Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, p.248-252 by David Bordwell, 1988
This chapter of David Bordwell's Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema describes how the details of Ozu's Degigokoro (“Passing Fancy”) unify the film's disjointed narrative. The narrative itself, which Bordwell contends is divided into two main stories, is loosely structured and driven mostly by Ozu's characterization of the two main characters, Kihachi and his son Tomio. The relationship between Kihachi, an irresponsible, simpleminded adult, and Tomio, a mature, intelligent child, is the primary story. The second storyline involves Kihachi's hopeless attempts to woo a girl while his son deals with criticisms of his father by his classmates. Bordwell notes that the film's other characters are fairly stereotypical and undeveloped; this simultaneous depiction of character depth and superficiality is a sign of Ozu's ability to combine unlike conventions in the overarching structure of the film. Bordwell then discusses the playful use of gestural motifs—scratching, swatting, poking—to characterize the different characters and their attitudes towards one another throughout the film. This sort of attention to detail, he contends, marks Passing Fancy a particularly realistic Ozu film. He goes on to argue, however, that the unrealistic, often misleading use of intertitles, spatial patterns, and unusual transitions for comedic effect prevent the audience from even greater immersion in the otherwise quite realistic film.
This analysis of Passing Fancy is important because it emphasizes the versatility of Ozu's techniques and rejects allegations that Ozu was overly repetitive. Ozu was not constrained to a mere realistic approach: his attention to details evoked realism, but he used other techniques that shattered the illusion of realism, often for comedic effect. He did not adhere very closely to particular patterns, and his film thus displays a sense of playfulness throughout a narrative that, in the words of Bordwell, “plays by its own rules, even if it changes them at will.”