A most mysterious sequence: An up-angle camera tracks across a row of fedoras on hooks on a wall (one falls off by itself), then another lateral scan of bustling office workers that comes to rest on a deserted typewriter. It might be a Wellman flourish zipping by on its way to Resnais, but no, it’s Yasujiro Ozu laying the groundwork for his yakuza potboiler with enormous élan and savoir-faire. The Japanese underworld is a brisk racket suspended between the boxing gym and the nightclub -- the former is a shadowy arena with slogans in English ("The manly art of self-defense!") blown up Warhol-style on walls, the latter a smoky hall with beach décor, where tuxedoed hoods scuffle behind scrims while molls lounge beneath striped parasols. The hoodlum (Joji Oka) is a washed-up pugilist, his flame (Kinuyo Tanaka) saunters into the locker room in a satin gown and elbow-length gloves, the young fighter (Koji Mitsui) wants in on the gang. A solitary spot of kimono-clad traditionalism in a westernized milieu, the boy’s virtuous sister (Sumiko Mizukubo) runs into the gangster at a records store (classical music is "too decent," he insists) and promptly sees through the tough-guy façade. As the quartet moves toward its inevitable redemptive collision, the director flexes his various sides: Ozu the gagman includes a pair of skinny ruffians rhythmically skulking down the street (and then, when a policeman shows up, rhythmically running away), Ozu the try-anything novice gets a fisheye effect by reflecting the city off the shiny chrome of the getaway car, Ozu the contemplative imagesmith ponders close-ups of a dinner grown cold and a suitcase containing a criminal’s life. It builds to a robbery and an escape filmed like a fresh memory of the Lubitsch of Trouble in Paradise, and neon slowly giving way to illuminating sunlight. Kurosawa in Drunken Angel continues the tale in the jitterbugging postwar swamp. With Yumeko Aizome, Yoshio Takayama, Koji Kaga, and Ryu Chishu. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce