One of the cinema's supreme humanists and ironists, Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu started his lengthy filmmaking career in 1927. After a remarkably prolific jack-of-all-trades apprenticeship, he eased into directing a series of silent shomin-geki--dramas of humor and pathos in lower-middle-class life--a specialty of his studio and a popular genre in depression-devastated Japan. With each film in the series--from Days of Youth (1929) to What Did the Lady Forget? (1937)--Ozu experimented with narrative, camera angles, and editing; along the way he recruited a core of creative personnel who became frequent collaborators. Twelve of those silent features, some of which were recently discovered in studio and museum archives, form a touring retrospective (now at Facets) that sheds light on Ozu's formative years (his best period, according to critics like Noel Burch). The 1931 Tokyo Chorus is considered pivotal in the evolution of his aesthetics. Its bare-bones plot--concocted by Ozu's longtime partner Kogo Noda--concerns the bittersweet tribulations of a young white-collar family coping with unemployment. Ostensibly a comedy, the film hinges on a succession of gags interspersed with moments of disillusionment and thwarted expectations. Its theme of parent-child conflict, the institutional settings of office and school, the low-angle frontal shots, and the cutaways to enigmatic still lifes mark Tokyo Chorus as a blueprint for the masterpieces to come. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Saturday, August 27, 8:30, 281-4114.