With my free trial period of FilmStruck quickly coming to an end, I finally got around to watching An Inn in Tokyo, one of Yasujiro Ozu’s last silent features.
Like A Story of Floating Weeds—my favorite of the filmmaker’s works, far superior to his better known remake for Daiei—this 1935 drama is told with the economy and precision of a true virtuoso. The composition (which constantly emphasizes the seemingly boundless depth of the frame) and subtle camera movements (which became increasingly rare as Ozu transitioned into talkies) evoke profound emotion, mood, and atmosphere. And while the story of an unemployed former alcoholic struggling to support his two children sounds like the stuff of pure melodrama, the director and his screenwriters manage to find surprisingly creative ways to depict the protagonist’s plight without resorting to shallow manipulation. In the movie’s best scene, for example, the older son attempts to cheer up his crestfallen father by pouring him cups of imaginary sake; soon, the whole family is laughing as they pretend to gorge themselves on rice and tea, letting “invisible” bills of paper money drift away on the wind, momentarily unburdened and carefree.
It’s a breathtakingly beautiful and devastatingly heartbreaking image that reinforces Ozu’s total mastery of his craft, even before he’d developed his naturalistically circuitous style of dialogue. Hopefully, Criterion will give An Inn in Tokyo a full home video release someday; it deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
[Originally written October 5, 2017.]