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January 2009: Ozu > Re:Great Directors - The Films of Yasujiro Ozu (Director of the Month for January 2009)

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message 1: by Phillip (last edited Jan 12, 2010 09:14AM) (new)

Phillip | 9899 comments Re:Great Directors - The Films of Yasujiro Ozu

Relatively unknown in America, but an acknowledged master and influence on nearly every major Japanese director of the 20th century, Yasujiro Ozu has created a unique body of work that rivals the works of William Shakespeare in its examination of the motivations common to our human species. Ozu's work illustrates a unique blend of social studies that allows viewers to chuckle (or shed a tear) at issues that touch our more vulnerable emotional states.

Ozu’s style is simple and perhaps well-known to his audiences: the camera sits roughly three feet off the floor and seldom moves, giving the distinct impression that you, the viewer, are sitting on the floor witnessing an ever-changing panorama of personae. The subjects that populate Ozu’s films serve as a microcosm of family and all that comes with it: birth, growing pains of childhood, the plight of education, easy and uneasy transitions into adulthood, gender issues, marriage (to be or not to be), bustling careers, failed dreams, separations, alcoholism, tragic suicides, easy deaths, tender reconciliation and the age-old questions that come with old age and the inevitable confrontation with death.

Here is a short list of some of the films that I would recommend without reservation:

1) Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952) A potpourri of Ozu’s themes all woven together in a satisfying tale – a great place to start for Ozu initiates.

2) Tokyo Twilight (1957) A tragic tale of a disintegrating post-war family that features a fleet of masterful performances that will melt the coldest of hearts.

3) Good Morning (1959) A comic tale of two adorable kids who incite a vow of silence because their parents won’t buy a television set – a great introduction to Japanese film for the entire family.

4) An Autumn Afternoon (1962) Ozu’s last film tenderly reveals a father facing old age as his daughter contemplates marriage.

5) What Did the Lady Forget? (1937) FUNNY story of a liberated young woman from Tokyo that visits her fairly conservative aunt and uncle in a smal town and shakes up their exalted social taboos.

6) Early Summer (1951) This spacious film features a great performance by Setsuko Hara as a dutiful daughter whose family is trying to find her a husband. While the theme may be familiar to Ozu fans, the performances and the subtleties of emotion and psycological understanding are the reasons this director has carved out a place that is unique in the history of cinema.

7) Late Spring (1949) The companion piece to Early Summer. The plotline is similar, but this was made shortly after the war and the darker emotional fabric of the film is radically different than Early Summer. This film features the debut performance of Setsuko Hara in her first film with Ozu; Ms. Hara went on to make several films him and this performance shows the promise of her enormous talent.

7) Tokyo Story (1953) One of Ozu's most highly acclaimed works, this film presents an elderly couple visiting some of their children in Tokyo, only to find themselves not particularly welcome in their fast-paced urban lives. The couple return to their country village at a time of tragedy that brings the family together at the film's end in a heartbreaking and unforgettable way.


message 2: by Meg (last edited Jan 03, 2009 05:30AM) (new)

Meg (megvt) | 362 comments

I just finished watching Tokyo Twilight. It is a very sad film without the happy hollywood ending. The story starts with a father and two daughters. One of the daughter's moved back to the home because she decided to leave her husband, and brought her young child with her. The second daughter is trying to go to school but becomes too involved with the wrong crowd and falls in love with the wrong man (who can't relate to that?) The more she loves the man the more he pulls away which is her demise. The girls were abandoned by the mother who ends up returning to the city and opening up a mahjong parlor. If one wants a moral, this one offers to learn from the mistakes of others.

I really thought this movie was well done. The acting was great, the story line was strong and realistic. This film is a winner.


message 3: by Phillip (last edited Jan 03, 2009 09:43AM) (new)

Phillip | 9899 comments absolutely. for many fans, ozu's work, in general, might prove a bit slow (but worth every minute, IMO). but this one has the bite of contemporary cinema while presenting an important historical moment in japanese history (the era of japanese reconstruction after WW2).


message 4: by oi ling (new)

oi ling | 23 comments After reading your reviews, I added Tokyo Story, Good Morning, Early Summer, Late Spring, An Autumn Afternoon to my list. I really enjoyed An Autumn Afternoon. I feel lucky that I've only seen one and there are many to go!


message 5: by Meg (new)

Meg (megvt) | 362 comments And, we have just started our list!


message 6: by Phillip (last edited Feb 06, 2009 04:36PM) (new)

Phillip | 9899 comments autumn afternoon was one of the first ozu films i saw. i fell in love with his work immediately. there really aren't any other films like his. his style is hard to define, because it changes a bit throughout the decades, but the thing that stays with me is how well you know the characters at the end of each film.

those are all really fine films on that list you're developing, oi! enjoy!!!


message 7: by oi ling (new)

oi ling | 23 comments An Autumn Afternoon is my very first Yasujiro Ozu film. I will soon indulge myself with as many of his films as I can locate. I think he is the quietest of directors. I am completely drawn into his visual style and storytelling and impressed with how all of the elements existed primarily to tell the story, and the value of the story that was told.

Thank you Phillip, for your post on Director Yasujiro Ozu.


message 8: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 9899 comments you're welcome. he's one of my favorites. understated, yes - but so much to digest. i would enjoy hearing your thoughts as you watch more of the films that you mentioned above (the ones you put on your netflix queue).


message 9: by oi ling (last edited Feb 17, 2009 06:47PM) (new)

oi ling | 23 comments I wish for more movies like GOOD MORNING, so I could experience this kind of joy and enthusiasm more often. Like reading a good book, I didn't want it to end. The two adorable boys, Minoru and Isamu, are wonderful. I think the younger son, Isamu, is one of the cutest boys to ever appear in a film.

