Favorites by Ozu
By: dope fiend willy
Some old thoughts:
I had viewed about 5 or so of Ozu’s films, and while I’ve never fallen in love with his style, he has arroused my interest, and I’ve been put under a spell by his seemingly simple films, and my desire to learn more about the Japanese culture. So I went out and bought as many Ozu dvds as I could get from america, england and hong kong. And now, since I have the week off, I intend to watch them all, and return here after each film, so that I can record my thoughts as I watch them, and so that I can distinguish between the films in the future…sort of a quick reference until I become more intimately aquainted with the master’s work. So here we go:
(1934) A Story of Floating Weeds
Well, let me start by saying that I don’t believe that Ozu ever understood cinema, but he did understand emotion and how to tell a story. This is not to insult his pictures, or to say that he wasn’t a good filmmaker; but that he somehow made great films that exhibit hardly any of the physical qualities that great films exhibit. You can’t judge his films with the same criteria that you would judge most other films. I think the biggest mark against Ozu is his refusal or inability to change or adapt to new ways of making films. He began making films the same year that Metropolis, The Passion of Joan of Arc, The End of St. Petersberg, and Abel Gance’s Napoleon debuted, yet he took away seemingly nothing from them.
A Story of Floating Weeds is the earliest film by Ozu that I have seen, and if his other silents are like this, than I can say that he was a man ahead of his time, in that this is really a talkie without sound. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a dialogue heavy silent picture before, and when judging this as a silent film I must consider that a flaw, but as I have said, I haven’t seen his earlier silents, so I don’t know if this is how he has always done it, or if he just has been influece by the talkies that other directors around the world had been making since 1929…yeah, Ozu really didn’t like change did he?
Aside from the fact that this is a talkie without sound, this is quite a good film, and all of the traits that Ozu would exhibit in his films until his death are to be found in this picture. If it had sound it would really be hard to guess when the movie was made, given that it is so stylisticly similar to all of the other films that Ozu would ever make.
In the end this is a good film, though I am anxious to see the 1954 version that has the benifit of sound, and even color! A side note, which has nothing to do with Ozu’s work, but I really disliked the piano accompaniment that criterion added for its dvd. Sure, it was optional, and preferable to no sound at all, but it just seems so typical of what you expect a silent film soundtrack to sound like, and most of the music did not fit the scenes very well. The music that Ozu uses in his sound pictures are much, much better, and should have been a model for anyone trying to compose accompaniment for a slient Ozu picture.
(1936) The Only Son
This is probably the 6th film by Ozu that I have seen, and it is one of my favorite thus far. The quality that we have come to associate with Ozu is as present as ever in the acting, set decoration, and composition. “The Only Son” is about a mother and son from a very poor mountain village, and the son is soon to finish his grade school education. He is a bright student and his teacher believes that it would be best for him to go to Tokyo for further education. The mother manages to scrimp up enough to be able to pay for it in hopes that her son can one day have a better life and become a good man. Life in Tokyo is harder than it seems though, and by the time that his mother comes to pay him a visit after not seeing him for many years, he has only managed to become a night school teacher, which only pays enough for him to rent a meager house on the outskirts of town.
The son feels great embarrasment at his percieved failure, and feels completely hopeless and lost in his current state, and feels that though he is young he has already achieved all that he will ever hope to. He is discouraged even further when he see that his former teacher had to give up his job and become a lowly cook, because it pays more than teaching; and we see that the dreams of both men are shattered.
His mother is most dissappointed by the fact that he seems to have given up, and encourages him to strive for more, the way that she did to be able to send him to school. After his mother has left he resigns himself to go back to school and earn a certificate, and she heads back to the factory in the hills. In the end its hard to tell if she is really as proud of her son as she tells her co-worker or not, as she goes for a rest and sits in contemplation. Such is Ozu.
(1937) What did the Lady Forget?
