Yasujiro Ozu's THE RECORD OF A TENEMENT GENTLEMAN is a poignant, seriocomic film about a homeless boy who's reluctantly taken in by a bitter widow, and how her life is changed for the better by the experience.
A group of tenement dwellers include a grouchy middle-aged woman named Tane (Choko Iida). One day, a neighbor named Tashiro (Chishu Ryu) brings home a young boy named Kokichi (Hohi Aoki) he's found on the streets, who claims his father lost him in Tokyo. Tashiro asks a man named Tamekichi
(Reikichi Kawamura) to let the boy stay with him, but he says he hates kids, so he asks Tane to look after the boy. She agrees to do so for one night, but constantly scolds and belittles him, and when she discovers he's a bedwetter, she yells at him and makes him clean the bedsheets.
Tane tries to get one of the neighors to take him in, but they all refuse, so she decides to take a trip with the boy to return him to his hometown. When they arrive, a woman tells Tane that the boy's mother is dead and his father is a carpenter who went to get work in Tokyo after their house was
destroyed. Tane angrily starts to return home with Kokichi and tells him his father deliberately deserted him. Then she tries to leave him at the beach, but he runs after her and follows her home.
After another night, Tane tries to talk a geisha-house mistress into taking the boy, but the woman says she can't and gives Kokichi some money. Tane tells him to buy a lottery ticket with it, but when he does so and loses, she yells at him and makes him cry. Then, after discovering some food
missing, she accuses him of stealing it. He starts to cry again, then runs away, but Tamekichi later admits it was he who took the food. Tane goes out to look for Kokichi but can't find him, then goes home and tells her friends that she misses him and regrets treating him so badly.
Tashiro eventually finds Kokichi and brings him back to Tane, who apologizes to him and promises to be nicer. They go to the zoo, then have a portrait taken together. She asks Kokichi if he wants to be her son, and he says yes. Then, his real father (Eitaro Ozawa) shows up, explaining how he got
separated from Kokichi while in Tokyo, and takes the boy away. Tane starts to cry and tells her friends that she's crying because she's happy Kokichi found his father and that she no longer wants to be a mean, angry person. She decides to adopt a child, and we see a group of homeless kids who are
gathered at a playground.
THE RECORD OF A TENEMENT GENTLEMAN was Ozu's first film after returning from the service during WWII and it was based on a script he had written years earlier. Though the story may sound like a maudlin Shirley Temple-ish tearjerker, it's completely free of any phony sentiment or false tears.
Thanks to Ozu's sympathetic direction, his deep understanding of human behavior, and the surprising amount of comedy, it's both moving and very funny. In contrast to most stories of this type, the boy is not meant to be ingratiating or lovable. He's chubby and not very cute, and he hardly ever
speaks, just grunts and rolls his shoulders. Yet by the end of the movie, we feel about him just as Tane does. When she eventually comes to love him, she instinctively starts to roll her shoulders too. Kokichi's bedwetting is also handled in a humorous way, yet it's discovered that the cause of it
is his mistreatment. These are the kind of simple human touches Ozu was renowned for, and which accumulate throughout the movie and create a profound effect. As usual, there are no dissolves or fades, and only one instance of camera movement, which is all the more powerful because of its limited
use: Tane's point-of-view as Kokichi chases her after being abandoned.
Despite the numerous humorous incidents, the film is also a sobering look at child abuse and poverty's effect on children. Kokichi spends most of his time collecting cigarette butts and nails to give to his father, and though he's never physically abused, the way he's neglected and yelled at all
the time is a powerful indictment of irresponsible adult behavior. The final scene is ambiguous as to whether it's meant to be happy or sad. Although Tane has turned over a new leaf and hopes to find a new child to take care of, the shots of the boys who are gathered at the playground are suffused
with sadness: instead of playing happily, they're smoking and wandering around aimlessly. It's as if Ozu was saying "Yes, Kokichi may have found his father, but look at all the wasted lives our society has created. Who will love them?"
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- Review: Yasujiro Ozu's THE RECORD OF A TENEMENT GENTLEMAN is a poignant, seriocomic film about a homeless boy who's reluctantly taken in by a bitter widow, and how her life is changed for the better by the experience. A group of tenement dwellers include a grouch… (more)