Director Yasujiro Ozu is good. Tokyo Story is next ...


message 10: by Meg (new)

Meg (megvt) | 362 comments I really agree with you. I fell in love with him too.


message 11: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 9899 comments yes, i warned you meg! falling in love with those boys is easy to do!

looking forward to your words on tokyo story, oi...let us know when you've watched it.


message 12: by Sooz (new)

Sooz whoa. i completely missed this January exploration into Ozu's film - i just never scrolled down past the action and comedy sections. i will check to see what films are available at my local independent video store. hopefully i will be able to join the discussion. none of the titles mentioned are familiar to me so i don't think i have ever seen his work.

i'm loving the exposure to films and directors i get in this group! i'm getting a great education.


message 13: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 9899 comments many of his films are widely distribute. in america, i'm sure it's not so different in canada.

of the films that are usually available, a good place to start might be:
tokyo story
late spring
good morning
an autumn afternoon
tokyo twilight


message 14: by Sooz (new)

Sooz it's interesting - so many of the titles refer to seasons or times of the day.


message 15: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 9899 comments yep


message 16: by Sooz (new)

Sooz the only Ozu film readily available to me was Tokyo Story which i watched last night.

Tokyo Story is about a family – a post W.W.II Japanese family. three generations are portrayed during a visit by the oldest generation to visit their children and grandchildren in Tokyo.

nothing much happens. why would it? this is a very ordinary family – there are no revelations. no deep dark secrets, no skeletons in the closet. no criminal elements, no crisis or dramas. despite the fact that the story takes place 50 - 60 years ago and in Japan, the family dynamics are much like todays. the kids – seem to scarcely know their grandparents -and tend to ignore their presence, or be outright irked by the inconvenience of the visit. the adult children, while happy to see their parents, take turns juggling work schedules to take them out to see the city, and worry about meals and sleeping arrangements. the Grandfather meets with a couple of old friends for a night of drinking and reminiscing. the evening starts out fun but slowly regrets emerge, and the evening takes on a very different tone.

the indoor shots of the family gatherings are taken at eye level – close and intimate - and as the viewer, it felt like I was one of the family.

while it won’t make my list of favourite movies, I was happy to see it.




message 17: by Phillip (last edited Jan 14, 2010 11:53PM) (new)

Phillip | 9899 comments serious SPOILERS:

for me, the film does an incredible balancing act...a feature-length film with an ordinary life (as you say), that topples with the grandmother's death...all of the action that occurs in the main part of the film becomes haunted by the absence of the grandmother in the end. and the irony set in motion by the character played by setsuko hara, who is kindest to both grandparents, even though she is only their step-daughter.

if you want to see an ozu film with more drama (with a capital D), i highly recommend tokyo twilight.

these films came into my life at a point when i was really ready to hang with silence and space in art. along with tarkovsky, ozu, for me anyway, has taught me a lot as an artsist about creating negative space...where the audience has more time for contemplation within the work to digest the action that does occur. that has been an important for me, and it's why i appreciate them so much.


message 18: by Sooz (new)

Sooz Phillip wrote: "serious SPOILERS:

for me, the film does an incredible balancing act...a feature-length film with an ordinary life (as you say), that topples with the grandmother's death...all of the action that o..."


i was thinking about what you call 'negative space' after reading a comment you posting regarding another movie (can't remember which one) but you mentioned the musical score didn't work for you - that it seemed at odds with the characters and the situation.

so i got to thinking how today, a lot of main stream directors might be afraid of using silence, and feel the need to fill their movies up - much the way those uncomfortable with silence will fill up gaps in conversations.

their use of music often seems very manipulative - to cue us as to what emotion we are to feel next. as if they don't trust us enough to figure it out for ourselves. or - they don't have enough faith in the story or their actors.

so i did notice Ozu's natural use of silence - noticing how subdued the use of music was, and how even the dialogue was never over-bearing, and how comfortable he was letting us sit with his characters.

a very different experience from what we have become accustomed to.








message 19: by Phillip (last edited Jan 15, 2010 10:17AM) (new)

Phillip | 9899 comments indeed.

i'm happy you checked him out. the more of his films you watch, the more the style becomes comfortable...that's how it was for me anyway. i was kind of lucky in that i discovered his work at a PFA retrospective, and the first film i saw was "what did the lady forget?", which is one of his really funny and irreverent movies. unfortunately, some of the ones i really enjoyed at that retrospective are rare, and not available in the states on DVD. nonetheless, i got hooked on his stuff right away, so by the time i started to see his more quiet and meditative films, i was already a fan.


message 20: by Sooz (new)

Sooz i will definitely keep 'an eye out', but at present Tokyo Story was the only Ozu available here.


message 21: by Geoffrey (last edited Feb 09, 2010 04:38PM) (new)

Geoffrey | 209 comments Oi Ling

I agree to a point about his being the most quiet of all directors, as Robert Bresson, the French cinematographer is his match. Check out the film ¨Balthazar¨, and you will see what I mean.


message 22: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 9899 comments i just watched au hazard balthazar again ( for the 5th time? ). it's a lovely film. i also like diary of a country priest.


message 23: by Steve (new)

Steve | 957 comments Just bought Country Priest on the Criterion DVD, spurred by its imminent out-of-print status. Haven't seen it, figure now is a good time.


message 24: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 9899 comments nice score, steve-o!


message 25: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Just announced, three Ozu films on blu-ray in May!!


message 26: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 9899 comments too little too late...
:)


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