Plot: Kenji (Minoru Takada) is a criminal who trades in minor theft, but he has more ambition than it seems. He and his friend Senko (Hisao Yoshitani) make a great team, working together to fleece unaware citizens, lifting wallets and stealing from various businesses. The two plan to case a local jeweler for a future heist, but get distracted by the expensive car that arrives just as they approach. Inside the car is Yasue (Hiroku Kawasaki), a young woman on an errand for her boss, who captures Kenji’s heart as soon as he sees her. He pursues her, but as he has a part time girl as it is, the situation takes some unexpected turns. Yasue has obvious feelings for Kenji, but she wants an honest man with a clean lifestyle, which would be a stark shift for Kenji. Are these two doomed to be apart or can Kenji turn over a new leaf?
Entertainment Value: This movie is steeped in the criminal world, but at heart, Walk Cheerfully is about romance and humor. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a gritty feel as times, as it does, but it is not a dark, gangster focused crime picture, it just happens to involve some criminals. Even so, the lifestyle of crime is a central element here, as Kenji has to take a hard look at his life to this point and where he wants to go, as well as the potential cost of his decisions. The pace is brisk and the influence from American movies is obvious, but it is an interesting piece of Yasujiro Ozu’s resume. The tone is light in most scenes and a slight slapstick vibe is evident at times, such as the gang’s various dance based secret signals. Those scenes do feel a little silly, but overall the movie has a good balance between drama and humor. Just don’t expect a full on romantic comedy here, as that isn’t the case here. The tonal shifts are natural and effective as well, never pulling us out of the moment.
The performances here are fine, but are far from subtle in most scenes, though not out of the ordinary for a silent film from this era. So a little more broad perhaps, but still solid and the needed emotion and humor are well conveyed. I think Hiroku Kawasaki is the stand out, as she turns in a performance that is more subtle than the others, but still resonates. I love her work in the final couple of scenes, as she is able to do so much, but never feel over the top or overly stylized. Minoru Takada is a likable and capable lead as well, while Hisao Yoshitani, Satoko Date, and Teruo Mori provide good performances in supporting roles. I do want to mention that the version I watched had a new piano score from Neil Brand, which I didn’t appreciate. The music feels like cliche silent film piano and doesn’t suit the tone of the movie at all, I have no idea why it would be chosen to accompany Walk Cheerfully. But as the movie is silent, you can mute Brand’s abysmal new score and not miss much. I’d love to see this with a more authentic, fitting score at some point.