, is past the critical point in her illness. The whole (65-minute) movie does take place over the course of one long night.

In that a doctor (Saitô Tatsuo) is attending to the child when first we see mother and child, it doesn’t seem that the couple is unable to get medical help.


The three silent “crime dramas” Criterion has presented all involve criminals turning themselves in to the police. The one here (Shuji) is not a hardened or career criminal (like the hoodlum male leads in the other two), and his surrender (after having escaped with the connivance of the detective) is more plausible than the criminal protagonists the other two (Walk Cheerfully, Dragnet Girl), not least in that his crime was committed for his sick child rather than for personal gain. (After the initial crime and chase, it is pretty much a family film with a single set.)

The expressionist camerawork was the work of Shigehara Hideo, who lensed many Ozu films of the 1930s, including “I Was Born But…”, “Dragnet Girl,” and “A Story of Floating Weeds.” Though there is little camera movement when Okada is on the move, there are pans around the apartment, sort of moving “pillow shots.” And the camera is not invariably set up at one meter from the floor (or street).

The décor includes some Hollywood film posters, including “Gentlemen of the Press.” Walter Huston’s name at the bottom of the poster for that 1929 movie is especially prominent in the background of many shots. All three of these crime dramas seem heavily indebted to the mise-en-scène of Josef von Sternberg’s (1927) “Underworld.” Much influenced by German and American cinema of the 1920s, Ozu was not yet “the most Japanese of Japanese filmmakers.”


Okada Tokihiko had 51 screen acting credits before he died at the age of 30. One of the last, Ozu’s “Tokyo Chorus,”  reteamed him with Yagumo Emiko.


©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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