1. I love the phantom image beneath the opening titles. It's as though the film knew that one day it would exist only in a severely damaged state, so it sent a postcard to the future. As the pristine negative to its current condition, so then too Tôkyô no chorus to Le Chorus de Tokio. ("Le" presumably — the barest smidge of an "E" protrudes into frame-left.)
2. A temporal leap from schooldays to the time when the workforce beckons for protagonist Shinji Okajima (Tokihiko Okada) gets conveyed by a cut from a shot of trees swaying in the wind behind a climbing post (used for the academy's phys-ed classes) to a table in the family home: books, a child's doll, a small clock. At once a practical lesson in cinema, and a reminder that one should not attempt to imitate Yasujirô Ozu.
3. Another postcard: "Ozu-sensei — your films with their pillow-shots, they'll be watched forever." Fernando Pessoa as Ricardo Reis wrote five years before Ozu's film (English translation by Richard Zenith) — "Fruits are given by trees that live, / Not by the wishful mind, which adorns / Itself with ashen flowers / From the abyss within."
4. Every smile by the actor Tokihiko Okada is the suppression of a sneer. Three years later he died of tuberculosis. In 1933 he fathered Mariko Okada. Ozu would cast her in two of his ultimate masterpieces: Akibiyori [Clear Autumn Days, aka Late Autumn, 1960], and his final film Sanma no aji [The Taste of Mackerel Pike / The Flavor of the Autumn Knife Fish, aka An Autumn Afternoon, 1962].
4. Hideo Sugawara is the son. From this period out Ozu will inflect the many moves of the Brat. (He no longer requires kidnapping.)
5. The daughter, Miyoko, is played by child-actress Hideko Takamine who turned 86 in March. Her mature roles include characters in such Mikio Naruse masterworks as Ukigumo [Floating Clouds, 1955], Nagareru [Flowing, 1956], and Onna ga kaidan (w)o agaru toki [When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, 1960].
6. The wife Sugako is Emiko Yaguma, the destructive thespian in Ozu's great Ukigusa monogatari [A Tale of Floating Weeds, 1934]. When her husband prepares her for the small size of the bonus he expects to bring home later in the day, she cheerfully and charitably responds: "Even a month's pay would be 120 yen."
7. "Is it a good bonus this year?" "Hoover's policies haven't helped us yet."
8. Other directors make whole films about material that Ozu relegates to a single infinitely rich shot.
9. A gag about fans being as at-the-ready as six-shooters in westerns. Dramatic direct confrontations abound in early Ozu.
10. The era when Drosophila always entered shots. Ozu uses an instance of a fly pestering the boss's assistant while he tries to reattach a damaged shoe-heel as an opportunity for (a) documentary (b) comedy, before (c) resolving the element, or trope, artistically when the son brushes the same kind of bug off his baby sibling's leg in the hospital room of Miyoko. (Also see: the child-gets-sick plot-mechanism of the 19th and 20th centuries. But note: it's the rare film that can vouch for the cause of the child's illness as "spoiled arrowroot cake.")
11. The children demand things; the parents eventually cave and buy them — at a price. What in Ozu is ever solely comedic material? dramatic material? Criterion released this film as part of an Eclipse box set of silent Ozus subtitled "Three Family Comedies", but Ozu offers countless invitations to laugh which a viewer will not accept.
12. Ozu is a genius of what Nabokov referred to as the specific detail — for example, a street waif in Dickens who tosses a coin into the air then catches it "overhand". Shinji spanks his son's backside viciously — while pausing twice to wipe from his face the sweat of the exertion. To paraphrase VN: With Ozu we expand.
13. And the characters know precisely whose movie they're in. "A bear getting out isn't going to change our lives."
14. That is: they're in a Comedy by Ozu. Young Miyoko is possibly fever-dying, and the baby-sibling splashes her sickbed with piss.
15. At the end, this affecting portrait of family and extended-family comes full-circle, and concludes on a choral note of reaffirmation of the bond that exists between humans with a history. Why then does lasting happiness feel anything but certain for the Okajimas at "The End"?
— If you're interested in seeing this Silent Film, I'd recommend investigating the Criterion/Eclipse set. I'd also suggest watching it either silent, or perhaps accompanied by Alice Coltrane's Huntington Ashram Monastery. Pass on the optional piano score.
—Fernando Pessoa, "Um piano na minha rua...", 1917.
Ignat Vishnevetsky's "Letter to Abel Ferrara on His 59th Birthday" here.