Earlier this year that essential blog of Japanese graphic ephemera, Pink Tentacle, posted a startling collection of posters, magazine covers and advertisements from the 1920s and 30s (“a glimpse at some of the prevailing tendencies in a society transformed by the growth of modern industry and technology, the popularity of Western art and culture, and the emergence of leftist political thought.”) The graphics were all taken from the book Modernism on Paper: Japanese Graphic Design of the 1920s-30s which was published in 2003 but is now out of print and hard to find.
All of the graphics are fabulous, but one that really caught my eye was labelled “Young Miss” (Ojo-san) movie poster, 1930. The title didn’t ring any bells, but then the other day I was looking at it again and decided to see if I could find out anything about the film itself. I was shocked to discover that Ojosan is actually a lost film by Yasujiro Ozu.
Ozu is one of my very favorite filmakers, and for years I’ve searched for Ozu posters with little success. My very first post for Movie Poster of the Week was a 90s re-release poster for Ozu’s Late Spring, but most of the original Ozu posters I’ve come across have been for his later films of the 1950s and 60s and none of them are particularly graphically interesting, mostly using photographs of the main characters and cramming in as many as secondary characters as possible. The posters at the bottom of this post are perfect examples.
But the poster for Young Miss is something else entirely. Simple, witty and dynamic, combining photographs with near-abstracted illustration, it looks as if it was most likely influenced by Soviet design of the 1920s, such as that of the Stenberg Brothers.
But what makes this poster extraordinarily special is its rarity. According to Dave Kehr in Art of the Modern Movie Poster, “very few Japanese posters from the prewar years appear to survive, even though the Japanese themselves seemed to have been avid collectors of them. In Yasujiro Ozu’s films of the late 20s and early 30s, it is not unusual to see apartments decorated with American posters for American films (Ozu seemed to have a weakness for the comedies of Harold Lloyd), but of the Japanese domestic product of these years, almost nothing has survived.”
The same can be said of a vast amount of Japan’s pre-war cinematic output, including no less than 17 films by Ozu. Between 1927 and 1930, in the space of just three years, Ozu made an astounding 19 films, only four of which have survived intact, with another three surviving only as fragments of 15 minutes or less. Young Miss, released on 12 December 1930 was the last of seven films he released in 1930 alone. All that remains of it is its script, a few stills, and this poster.
At 12 reels, over two hours, Young Miss was Ozu’s longest film to date. It seemed to be something of a prestige picture for Shochiku, employing three of the studio’s major screenwriters and four of its biggest stars. The line of text at the top of the poster declares it “Japan’s first genuine comedy masterpiece.” In David Bordwell’s essential book Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema he says that the plot’s “screwy vicissitudes defy synopsis” though he manages the following: “Two reporters, Okamoto and Saita, are beaten out of scoops by the infamous girl reporter, ‘Young Miss’. They strike up an acquaintance with her and together they investigate a secret club for wealthy men of voyeuristic tastes. Okamoto’s article exposes the club. While Sumida, now the paper’s film critic, goes off to a screening with his girlfriend, Okamoto is left loitering by a shop window with Young Miss.”
The film was well reviewed, was a big hit and won Ozu his first accolade, tieing for second place in the Kinema Jumpo poll for contemporary-set films.
The two stars who are featured on the poster were Tokihiko Okada and Sumiko Kurishima (their names appear on the bottom of the poster with those of their co-stars, Tatsuo Saito and Kinuyo Tanaka, smaller in between theirs).
Sumiko Kurishima was considered Japan’s first popular female movie star. She had started working in 1921 and often appeared as the tragic heroine of films directed by her future husband, Yoshinobu Ikeda. She also starred in Ozu’s early talkie What Did the Lady Forget? in 1937 before retiring from the screen the following year at the age of 36 to concentrate on teaching dance. She returned to screen almost two decades later in Naruse’s Flowing (1956) and lived until 1987.
Tokihiko Okada made many films for Ozu and Mizoguchi and, according to film critic Tadao Sato, was among the most handsome and popular Japanese actors of his time, playing mostly romantic, sensitive leads. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 30, only three years after making Young Miss.
The poster may have been designed by Takashi Kohno (1906-1999), whom film historian Daisuke Miyao has said designed many of Shochiku’s posters in the 1930s and who often drew his inspiration from Soviet avant-garde and constructivism. The KOH in the bottom right hand corner of the poster may be his signature, but I’m only guessing.
Funnily enough, this surviving still from the film bears out Dave Kehr’s assertion about American film posters and Ozu’s weakness for Harold Lloyd.
Below, more conventional (though still quite wonderful in their way) posters for Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953), The End of Summer (1961) and An Autumn Afternoon (1962).
Many thanks to Mika Kimoto for help with translation.