Well, what did the lady forget? This was an interesting film about the relationships between men and women in Japan, with the young niece named Setsuko spicing things up(no not that Setsuko). At times I thought that this film was going to be about a rebelious teenager, but she turned out not to be so bad, and Ozu ended up seemingly making her the wisest of the bunch, or atleast thats how he tries to let her off as. In reality all three of the main character’s were wrong. Komiya, was wrong for being so weak in the first place, and alternately wrong for slapping his wife, as well as being wrong in lying to her and taking the side of his niece. The wife was just wrong. She’s the type who is never happy, and only gets any pleasure out of ruling over others, especially her weak husband. setsuko was just a bad girl. Sure she is cute, very cute, but she can be very manipulative, and it seems that everyone is blind to that, even her auntie. In the end this family is very disfunctional, and none of the main characters have any moral high-ground, and that would be okay, if Ozu didn’t end the picture in a sort of ‘happily ever after’ kind of way. Everything else in the picture was outstanding, but the story itself seems to be wrongheaded. There is humor in this film, but I would never classify it as a comedy and let it get off for being a ‘light’ film, because even with Ozu, the humor is still rather formal.
I suppose this may be the weakest Ozu that I have seen yet, which isn’t saying much, because I have yet to see a bad film by Ozu. Ozu always hits line drives, no homers, but no grounders either.
(1941) The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family
The film begins with a reunion of the Toda Family, as they are celebrating their mother’s turning 61-which in Japan is significant, as it symbolises a return to childhood. This is the first such reunion for the family since their father turned 61 some 8 years ago, and so everyone is mingling, and back in their old roles and routines. Shojiro, the youngest son, is late as always, and is ever the disappointment. Finally he shows for the family photo-their last, as later in the afternoon the patriarch will pass away after a day of cheerful drinking.
After the funeral the family discovers that while their father was very wealthy, he had promissed some people money, and they decide that it is necessary for them to honor those promisses in order to save face. The sons divide up the property and see to selling it off, and it is also decided what is to become of their mother and unmarried sister-they are to stay with the oldest son, as is customary. Shojiro, the youngest son decides that it is time for him to make something of himself, so he decides to leave for a job in Tianjian, China.
Mother and sister stay for a while at the eldest son’s house, but they are not made very welcome there, and so they move into the second son’s house. Second son is more wealthy with a larger, more western house, but it is clear from the begining that mother and sister are only a burden to second son and his wife. Mother and sister now feel that they are not welcome at any of the children’s homes so they don’t even bother to ask to stay at the eldest sister’s home-instead they move to the villa, which according to the older sons was worth less than the land it was sitting on.
A year passes and the family gets together for a service at the temple in honor of the anniversary of their father’s death. Shojiro returns a far more mature man than he left, and is ashamed at the behavior of his siblings in their neglect of his mother and sister. He scolds them angrily, and dismisses them from the restaurant. He then inivites mother and sister to live with him in China, atleast until he returns. In the few days before they leave for China, sister’s friend Tokiko comes by. Shojiro agrees to marry Tokiko but is still to bashful to meet her, and he escapes down the beach. An explosive, but uultimately happy ending, in this wonderful study of family by Ozu.
(1942) There Was a Father
You know sometimes I’m just left speechless after watching one of Ozu’s films. Not neccesarily because of the profundity of them, though some are very, but just because theres not much to say.
Ryo Chishu plays the father, Shuhei Horikawa, who quits his job as a teacher after there is a boating accident on a class trip in which a one of his students perish. He quits his job but works hard so that he can pay for his son, Ryohei to attend school. Later he moves to Tokyo so that he can pay for Ryohei to go to college, and in all this time he rarely sees his son. After his son has graduated college and becomes a teacher himself, they have a few opportunites to get together every once in a while. Ryohei wants to quit his job as a teacher and move to Tokyo so that he and his father can live together, but his father scolds him for being so selfish, and tells him that he must work hard and do his best, for that is his duty to do the best at what is put in front of him. There is no room for doing what he wants. A little later, Ryohei is able to take a 10 day vacation and so he goes to visit his father. Some of the his fathers students decide to throw a party for Horikawa and one of his fellow teachers, a man named Hirata. Afterword, Horikawa goes home, tells Ryohei how good a time he had, and tells him to marry Hirata’s daugter, Fumiko. Ryohei agrees, and then Korikawa collapses. He is taken to the Hospital where he dies. Ryohei and Fumiko ride a train back to the country where Ryohei is a teacher, and he asks Fumiko if she thinks that her father and brother would want to move in with them. He always wanted to live with his father.
