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Favorite Film Makers: Yasujiro Ozu

by WhatsUpWill
Favorite Film Makers: Yasujiro Ozu by WhatsUpWill
At this point in my life, Yasujiro Ozu is my 2nd favorite director of all time, primarily for his distinct and expert mise-en-scene, that relies heavily on staging, production design, and still shots. His stories are deeply humanistic as well, reflecting the cultural side of Japan throughout the decades. Even though several of his films share the same themes and narrative arcs, he always makes slight differences in the context of the story and the POV that is guiding it. Even though it’s argued that he has made the same films over and over again (he has, in fact, remade several of his early silent films), it’s the deep feeling he has for his… Read more

At this point in my life, Yasujiro Ozu is my 2nd favorite director of all time, primarily for his distinct and expert mise-en-scene, that relies heavily on staging, production design, and still shots. His stories are deeply humanistic as well, reflecting the cultural side of Japan throughout the decades. Even though several of his films share the same themes and narrative arcs, he always makes slight differences in the context of the story and the POV that is guiding it. Even though it’s argued that he has made the same films over and over again (he has, in fact, remade several of his early silent films), it’s the deep feeling he has for his characters that he shows primarily through his direction of actors and camera that constantly refreshes the material from ever becoming stale. With film makers constantly moving the camera or editing like a MTV music video, it’s bizarre and almost completely foreign to see a film like EARLY SUMMER which, to my mind, has only one tracking shot in the entire film! Modern film makers, by comparison, seem so overly self-conscious about how much the camera moves. It’s almost as if some of them don’t believe the film would work unless they infuse energy into the film making by quick cuts and fast moves. Ozu’s films aren’t about catching your attention, they’re about having you settle into the narrative and embrace the characters.

He may be an acquired taste. While I was moved emotionally, I wasn’t deeply impressed by my first few films by him (TOKYO STORY, LATE SPRING) but once I saw past the story and started specifically analyzing the way he films, I started to understand what makes him so great and, through that, I found his films all the more powerful. It could also be that my three favorite films of his (EARLY SUMMER, AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON, & EQUINOX FLOWER) are so much more deeper and more emotionally impactful. There is a scene early on in EQUINOX FLOWER where the mother character reflects on when they family lived during the fire-bombing of Japan and how she admired how close the family was back then. It’s particular dark irony that the fear of war would bring a family together, but it is relatable in its somber honesty; families really do come together during civil unrest. Another trademark of Ozu is how the characters mask their emotions under a surface happiness. Setsuko Hara, the leading lady of several of Ozu’s films, is always brandishing a particular smile, even in the toughest of times. She always speaks cheerfully even, and you can tell, when her heart is breaking. When the smile breaks, it’s as if the entire world has crumbled before you. I have found myself tearing up long before she does. The affect of directing actors is absolutely devastating.

The final trademark I will talk about is the way Ozu perceives culture. AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON, his final work, follows the typical Ozu father-giving-away-his-daughter story (albeit with a few twists), but far more relevant, even if it’s mostly in the background, is an examination of Japanese culture (which is ultimately, since the US occupation, a reflection of American culture). A subplot involves the businessman son of the father protagonist buying and discovering the joys of golf, which would become a past time for the modern American business man during the time and, much later, a staple. It is a symbol of a culture booming – people are now indulging in luxuries that they wouldn’t even dream of during the war and, later, during Japan’s lengthy reconstruction. Our protagonist of the film, the father figure, frequents a bar where fellow veterans of World War II bemuse how the world would be different had Japan won the second World War. Ozu neither embellishes or de-emphasizes this question, allowing it to be a thought unburdened by political agenda as most of the generation must have thought. Ozu, part of the World War II era, must have known this to be his last film, because the last shot is so final in its closure of that generation. Even though the father figure wants to give up his sons and daughters ultimately because he believes in the regeneration of life, he can’t help but feel alone and saddened for it to happen. Whereas other film makers make films about criminals and superheroes, Ozu makes films about the everyday struggles of human life, universal in the pain that every father, mother, son, and daughter must feel at different stages in their lives. This, above all, is the main reason that Ozu is one of the greatest film makers to ever live. The following is a list of my favorite films of his. I have not seen nearly enough (I need to get on those silents, I know), however I always try to my best to watch at least one film by him monthly.

Early Summer (A+)
An Autumn Afternoon (A+)
Equinox Flower (A-)
Floating Weeds (A-)
Tokyo Story (B+)
There Was a Father (B+)
The Record of a Tenement Gentleman (B+)
Late Spring (B)
Late Autumn (B)
The End of Summer (C+)
Good Morning (C-)

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