The Lady and the Beard (1931)

Director: Yasujiro Ozu

I was more amused than I perhaps should’ve been by the featured Hollywood poster in this film (they’re a recurring thing in these early Ozus) being for The Rogue Song, one of the early colour musicals; the poster makes a song and dance (sorry) about it being all-talking and all-colour, two innovations Ozu himself famously resisted as long as he could (1936 and 1958 respectively)… In this notably silent black and white film, we find Ozu considering the clash of the old and the new, embodied in his protagonist Okajima, a new college graduate perhaps not entirely in tune with modernity; the beard of the title is the thick bush of black hair he sports in honour of “great men” of the past century like Lincoln, while the lady is Hiroko, whom he saves from being harassed by small-time crook Satoko (whose thugs he then frightens off with his kendo skills). Finding it hard to get by after studying, Okajima accepts Hiroko’s suggestion that maybe the beard should go, whereupon life changes, and not only does he have a nice job, he also has romantic interest from three women—Hiroko, the sister of a former classmate who had earlier snubbed him for being conservative, and Satoko. The little subplot that reintroduces the latter is, as the DVD essay observes, strange and I don’t understand what was actually going on in that scene, but it’s the only real mis-step in the film which is otherwise delightful; flung together in just eight days, it was a critical and commercial hit and Ozu was happier with it than other films he’d made that took months to prepare. As he recognised, too, much of the film’s success is down to Tokihiko Okada in the lead role, he gives the film so much of its charm as the somewhat insecure Okajima; tragically he’d be dead from TB just three years later. The funniest thing about the film, though, is its blithe reversal of the message of the last film we saw; even in the Depression, sometimes all you need for a job is a shave and a haircut…

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