Days of Youth

Days of Youth ★★★½

Such a pleasant surprise. Less of a a comedy in the Chaplin/Keaton/Lloyd sense than I was expecting. This was Ozu's eighth film (and the earliest surviving I believe), and it's fascinating to see elements from his "mature" work appearing here already. Most notably, the pillow shots are here (though edited much more rapidly). And even in 1929, Ozu is focusing on technology -- smokestacks and streetcars. Ozu's characteristic gently melancholic tone is here too. I think that's what surprised me most. His sense of the ephemeral, of transience underlies the film in a way that makes it quite distinct from any contemporary American comedies I've seen, despite many obviously comedic moments. It was much easier to read this as an Ozu film than I had been expecting.

Watching the film in complete silence could have added to this effect. It was raining here, and I like to keep the living room window open. So, my only soundtrack was the gentle sound of the rain. The mood fit, I think. The most striking and characteristically Ozu moments for me were those in which the two students are sitting in their second floor apartment with their window open, looking out at the skyline. Ozu's shots of smokestacks and weathervanes flash by. But the overall effect is meditative in classic Ozu fashion.

The mood was already there in such a way that it becomes difficult for me to treat this as some kind of lesser antecedent to greater things to come. There is something quite special here. Having just watched TOKYO TWILIGHT, I was deeply struck by this particular sense of timelessness. That is, TWILIGHT seemed to conjure up this midnight place outside of time. If one considers the major theme of Ozu's work to be one of transition or transience, the inevitability of change, the flow of it -- then that place in TOKYO TWILIGHT appears quite unique by contrast to his other films. But I realized watching this that my idea of it was too simplistic. Ozu has always been about the tension between flux and human desire to keep things as they are. That is the whole fabric of LATE SPRING.

I felt I found a new dimension of that here. The characters in DAYS OF YOUTH are young, young enough that they seem unconcerned about the future. But gradually, as one watches, it becomes clear that the moments the film captures are a kind of lull. Exams are almost through, then vacation. At those times, the world seems far away. Time is long. The students' apartment becomes a place a little out of time. We get to be with them in a rare break, such as life occasionally gives us. As I had sitting with the sound of the rain. But of course, by the end, hijinks through, a more sober reality sets in. Exam scores are received: they've failed. Back to try again.

But their more childish contentions with one another also seem left behind. When Watanabe goes back for Yamamoto, the victim time and again of slipping on his skis, something changes. Watanabe takes his pack and helps him. We've moved from comedy into something else entirely. And that moment (with many others) can rest alongside Ozu's "mature" work with ease. I'm just as enthralled by the inn on the mountain, the incessant smoking, the town. It seems to me, we've been granted a moment of stillness in their restless lives. And if Watanabe is up to his old tricks at the end, with his room for rent sign, it's more as a token of a deepened friendship than it is another prank.

The film is an almost naturalistic slice of life that lights perfectly on a few quiet moments amongst some more boisterous and vulgar ones. The characters really do seem as perfectly real as any in movies. There is such an ease in Ichiro Yuji -- it's marvelous. I realize how impressed I am by this alone. It's worth watching even just to see such ease and subtlety in a silent film. And it's so definitely Ozu it's almost a shock.

Also fun are all the contemporary details: kimono with western hats, American college pennants, California canned artichokes, Tatsuo Saito who looks suspiciously like Harold Lloyd, and a poster for "7th Heaven."

When I watch Ozu, I get this longing. The images he makes, so tied to a remote time and place instantly and always feel universal and timeless. I don't know by what magic he accomplishes it. There are always moments in his films that make me imagine -- for just a moment -- we're perched on the cusp of the world, on the edge of time. We can just look. I'm with them, in that apartment, looking out over the city. It's a beautiful dream of a moment, a momentary stillness, outside the bustle of a life always slipping away.

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