Silent Reflections – Walk Cheerfully (1930)

by HELEN GEIB

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Walk Cheerfully (1930) is the concluding film in the Silent Film Theater’s mini-festival of Yasujiro Ozu’s silent comedies. Walk Cheerfully isn’t actually a comedy, although it has comedic elements, despite what the title would suggest (I strongly suspect difficulties in translation). It is a redemption melodrama in the mold of Hollywood films of the ‘twenties. The visual style is similarly indebted to the Hollywood cinema, particularly in the editing rhythms and camera set-ups, with a fillip of the German cinema in some striking, mobile camerawork.

Walk Cheerfully is the story of a small time criminal who goes straight for the love of a good woman. Characterization and milieu owe nothing to the yakuza and everything to the urban toughs and seedy urban locales of the American cinema. While decidedly a melodrama, it is a light melodrama with many welcome comic moments and a finely balanced emotional register. The plot is restrained and credible, and the film is all the more engaging for it.

The heroine is played by Hiroko Kawasaki, who essayed a very similar character in The Lady and the Beard the following year. Her character in each film is an attractive blend of the traditional and the modern, and is distinguished by intelligence, grace, and strength of character. The part in Walk Cheerfully is the more fully developed of the two, and Kawasaki’s lovely performance is one of the highlights of the film. The standout character in the supporting cast is the hero’s best friend, who emulates him in everything including going straight. The role is overall that of a comic sidekick and supplies many of the film’s laughs, but there is also an appealing sweetness in the mutual trust and consideration that characterizes the friendship.

Both the filmmaking style and subject matter of Walk Cheerfully are atypical for an Ozu film. The visual and narrative hallmarks of Ozu’s sound films are already clearly established in Days of Youth and I Was Born, But…, with The Lady and the Beard falling somewhere in between. All four are enjoyable, well made films. The variety marks out Ozu’s silent period as one of experimentation; taken together, the films give the sense he was trying on different hats to see what fit best. Walk Cheerfully is a very entertaining movie and one made with evident skill and care. Its real artistic merit is convincing evidence that Ozu could successfully have pursued a more conventional filmmaking path, and that the distinctive style of the mature work was a deliberate development of interest and affinity.

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