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A Straightforward Boy a film by Yasujiro Ozu with Tomio Aoki, Tatsuo Saitô and Takeshi Sakamoto. 1929, Japan, 22 min. A Japanese master’s early silent film influenced by American slapstick, about a young boy all too happy to be kidnapped.

One of the earliest surviving silent comedies by master filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, A Straightforward Boy is a rambunctious, adorable kidnapping caper now screening in a new restoration that restores to it eight long-lost and recently rediscovered minutes. The short features one of the all-time great child actors, Tomio Aoki, at age six and in his first starring role as the titular boy all too happy to be abducted – so long as his petty-crook captors (Tatsuo Saitô and Takeshi Sakamoto) are willing to endure his company. Aoki’s extraordinary career would go on to include over 300 films, from Ozu’s 1932 I Was Born, But… to Seijun Suzuki’s 2001 Pistol Opera.

 

Master filmmaker Ozu, best-known for his exquisite family dramas and unique approach to composition, structure and cinematic rhythm, was an audacious genre experimenter in his early years and, with A Straightforward Boy and 1930’s Walk Cheerfully, even tried his hand at Hollywood-style gangster comedies. Adapted from an O. Henry story and influenced by Harold Lloyd and other giants of silent slapstick, A Straightforward Boy is a sparkling example of Ozu’s fascination with American culture, as well as his ability to absorb diverse forms and techniques and make them unmistakably his own.

 

 

As with so much of Japan’s prewar cinema, the film has only survived in fragmentary form. However, Le Cinéma Club is very grateful to screen it in a new restoration, the result of a collaboration between the Kyoto Toy Film Museum, where a 9.5mm print with eight long-unseen minutes was discovered, and the University of Rochester’s Digital Scholarship Lab.

 

Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963), one of the great innovators and consummate stylists of world cinema, was a modest man (he once referred to himself as a “tofu maker”) whose films, including the masterworks Late Spring (1949), Tokyo Story (1953) and An Autumn Afternoon (1962), were unrecognized outside Japan in his own time. Now beloved by cinephiles and filmmakers the world over, he has exerted a profound influence on directors such as Hou Hsiao-hsien, Claire Denis, Aki Kaurismäki, Joanna Hogg, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Paul Schrader and Pedro Costa.

Credits for
A Straightforward Boy
cast
Tomio Aoki, Tatsuo Saitô & Takeshi Sakamoto
written by
O. Henry, Tadao Ikeda, Kogo Noda, Tadamoto Okubo, Yasujiro Ozu
cinematography by
Ko Nomura