Also known as: Tokkan kozô (original Japanese title)
Release Date: November 24th, 1929
Directed by: Yasujirô Ozu
Written by: Tadao Ikeda, Chuji Nozu
Based on: The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry
Cast: Tatsuo Saitô, Tomio Aoki, Takeshi Sakamoto
Shochiku Kinema (Kamata), Asakusa Teikokukan, 14 Minutes (extant fragments), 38 Minutes (original length)
Yasujirô Ozu was one of the most prolific film directors in Japan for his time. He started by making comedy shorts in the silent era. He would later go on to make more technically savvy films once he started directing “talkies”. This is one of his earlier films, however.
A Straightforward Boy was once a 38 minute picture. A lot of it has gone missing or been damaged and the print that has been reconstructed and digitally archived is only 14 minutes. However, one can still get the gist and spirit of the story in the 14 minutes that survived to give us the cut of the film that exists now.
When I was researching this, I saw that one reviewer on IMDb referred to this as the Japanese Dennis the Menace. That’s really not a stretch, as the story follows a boy that is kidnapped and ends up being such a handful that the kidnappers return him, only to have the tables then turned again, as the kid continues to terrorize the main kidnapper’s lackey.
This isn’t an exceptional film but it is really cool seeing Japanese culture come to life in the pre-WWII era. If you like Japanese humor, you’ll probably be amused by this, especially the physical humor, as it couldn’t rely on sound. It’s not quite slapstick but it is very physical and entertaining.
Tomio Aoki, the boy who plays Tetsubo, the menace, did a really fine job. The comedic timing of Tatsuo Saitô and Takeshi Sakamoto enhanced Aoki’s performance as their reactions to him were great.
This is absolutely something that fans of Ozu’s work should check out. At least, I always enjoy checking out the early works of top filmmakers, especially when they are still experimenting with style and narrative; it helps you see how they evolved and sometimes gives their later work deeper meaning and substance. For the layman, this is probably not too exciting and there isn’t a lot to walk away with, other than it being a quick short about a funny prankster kid.