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A Hen in the Wind

Posted by martinteller on July 14, 2012

Tokiko (Kinuyo Tanaka) is a 28-year-old mother, boarding in another family’s home while awaiting for her husband to be repatriated.  It’s been a long wait without much income, and when her young son becomes very ill, she resorts to desperate measures to raise the money for his hospitalization.

Stylistically, this is much like any other Ozu film.  The knee-level camera, the exterior/interior transitions, the contemporary domestic drama.  There’s a conversation with almost the exact same sequence of shots that would later appear in Early Summer.  But this is surprisingly dark for an Ozu movie, a cynical side more reminiscent of Mizoguchi or Naruse.  At first we have the usual buried emotions (Tokiko and her friend discuss the dire economic situation with strained smiles) but there is more raw emotion than you usually see, and even violent outbursts.  A scene late in the film is very unexpected and extremely shocking for a viewer more attuned to the director’s typical restraint.  Like many Ozu pictures, it ends on a note of tentative optimism, in this case quite a bit more tentative than usual.

There are some wonderful scenes peppered throughout, most of which I can’t reveal without spoiling the story.  There’s a terrific series of shots from Tokiko’s room to the house of her undoing (which occurs entirely offscreen), then the shots are repeated in reverse back to her room.  But thematically it feels a bit heavy-handed as an indictment of the postwar condition, and a bit confused as a feminist statement.  It’s something that probably would have been pulled off better by Mizoguchi or more likely Naruse (both of whom also used Tanaka, a very fine actress with an impressive track record).  But there’s a lot to appreciate here, in the performances, the flow of the script, and some individual moments including an amazing final shot.  Rating: Good (78)


One Response to “A Hen in the Wind”

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