Director Series: Yasujirô Ozu’s I Graduated, But… (1929)

Nomoto

I Graduated, But… was the fourth of six Yasujirô Ozu-directed films released in 1929, and like two others — namely Fighting Friends — Japanese Style and A Straightforward Boy — it only exists in abridged form. Even with an explanatory note at the beginning, it clocks in at under twelve minutes, about a single reel’s worth of film; according to David Bordwell in Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, it originally ran seven. It’s not much of a movie as it stands, but it still has several points of interest.

Nomoto (Minoru Takada), a recent college graduate, goes to a railroad company in search of a job, but he’s told that there’s only one position open: receptionist. The men working there can’t hold back their laughter as they make him this offer, which he considers demeaning. “Excuse me, but I’m a college graduate,” he says. Irritated, he returns to his boarding house, where he discovers that his mother (Utako Suzuki) and his fiancee, Machiko (Kinuyo Tanaka), have shown up without warning. “Your letter said that you already have a job,” his mother explains. “I couldn’t wait anymore. It isn’t easy for you to live alone. Machiko wanted to come too.” (Their wedding is never shown or mentioned in this abridgement, but later on, Nomoto is referred to as Machiko’s husband.) Rather than confessing, he pretends to go to work the following morning. His mother, satisfied by this ruse, eventually goes home, but he can’t keep the truth from Machiko for long. When she gets a job as a bar hostess to make ends meet, he realizes that it’s time to swallow his pride and return to the railroad company.

The shortened I Graduated, But… comes across as little more than the Cliff’s Notes version of the original. Although the plot is clear, it’s difficult to get a feel for the characters and the overarching themes. For instance, Nomoto is only shown being rejected from one job. Presumably, he had also applied elsewhere, but because we don’t see that, it’s not clear whether his struggles owe more to widespread economic issues or to his personality. First his pride causes him to turn down the receptionist position, and then, instead of continuing his job search while pretending to go to work, he spends the day playing with some children. Has he already tried everywhere he can think of? Is he too dispirited to keep looking? Is he still, in essence, a child himself? Is he lazy? After he reveals the truth to Machiko, an intertitle says that he “still can’t find a job that he likes,” as if he’s rejected more offers that don’t suit him; again, nothing is actually shown. “I didn’t take our situation seriously enough,” he tells his wife near the end. No doubt that line carried more weight in the uncut film, in which his character had time to develop.

Speedy

On the other hand, Bordwell notes that “in the late 1920s, over two-thirds of university graduates could not find work,” so his case is far from atypical. Bordwell also points out the poster for Harold Lloyd’s 1928 film Speedy that plays a prominent role in Nomoto’s decor; as he says, it “suggests a bitter comparison of American and Japanese conditions.” (I Graduated, But… was released on September 6, 1929, less than two months before the stock market crash that set off the Great Depression.) In Speedy, as in many of his films, Lloyd plays a young man who achieves success through hard work and ingenuity — a far cry from Nomoto’s situation, whatever the reasons behind it.

Machiko isn’t particularly well-defined either in the shortened I Graduated, But…, though she is both a supportive wife and a woman assertive enough to find her own job when necessary. The most interesting thing about her may be the fact that she’s played by Kinuyo Tanaka, one of Japan’s greatest actresses. Tanaka, still in her teens at this time, would appear in six further Ozu silents and, much later, in his A Hen in the Wind (1948), The Munekata Sisters (1950) and Equinox Flower (1958). She’s probably best known for her work with Kenji Mizoguchi, including The Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu (1953) and Sansho the Bailiff (1954); less famously, she also directed six films between 1953 and 1962.

Machiko

From a stylistic standpoint, I Graduated, But… (at least in its existing form) is all static shots, with none of the camera movement and experimentation seen in both Days of Youth and Fighting Friends. Ozu’s mature style isn’t fully formed yet — there are still quite a few close-ups of hands, feet and objects, and there’s more variety in the way the characters are shot  — but it is emerging. Thematically, too, the movie is somewhat different from its predecessors. Donald Richie, in his book Ozu, notes that many critics see I Graduated, But… as a turning point in the director’s career, marking a shift “from simple light comedy to mature social comedy,” though Richie argues that Ozu’s work is unlike most films dealing with social issues:

Ozu, uninterested in politics from his school days on, became, as he was more and more able to say what he wanted, even less interested in any easy solution, whether of the Left or of the Right. Nor did he want merely to show ‘the coldness of society,’ a favorite theme of serious films of the period. Rather, he wanted to show things as they were, and this he accomplished not with the customary passionate melodrama, but with a dispassionate satire that came very naturally to him.

Evidently, I Graduated, But… was an important step in Ozu’s development as a director; that makes it all the more unfortunate that so much of it is lost.

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3 thoughts on “Director Series: Yasujirô Ozu’s I Graduated, But… (1929)

    1. Thanks! I don’t think I’ve seen too many non-Ozu Japanese silents, really — offhand, I can only recall A Page of Madness and a few by Mikio Naruse — so I’d like to see more too, which would help to put these in context. My favorite Ozu silent is I Was Born, But…, but there’s a lot to like about his silents in general, and a lot of variety.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: I Graduated, But… (Yasujirō Ozu, Japan, 1929) – Vanguard Cinema

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