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To Ozu on His 110th Birthday

Today marks not only the 110th anniversay of Japanese director Ozu Yasujirō's birthday, but also the 50th anniversary of his death. He was born on this day in 1903 and died exactly 60 years later in 1963. For a director whose work is very neatly put together and assembled that feels awfully appropriate. It also makes this a rather opportune moment to bring him up. I hadn't seen any of his works until a few months back, but I've now see Tokyo Story (1953), Equinox Flower (1958) and An Autumn Afternoon (1962), the final film he made. I loved Equinox, but it's Tokyo Story that rightly has the reputation as one of the greatest films ever made. Just last year it topped the director's poll in Sight & Sound's greatest movies poll and ranked third on the critics list. Impressive.

I look forward to investigating more of this master's work (I've thankfully got some time). He never got the stateside recognition that his countryman Akira Kurosawa received (no Oscar nominations for Ozu's films), but maybe he may have if he hadn't died so young. Nevertheless, does the occasion spark anything in you dear readers? I'd love to hear what films I should be on the lookout for in any repertory houses. Or just speak up with your own thoughts on the man. 

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Reader Comments (10)

He was a master, but seemingly a bit difficult to appreciate. Whenever he comes up in conversation even with people who seriously know and love movies (including "slow" festival films), I seem to be the only one who sticks up for him.

It took me personally a couple of viewings to properly fall in love with Tokyo Story (though, for the record, it took me only one viewing of the Hollywood 1937 original Make Way for Tomorrow to be reduced to incoherent sobs). But even the first time around, I found it gorgeous and moving. And I feel like it might be one of those films that turns into a deeper and more resonant experience with every viewing. So I look forward to viewing it many many more times.

I especially love the non-sequitur shots of clotheslines, townscapes etc. across all of his films.

I also especially love his first version of The Story of Floating Weeds (possibly the most beautifully photographed film in his impossibly elegant, compositionally peerless, surpassingly gorgeous filmography), as well as Early Summer and Ohayo/Good Morning. Even though the latter is in many ways a minor work, I feel like it might be his most accessible, especially since it's in colour, has multiple subplots, incidents and characters, and is pretty consistently hilarious. Equinox Flower is beautiful too (though it does play a bit like a 'greatest hits' assembly).

I'm yet to see Late Spring (which I'd barely ever seen mentioned anywhere until it popped up at no.15 on that Sight and Sound all time list) and I Was Born But... I could technically watch them tomorrow if I wanted but I like the feeling of having some top-shelf Ozu still to discover.

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Late Spring is wonderful. Setsuko Hara plays a daughter who has an opportunity to marry but who doesn't want to leave her elderly father (played by Chishu Ryu) on his own. The father, however, believes she should live her own life.

Others I really like are The Record of a Tenement Gentleman, Early Summer and the remake of Floating Weeds. (I haven't seen the original, but I do have it in my collection and am encouraged by goran's comments to watch it.)

I think Ozu's great, and I do think the films gain on repeated viewings. But even on a first viewing, the poise of his camerawork, the precision of his framing, and the domestic feel of the settings and stories are beguiling.

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Please, go see Tokyo Twilight. So BLEAK.

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

My favorite is Late Spring, but perhaps because it was my first Ozu. It has the wonderful Chishyu Ryu and Setsuko Hara (also in Tokyo Story). The quiet moments break your heart. I enjoyed all of his films I managed to see, in spite of/because of the closely knit repeating themes. Don't overlook the comical Good Morning.

It's been a long while since I've had a chance to see a screening of any of his films, but perhaps no other director has the staying power in your memory than Ozu. When I try to think of another director's work that even remotely resembles his films I come up with a complete blank. How extraordinary in the now long and diverse history of film that this remains true. I hope I get a chance to see more.

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDebby M

As someone yet to experience Ozu (though wanting to for a long time) where would y'all recommend starting? I like working my way to a director's best known or best perceived work, but is that a silly reason to not start with Tokyo Story? Thoughts appreciated!

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPJ

I'd start with Late Spring, then Early Summer and Tokyo Story, the Noriko trilogy. It's a loose trilogy, but in the three movies Setsuko Hara plays a woman named Noriko. It's a great way to build momentum for Tokyo Story.

I am not familiar with his work pre-Late Spring, but I've seen all of them after this one. I thinks his masterpieces ares the whole Noriko trilogy and Tokyo Twilight, a very dark and cruel movie.

His color movies are beyond lovely, but I have trouble distinguisinhg one from another. They're just like the Howard Hawks westerns, Rio Bravo, El Dorado and Rio Lobo. It's the same movie all over again - but they're all great, specially when you realize what changes from one movie to another. They feel like the work of a painter obsessed by the same landscape.

I love Ohayu / Good Morning and I think it's his best color movie.

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Late Spring is probably the best place to start with Ozu. An Autumn Afternoon is actually my favorite (and in my personal top 10 of all time), but I think you need to have seen a fair amount of his movies in order to fully appreciate it since it's sort of a summation of his art as a whole. It's all the more unsettling because he obviously didn't know it was going to be his last film, yet there's such a sense of finality to it.

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEdwin

Very nice Hawks analogy cal roth!

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDebby M

100% in agreement with Cal on the Noriko films. Definitely don't start with his silent films: they're very good (I Was Born, But... especially - it's very like Good Morning, but funnier), but the tone and genre is so intensely Japanese that it's hard to get into them if you're not already on Ozu's wavelength.

I'd also suggest that his color films aren't quite as potent as his black and white, but comparing the two versions of Floating Weeds makes for a lovely weekend afternoon.

December 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterTim Brayton

Thanks so much, Cal, Edwin and Tim! Much appreciated!

December 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPJ

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