Being a westerner watching Ozu can be very hard at times. Its hard to understand what is acceptable in Japanese society, and to figure out what Ozu would be trying to say to his audience in his films. For me I respond to everything with my emotions, and its hard for me to understand how much the characters are conflicted between their emotions and their duties, or if there ever is such a conflict, and how would that character who challenged expectations would be viewed by Ozu and his audience.
Also its hard to understand the class system in Japan. Horikawa has a servant girl working for him, whom he pays, so how much money does one have to make to have a servant? I never really understood Horikawa’s reasoning for not letting his son live with him, I know that money is not a reason, because if it came to it, he could just dump the servant girl…or would that make him look bad? To me Horikawa is the one who seems selfish, and hides behind duty as his reason why he and Ryohei shouldn’t live together. There is too much unexplained for me, and the film is just too short, its hard to decipher between what really is customary and what is the characters own intentions when you are an outsider. All in all this film didn’t engage me all that much, I just feel that there is too much left out here and there. But none of Ozu’s films usually affect me that much upon viewing, though somehow they manage to stay with me, and I suppose that’s why I keep coming back. I don’t even know why.
(1947) Record of a Tenement Gentleman
So far this is my favorite Ozu film. Its beautiful. This film has everything that Ozu does best. Beautiful outdoor photography, without the use of cranes, dollies or even panning the camera; Ozu creates vistas that speak a thousand words. The story itself is about how one incident, can melt the coldest hardest heart and bring about a change in people, who are in the worst of situations, for the better. Its funny, the characters are unforgetable, and the ending is bitter-sweet. wonderful.
The end is a bit preachy, but I think it is realistic, because like Tashiro, I too thought that Tane was crying because the boy was no longer with her. But her emotion was for much more important reasons than selfishness, and she responded to Tashiro and my question, and made us all a littl more thoughtful.
(1948) A Hen in The Wind
A woman who’s man goes off to war, and is never heard from again, must find a way to pay for the doctor bills of her sick child. She resorts to selling her body. When her husband finally returns she confesses to him, and he reacts violently. In the end they both apologise in the traditional way, and they try harder to be better in the future.
(1949) Late Spring
Wow. This film really seems to be a turning point for Ozu. The setting of the film feels much more modern than any of his previous films, and Ozu is handling a much larger cast than he has ever had before, and I believe is his longest film up to this point. It is an epic, make no mistakes about it.
There are a lot of ironies in the film. Ironies like the Coca-cola sign along the road, and the english words on the signs. Noriko herself is a full of irony. While she is perhaps the most modern looking and behaving-the way she acts, that she says that she doesn’t believe in arranged marriages-but she is also much more traditional in her thoughts than her father and the other characters around her. In a way, I think that Noriko is meant to represent Japan, in that Japan was at a turning point and she is caught up in it, but she is still an adolescent, and must grow before she can become truly modern; and as the film goes along she comes to accept that re-marrying is not a sin, and she also ends up marrying herself, finally becoming full-grown.
Ryo Chisu, plays her father, and while he is playing an older character than he has ever played before, he is indeed one of the most modern characters in the entire film. You can tell this immedtiately simply by the way that Noriko acts and the way that he has raised her to be-for as much as she may try to think in the traditional manner, he has spoiled her and she acts much more like a westerner than a traditional Japanese girl. Ryo is the modern man, and you can tell in the scene in which he serves Noriko and her friend Aya-not common for a man to do at this time.
In the end her father actually tricks her into marrying, because he knows that the only way that she will leave him and marry, is if she thinks that another woman will take her place. He tells Aya that its the biggest lie he’s ever told, but he’s so incredibly happy that he did it, yet there is no mistaking how empty he now feels after his sacrifice. This is a slice of life, a masterpiece of the cinema.
This is certainly Ozu’s most complex film up to this point, as well as his best and there is so much to be said about it. I look forward to viewing this film many times in the future.
