That Night’s Wife (1930)

Director: Yasujiro Ozu

Already 16 films into his career by this point, Ozu had yet to settle into being “Ozu”, as this film demonstrates; if Walk Cheerfully “acted” American, this one goes a step further by deriving from an honest-to-god/dess bit of American pulp fiction by one Oscar Shisgall… whose only film credit this seems to be as well (was he the same as Oscar Schisgall, who apparently had about 4000 short stories to his credit?); surprised this didn’t get discovered and turned into a B-programmer by Hollywood in the 40s or something, cos thar’s effectively what Ozu did with it. Indeed, one IMDB review characterises it as a European-style quota quickie, which might actually be nearer the mark. The story deals with a young husband, his wife, their deathly ill daughter, and daddy’s criminal attempt at getting money; however, in order to tell the story straight (because Ozu disliked using flashbacks, which the original tale’s structure would’ve required), a certain amount of fiddling had to be done that introduced certain narrative problems that the DVD booklet essay observes—most notably the fact that after stealing the money to buy medicine for the child, Shuji never actually then buys the stuff (not to mention the question of why the office he stole it from was still open at that time of night)—and I’m not sure how well it works as a result. While there is certainly some tension in the situation, particularly when a police detective comes knocking, I also felt the story was kind of stretched; even though it’s only just over an hour long, I still got the impression (especially in the last third or so) that Ozu was drawing it out longer than he perhaps should’ve done. The expressionistic stylings are obviously interesting, it certainly feels less “Hollywood” than Walk Cheerfully did and more European, perhaps, but I felt it was lacking something. It’s OK but I liked it rather less than some more recent critics do.

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