If you’re old enough, you may remember a Hollywood film called Indecent Proposal, starring Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson as two fairly well-off middle-class Americans whose marriage is ruined by millionaire Robert Redford offering them a million dollars to sleep for one night with Ms Moore. As I recall, the whole of Western civilisation at the time was transfixed by this remarkable moral dilemma, and talked of nothing but what their own response would be.
Ozu’s A Hen in the Wind (1949) takes this same basic plot but transposes it to immediate post-War Japan, a time in which people were struggling to scrape together enough money to remain alive. There is no millionaire Robert Redford; merely a mother who is forced into selling her body (they call it prostitution in the film) in order to raise enough money to pay for her young son’s medical bills.
As a complacent Westerner who has no real concerns or issues in his life, I found it difficult to relate to these poor people and their problems. The so-called moral dilemma at the heart of the film seemed to me nothing of the kind: their child was going to die if he did not get proper medication and the wife was forced into prostitution on this account; the husband ended up quite reasonably forgiving her. If they had been reasonably well-off financially or at least had a supportive social network or could expect some sort of state intervention, and she’d undertaken prostitution merely to better her place in society, then I might have been able to identify with her better. Who, after all, is more likely to be moved by the death of a child than the opportunity to win a million dollars?
Otherwise the film is a typical Ozu piece, whose basic stereotype is this: two people, sitting in opposite corners of a room with their backs to one another, crying, and feeling unable sufficiently to explain their feelings to one another.