(1951) Early Summer
This is definitely one of the best from Ozu I’ve seen thus far. Once again Noriko and Aya are single, and everyone wants Noriko to marry. Her boss tries to set her up with one of his old class mates, and he really is old. At 40, he’s 12 years older than Noriko, and her family doesn’t approve. But that doesn’t mean that she can just marry anyone she wants. When Noriko decides to marry an old friend of her brothers(her brother is an MIA), they immediately disaprove of her not choice; partly because he is a widower and already has a child, but mostly because they didn’t pick him. Noriko makes the right choice, and in this film Ozu is asserting that in a modern Japan it is up to the woman to choose who she will marry, and not her family. He breaks down many barriers here.
Noriko is a hero.
(1952) Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice
Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice is Ozu’s attack on arranged marriage. The hero of this film, though a secondary character is Setusko, a young lady whom her family is trying to marry off, but she does not believe in arranged marriage, and refuses to even meet the man. Very rude, but she did tell them that she wouldn’t meet him, and they arranged it anyway, so I respect her for that.
The other three women in the film all have dysfunctional marriages, that were of course arranged. Takaka’s husband lives in France, Aya’s is a liar and a cheat, and Taeko(our main character opposite her husband) and her husband are from seemingly different worlds and do not understand each other. She tries to dominate him, to varying degrees of success, and considers him to be to stupid for her to even try to hard when lying to him. Mokichi, the husband, and his friend Noburo, who is in love with the niece-Setsuko, are the only leading male characters in the film, while Chisu Ryo makes a cameo appearance as the owner of a pachinko den.
The ravine that Ozu has created between Taeko and Mokichi is deep, and while Taeko is simply frustrated and at times even hates her husband, Mokichi recognises the divide and tries to talk about it, to reconcile it, to no avail. Taeko basically runs away, and while she is gone Mokichi is told by his boss that he is to go to Montevideo in South America. Teako is out of town, so Setsuko and Aya see Mokichi off. When Taeko finally returns from her trip they scold her about it, but she still doesn’t seem to care. Only when Mokichi returns because of engine trouble does the couple get to really reconcile their differences as they try to make their own meal so as not to wake the maids so late at night. The couple comes to an understanding, but I think its a bit temporary at best, and the other women certainly have no similar reconciliations with their husbands in the foreseeable future. In the end, I believe that Ozu is saying that arranged marriages are not ideal, and though with hard work, they can work-which is what Taeko and Mokichi will try to do, but often they are just doomed-like Aya and Takaka’s marriages. So he ends the piece with the independent Setusko holding her own against Noburo advances…for now.
(1953) Tokyo Story
The much lauded “Tokyo Story” was the first film by Ozu that I ever saw, and it didn’t leave much of an impression on me, but as Criterion released other pictures by him, such as Late Spring, and Early Summer, I gave him another try-and was pleasently suprised. So now after, I dunno 15 or 20 Ozu pictures later I have returned to “Tokyo Story”, which is supposed to be among the ten best films ever made, according to those voting in Site and Sounds polls. Well, after a second viewing, and a new found appreciation for Ozu I can’t say that my opinion has changed all that much, and this film barely, just barely ranks in my top ten of all of Ozu’s pictures that I have thus far seen.
So what is wrong with it? I dunno. Perhaps I miss the tension and humour of the marriage pictures, which touch on all of the same familial subject matter as this one(aside from the death-which “The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family” did have!, so there), and those pictures had other things as well-especially the humour and lighter sides of life. This film is just too heavy at times, and Tokyo Story is such a long film too dwell on so few themes for the entire picture, as compared to Ozu’s better films.
So in closing, if you are new to Ozu, I think you would do better to start somewhere else(really any of the Criterion releases, aside from the dreadful Ohayo-“Good Morning”), and if you can watch multiregion films, check out the much better “Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family”.
(1956) Early Spring
Early Spring stands out in the Ozu canon for a few reasons. Firstly, the subject matter, is of an affair, rather than the more common theme in Ozu’s work, trying to find a husband for a young lady. The second thing that makes the film stand out a little is that, at least in the early going, there is a stylistic shift toward a more common filmmaking style, particularly in where we follow the workers leaving their houses and going to work. This is very uncommon for Ozu, as in his films we rarely watch any one go from one destination to the next, and never with out dialogue. I guess what I am getting at is that Ozu’s use of montage in the early part of the film was shocking, for me, and allowed me to breathe a slightly different air about this film.
