Dragnet Girl (1933)

Director: Yasujiro Ozu

The spot-the-Hollywood-film-poster game is particularly amusing in this film: less overt than in these other early Ozus, but also particularly ironic because in this case it’s the French poster for All Quiet on the Western Front… ironic because, as the booklet essay observes, this Japanese film is otherwise full of English signage. Indeed, that’s been perhaps the most striking aspect of Ozu’s “gangster” films for me, this preponderance of English words in signs, graffiti, etc (hell, even one of the intertitles here actually uses the letters “OK”), and it’s made me wonder just how common this actually was in actual 1930s Japan… Cos the other point the booklet essay makes is that Ozu’s Yokohama in this film is, as they say, “a little unreal”; it looks “realistic” but there’s something kind of stylised about it. There’s a scene where the secondary love interest of the film’s gangster boss Joji says something about him putting on an act, and it’s a key moment, cos the film itself is kind of putting on an act… even more than the last two films, Dragnet Girl “plays” at being “American”, but—more impressively—goes further by arguably playing at being noir, which even the Americans hadn’t invented in 1933 (on top of that, is it also one of the first instances of the “one last job before going straight” trope?). Joji is a former boxer turned small-time hoodlum without any real evident passion for being one, while his girl Tokiko maintains a veneer of decency with a respectable office job during the day, but when Joji falls for the aforementioned other love interest, she realises she’d rather be the “good girl” instead of just playing one. Curious film; it feels somewhat disjointed, not fully hanging together, and narrative plausibility isn’t exactly rock solid. And while it’s pretty strong as an example of how refined silent film style was, it’s also so heavy on dialogue titles it’s one of a very small number of silent films that give me the impression they would’ve liked to be a talkie. Visually, though, an amazing achievement; genuinely amazing to see some of these things in an Ozu film. I’m not sure his own heart was fully in the crime genre, but it would’ve been interesting to see him essay it again later in life…

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