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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Japanese master Yasujirô Ozu got his start with... campus comedies?

Illustration for article titled Japanese master Yasujirô Ozu got his start with... campus comedies?

One week a month, Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: School’s out for summer. Celebrate the end of a semester (or just the release of Neighbors 2) with these unconventional campus comedies.


Where Now Are The Dreams Of Youth? (1932)

To what extent did the movies of Yasujirô Ozu constitute an alternate fantasy life? The Japanese master produced some of the 20th century’s most indelible portraits of aging, parenthood, and middle-class family life, but he never married or had children or even managed to get all that old, having spent almost his entire adult life as a film director, dying of cancer on his 60th birthday. At the beginning of his career—the days of silent film, which lasted into the mid-1930s in Japan—Ozu made movies about college, though he himself never got into one. He just sort of flunked his way into a low-level studio job through family connections, and worked his way up from there.

Where Now Are The Dreams Of Youth? was made at a time when Ozu’s two fallback genres were student comedies and remakes of Hollywood movies—two different kinds of alternate lives, in other words. So when filming had to be abruptly stopped on a different project, Ozu had his frequent writing partner, Kôgo Noda, draft a remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s The Student Prince, itself an adaptation of a popular German play called Old Heidelberg. Their version owes more to Ozu’s infatuation with Harold Lloyd comedies than to the cosmopolitan Lubitsch, and because it was written and made very quickly, with Ozu frequently re-hashing things he’d done before, it serves as an unintentional greatest-hits summary of the early phase of his career.

With a few tweaks, the plot could just as easily be updated to our present: Horino (Uero Egawa), part of a tightly knit group of slacker undergrads who cheat on exams and hang out at the Blue Hawaii Bakery, unexpectedly inherits his family’s business empire, and has to leave school to run the company. (In The Student Prince, the hero inherits the throne of Saxony.) In a way, that makes When Now into an aged-up post-high-school coming-of-age movie, with Horino still trying to hold on to his friendships and continuing to nurse a crush on a bakery cashier, despite the attention of early-’30s floozies and the fact that he’s now a wealthy businessman with a chauffeured car. Ozu keeps the comedy broad, often verging on slapstick, but the mood is bittersweet.

Viewers who only know the director from late films like Tokyo Story, Late Spring, and Good Morning—or who know him purely by reputation as a serene ascetic of meticulous floor-level shots who was really into trains—might be surprised by how freely he moved the camera back in those days. It should be mentioned, though, that Where Now’s striking opening tracking shot comes straight out of the most conventional of Ozu’s surviving campus comedies, I Flunked, But…. Here, one finds plenty of early standbys (love triangles, tracking shots, etc.) that Ozu would eliminate in the lead-up to his mature period, and more than a little self-plagiarism. But there are also career-long favorites that would carry over: English signage, Hollywood movie posters, and even actor Chishū Ryū—still a decade away from playing fathers and father figures in every Ozu movie—as one of Horino’s best buds.

Availability: When Now Are The Dreams Of Youth? is available to stream on Hulu Plus.