Early Spring is one of Ozu’s longest, and given that there isn’t the normal double-crossing marriage plot involved in Early Spring Ozu allows ample time to introduce us to all of the characters and what their life and work is like. And its not right away that the wheels of the plot begin to move, but this is perfectly fine with me, as Ozu constructs and paces everything so well, the set up is so completely natural for the viewer.
There is a lot to this film, and here Ozu confronts an issue that crosses all cultures and one that is kept quiet in all cultures, but Ozu’s own in particular. Masaka deals with her husband’s infidelity as appropriately as she can for 1950s Japan, but also finds it in her heart to forgive Sugiyama. And Goldfish, who is not evil, only arroused by temptation, comes to feel remorse for her part in the affair. In the end I believe that Shoji is truly sorry for his infidelity, and that Masaka forgives him, though I don’t buy her ‘confession’ that it was partly her fault, I understand her need to make Shoji feel less like a sh!t.
One of Ozu’s better films on an important theme, and a much different theme than his normal plowing ground.
(1957) Tokyo Twilight
This is the darkest film that I’ve yet seen from Ozu, and I don’t think there’ll be another as dark, for that would be quite a feat. In this film, a misguided young girl falls for a rounder, and she gets pregnant. When she talks to him about it, he doesn’t seem too concerned, but he has an appointment and tells her to meet him at a restaraunt the next day to talk about it. he never shows, and she takes this as his final answer as to how he feels about the pregnancy, so she decides definitely to terminate it(something she had been considering, and had even borrowed the money for). Afterward, Akiko becomes even more depressed, and then learns that her mother is not only alive, but also that her father is likely not her father.
(1958) Equinox Flower
Ozu’s first color film. Beautiful. Another one of Ozu’s ‘marriage’ pictures, but this one is really more about the father than anything. For me, this film is fuller than the other Ozu pictures that I have seen, perhaps because of the smaller canvas than some of his previous films, even great films like “Late Spring”, but I feel there is more attention to all of the people from all walks of life. We see the janitor mopping the hallway, and I wonder who is he marrying? What about the men at the train-station in the beggining? Its funny watching Kondo act so nervous when he go’s out with his boss. Everything in this film is so true to life, and universal. When an innkeeper and friend of the family visits the Hirayama’s house and has to go to the bathroom, she notices a broom leaning against the wall in the hallway, and puts it back in its place. Its sounds silly, but its the little things that happen in Ozu’s films that set them apart.
The story itself, is one of Ozu’s better plots, and full of playful coniving, and a battle between youth and parental authority, and a woman’s right to choose who she marries, and being forced to do so more or less in secret. Setsuko’s father lets tells her that its ok to have boyfriends, but when she decides that she wants to marry a boyfriend, he is automatically opposed. Her mother will call the father on his inconsistencies, but it only makes him more angry. It will take time before he realises that he was wrong, and that Setsuko’s judgement was as good as he had raised her and she was capable of being responsible for her choices, and she was able at making good decisions. All of the characters have more than one side to them, and all of them grow. Hirayama gathers with some classmates at a reunion, and though they grow old, they recognise that in their children, they carry their dreams of youth with them forever.
One of the reasons that I liked this film so much is because of the different levels that it works on. ITs about the changing ideas of parental authority and young people’s rights to choose whom they should marry. Its also about marriage between the classes, as well as marrying for love. And the film has other subtext’s as well. Kiyoko is one of the strongest wives in all of Ozu(without being dominating like the wife in “Flavor of Green Tea over Rice”), while not disrepectful, she stands up to Hirayama in showing him when he is wrong. Ozu gives us so much here, and the ending, in some ways resolved, almost like Shakespeare, inderectly, though, but a happy ending-which is a little out of the norm for Ozu who usually has the more contemplative endings. Sometimes its good to have a happy ending every once in a while, just as sometimes in life, there are happy endings.
(1959) Good Morning
This is very light Ozu, in which the biggest conflict is between two children and there parents over whether or not they should have a television. Lots of fart jokes, a bit overdone in that area, if I must say. I watched this film a bit out of order, I was going in chronological order, but I had only a certain amount of time to slip a film in, and so I skipped about 6 movies on my list, and it definitely is stylisticly different than from the last films I watched…late Spring, Record of a Tenement Gentleman, and there was a father. There are no moving shots at all, and there are very few of Ozu’s non-story compositions. I’m used to being treated to shots of mountains and power lines, but this time nearly every shot has something to do with the narative.
