Although set in a distant era in a far-off country with an incomprehensible language, Nagaya Shinshiroku (a.k.a. Record of a Tenement Gentleman) is completely timeless in its appeal.
The cast, the producers and director of this Japanese film have long departed to the theatre in the sky but the images endure to delight new generations of moviegoers.
A Yasujiro Ozu Film
I watched Record of a Tenement Gentleman last night thanks to a free weekend offer from Hulu.
Renowned filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Tadao Ikeda
Made in 1946-1947, the black and white movie is framed in the hard days just after World War II.
Simple in its essence, the story is set in a small tenement with three residents, Tashiro (Chishu Ryu), Tamekichi (Reikichi Kawamura), and Otane (Chōko Iida), in the rundown, bombed out parts of Tokyo.
One night, the fortune-teller Tashiro brings home a young, flea-ridden boy Kōhei (Hōhi Aoki) he found separated from his carpenter father in the city.
His landlord Tamekichi refuses to allow young Kōhei to stay there and suggests Tashiro hand over the boy to Otane.
A grouchy childless widow, Otane lives by selling odds and ends. Although she too is reluctant to take in the boy, the wily Tamekichi tricks her into sheltering him.
Not one whit pleased, the old lady, who doesn’t like to be referred to as an old lady, tries futilely to get rid of the boy she sees as nothing but a burden.
There’s both comedy and callousness in Otane’s desperate attempts to get rid off her burden at the beach in Chigasaki.
What is the basis of our cruelty and indifference to others suffering?
Is it because humans are inherently callous or is it because many of us are in such straitened circumstances ourselves that we find it impossible to dole out compassion for others.
The desolate landscape of the Tokyo streets adds a sombre, eerie note to the film.
Although the rest of the movie turned out to be predictable, it still not diminish my enjoyment of the film because of the neat screenplay and acting.
The acting is superb all round and no one was more impressive than Chōko Iida. When the film was made, Chôko Iida was already 50, the right age for her character.
A formidable actress, Chôko Iida is a delight to watch in all three avatars. I won’t talk more about her three avatars lest I mar your enjoyment of this fine film.
One of the highlights of Record of a Tenement Gentleman is the simple folk song by Tashiro in the early part of the film.
Hōhi Aoki, who plays the young boy constantly fidgeting in response to the flea-bites, is adorable.
That the film is shot mostly inside a studio does not lessen the drama of the film.
But I found the photography technique puzzling.
For instance, during some scenes involving the young boy Kōhei or the scenes on the beach the camera shots were from a distance instead of the expected closeups.
I didn’t understand the logic even after I learned that Yasujiro Ozu had an idiosyncratic fondness for long-shots.
SearchIndia.com recommends Nagaya Shinshiroku (a.k.a. Record of a Tenement Gentleman) to all lovers of good cinema.