Days of Youth

Days of Youth ★★★

I've seen quite a few Ozu films over the last week. His first film (actually his 8th, the previous ones didn't survive the war) is pretty interesting when you view it in the context of his later work. Yamamoto and Watanabe, for example, can be read as younger versions of the middle-aged men found in later films like EQUINOX FLOWER (1958) and LATE AUTUMN (1960). Ozu's postwar characters will often reminisce on life before or during the war, sometimes specifically about their time at middle school or the university. To this effect, DAYS OF YOUTH (1929) is almost quite literally the nostalgic fodder for these men, a scene painted with idyllic contemplation that ruminates on a time of innocence, a time of juvenile wankery, a time of bros before hoes, a time that reflects upon who these old men used to be. 

Young, dejected and curiously infantile, the two men of this 1929 story haven't yet experienced the war, nor do they have the conceptual feelers to discern the hollowness of Meiji-promises (or that period when Japan believed they could Westernize without suffering dislocation from their ancient traditions). That'll all come with postwar Ozu, where his mood would match the sadness and melancholy of the times. Here, Ozu provides us with a light-hearted memory from which his older characters (in later films) will be able to draw upon, reflecting, as they so often do, on the lost world of their childhood. Loss will be a big theme with late Ozu, but here loss only extends as far as youthful heartbreak. As opposed to Ozu's later work that strongly emphasizes the family, here the emphasis is on friendship, and how friendship is more important to its characters than any woman. 

The film, generally speaking, is an interesting experiment in western-styled silent comedy. No music, no voice-over, no nothing. Dead silence. A lot of Ozu's early pre-war films, in fact, behave as tributes to the old Hollywood silent aesthetic, in ways that often reference American films and even borrow the stylistic texture of their tropes. Fascinating to see Ozu display his skills at Western filmmaking, especially knowing that he'd later reject this style entirely in favor of a more experimental minimalism. Also fascinating to think about the influence that the West had on Ozu's early films, and its link to the Westernization of Japanese life that would consume his postwar work. 

DAYS OF YOUTH is a fascinating cultural document that almost shouldn't be watched in isolation. It really only gains its whimsical bearing in juxtaposition with where Ozu was headed, and to that effect I recommend watching the college comedies only after you've waded through some of his heavier, weightier, postwar work.


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