Like I said, though this is very light Ozu, about a battle between two boys and their parents over whether or not they should have a tv set, and the boys win. These kids are really pretty bad, and they don’t even get in trouble for running away or stealing food and pots from a neighbor. The kids were really brats and get no comeupance at all, nor are they portrayed as the victorious villains that they are, in fact they are just given the awe-shucks treatment and that I could not take. One of my least favorite from Ozu.
(1959) Floating Weeds
good remake, need another viewing…
(1960) Late Autumn
Another ‘marriage picture’ by Ozu, and this time it is three old men coniving to marry off the daughter of an old friend. But, the girl’s mother is a widow and she doesn’t want to leave her mother alone, and has convinced herself that she prefers life with her mom to any kind of future life with a husband and children. We’ve seen this before in Ozu’s Late Spring, a much more potent film. This film is a little less heavy, and a little more humorous with a touch of ‘A comedy of errors’ thrown in. In the end this is a good film, typical Ozu, but there is nothing in it that makes it truly stand out for me above any of his other films. One that I will watch again someday, but not any time soon, this film is a little bit forgetable. Ps. I would like to make special mention of the colors in this filllm, which were just sumptuous, and the beautiful and sublime score.
(1961) End of Summer
Thanks to Criterion and their Eclipse line box set appropriately entitled “Late Ozu”, I have now seen all of Ozu’s ‘talkies’, “Early Spring” and “End of Summer” being the rarest to find with english subtitles.
End of Summer fails as a picture. It begins in a bar with one man waiting to be introduced to his friend’s sister. This is all unbeknownst to her, and as she is quite embarrassed, Akiko(played by Setsuko hara) finds a way to slide out the side door. We do not return to this strand for another 45 minutes, and even then it is brief, and later we return to it once again and nothing is really resolved either way. For the longest I was wondering what any of this had to do with the main story line, only to find out that Akiko and her brother were the children of the main character of the film, who along with his other children operate a sake brewery. But Akiko and her brother never really factor into anything else that the family does, aside from attending their father’s funeral, and nobody other than her close brother care if she remarries or not. So there is really no point in that whole plot strand being in the film, or even having any of those three characters, for that matter. The film would have worked just the same(not very well), without them. The main plot strand, revolves around an old man who tries to rekindle an old flame, while the woman doesn’t love him at all, but her and her daughter don’t mind recieving gifts from him. Nothing is really accomplished in this film, other than showing how greedy this woman and her daughter are, and how small businesses are vulnerable to big coorperations. There is no impact in this film, and the greatest moment in the film is when Chisu Ryo makes a cameo as a random farmer, who is washing vegetables with his wife in the river as they comment on the cycle of life, as the crematorium in the distance cremates a stranger who could be anyone, but happened to be the patriarch of the Kohayagawa family.
This is a weak film, lesser Ozu. 2 out of 5 stars, maybe.
(1962) An Autumn Afternoon
Yasujiro Ozu, or Ozu Yasujiro is a great filmmaker. Nobody else could get away with what he gets away with, but mainly because no other filmmaker would have the confidence in their style to stick to it as he does, and that is why he succeeds at it. He doesn’t do it half the time, he does it all the time, and he does it with complete conviction. His style, as unconventional an d unorthadox as it is, is flawless in and of itself. This is why he succeeds in his filmmaking, because he has created a style and a genre unique to himself, and he has perfected it.
Ozu’s last film is another marriage picture, with more or less the whole gang playing in it, though he more or less has the whole gang in every movie so this is really no different. I won’t be able to see “End of Summer” until the Eclipse box set “Late Ozu” is released in a month or so; but I do like the return to outdoor segueis, which Ozu did not really use in “Late Autumn”. The whole film in a way felt like a culmination of everything that Ozu has done so well in the past. The story takes a little longer to develope than in some of his other marriage pictures, and features some really strong female characters, and some rather weak male characters. Some humour and some sadness as in all of Ozu’s marriage pictures, with the additional sadness of the reality of growing old. A classic Ozu picture. Not his best, but a wonderful way to say goodbye.