Yamanaka, a friend and contemporary of Ozu, was one of the giants of '30s Japanese cinema; this masterpiece marked the end of a six-year career directing period melodramas. (He was drafted on the day it premiered and died in battle in Manchuria the following year, aged 29.) It was his second collaboration with the (covertly leftist) theatre troupe Zenshin-za and represented a direct challenge to the militarist ethos rampant in other period movies of the time. Luckless ronin Matajuro (Kawarazaki) looks for work while his wife O-Taki (Yamagishi) makes paper balloons at home. His neighbour Shinza (Nakamura), a barber, kidnaps a young heiress and hides her in Matajuro's home; his attempt to extort a ransom from her father ends in grief. A deeply pessimistic view of poverty and crime in feudal society, it was drawn from a 19th century kabuki play, but Yamanaka thought and felt it in strongly cinematic terms. The performances are naturalistic and surprisingly 'modern'; the compositions have great depth of field, linking foreground and background action. And the pathos is distinctly hard-edged: the film stresses that the slum community comes alive only for funerals, and it opens and closes with offscreen suicides.