Rare Ozu at the Portage tomorrow night | Bleader

Rare Ozu at the Portage tomorrow night


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From A Hen in the Wind (1948)
  • From A Hen in the Wind (1948)
Tomorrow night the Northwest Chicago Film Society will present Yasujiro Ozu's A Hen in the Wind (1948) at the Portage Theater at 7:30 PM. This is a major revival, as the film (which is unavailable on DVD in this country) presents a different side of the great Japanese director than American viewers are accustomed to seeing. In contrast to the sensitive family stories for which he's best known in the U.S. (Late Spring, Tokyo Story, Good Morning), Hen in the Wind is a stark tale of a family devastated by poverty and the aftermath of World War II. The film features one of the only sequences of onscreen violence in Ozu's career—a sequence that remains shocking today in its bluntness.

Writing about the film last year, Reader emeritus Jonathan Rosenbaum summarized the film thusly:

Tokiko (Kinuyo Tanaka)—a young wife and dressmaker with a sick child, in financial straits while her husband Shuichi (Shuji Sano) is away in the army—is forced into a night of prostitution by her son's hospital expenses, and the plot charts the couple's slow reconciliation after the husband returns and discovers what has happened . . . Ozu, accepting the viewpoints of both wife and husband in turn, maintains a certain balance between them by showing us nothing of either the husband at war or the wife as a prostitute. Both of these essential elements are left up to our imaginations and the imaginations of the characters: we 'see' the husband at war through his wife's sorrows at home, just as we 'see' the wife's prostitution only through the husband's visit to the bordello much later. Both unseen experiences are ultimately viewed as devastations that have to be accepted, digested, and ultimately worked through—although significantly, it is the single night of prostitution, not the much longer period of the husband at war, that the film addresses and focuses on.

As Rosenbaum notes, Hen in the Wind feels stylistically consistent with Ozu's other postwar features. The narrative elisions, shifts in perspective, and focus on everyday living are familiar from the director's contemporaneous work. What's different here is that the film's sense of defeat—which forms a powerful subtext in most of his films in this period—is right on the surface. Hen has a way of illuminating the despair of Ozu's other movies: I think, for instance, of the strained relationships between Chishu Ryu and his grown children in Tokyo Story, which hints at a history of abuse but never articulates it.


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