Friday, 15 January 2010

the lady and the beard (d. ozu; w. kitamura; ozu (gagman))

Cinema, more than any other art, is a hunter of the verisimilitude of life. Ozu's images may be grainy, but here is a Japanese martial arts competition, taking place in 1931, there or thereabouts, with an appreciative, masculine audience. However, the swordsman isn't any kind of obvious Zen master. He fools around, stopping to tie a shoelace, taking the piss, entertaining the crowd, before delivering the telling blow that wins the fight.

Aha, you say as you settle into your seat, so this is what it was like. However, verisimilitude is a curious beast. You don't capture the heart of things by just showing images. You have to find a way under the skin. And the film, in it's rambling way, does just that, taking the swordsman, removing his costume, his weapon, his dignity and finally, the ultimate sacrifice, his beard. The dashing hero is revealed as an oddball misfit, struggling to find a way through the complexities of a Japan where swords and platform shoes are being replaced by smart cars and even smarter suits.

Accompanied by a pianist, The Lady and Her Beard meanders through the story of Okajima's various potential love affairs, and a film which started as a macho action flick turns into a somewhat winsome comedy of manners. However, it also strips bare the local class system, and feels like a convincing portrayal of a hero trapped in a world which has no need of heroes anymore. Which helps to substantiate this visit to a lost world which is Japan at the turn of a decade, almost a century ago.

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