Walk Cheerfully (1930)

Director: Yasujiro Ozu

Did a gangster film ever have a less “gangster” title? Actually, although Walk Cheerfully finds the most “Japanese” of filmmakers at his most “Western” (so says Tony Rayns in his DVD piece), technically it actually predates the real rise of the gangster trend in the US; he might’ve been working in a popular genre, but it technically wasn’t popular just yet. That said, while Ozu may have been anticipating things a little, he still had some models to draw on, particularly Mr Sternberg’s Underworld (Rayns speculates that he might’ve also seen Docks of New York and Thunderbolt by the latter, though I’m kind of doubtful of the latter at least). But Ozu’s narrative concerns are markedly different; there’s the romantic triangle aspect, but here it’s two girls fighting over the one man rather than the other way round (and the relationship between the fairly small-time crook Kenji and his underling Senko adds a markedly bromantic edge I don’t recall from Sternberg). And the ending is markedly happier; Kenji winds up leaving the life of crime thanks to the love of a good woman, gets out of jail alive and gets the girl too (even if the DVD booklet essay thinks it’s a more uneasy ending than it appears on the surface). From the historical vantage point, of course, probably the film’s main attraction now is its sheer difference from his later films; Rayns cites the hilarious case of the person who loved Ozu because his films never resorted to violence, noting they’d clearly never seen this one at least. If the student films took their influence from American films, Walk Cheerfully wears that influence on its sleeve with even greater obviousness; indeed, it’s such a slick bit of work that if it weren’t for the fact that entire cast is quite frankly Japanese you could almost mistake it for an American production from the late silent era (which was, of course, all but over in the US itself when this came out in March 1930). What really got me, though, that Hiroshi Shimizu was the original intended director, and as limited as my acquaintance with him is, it feels even less like something Shimizu might’ve made than Ozu, even though Shimizu also actually came up with the damn thing…

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