Michael E Kerpan Jr kerpan
Thu Jul 18 00:22:07 EDT 2002

On Thursday 18 July 2002 01:10, Jerry Turner wrote:

> I'm interested in becoming familar with some of Ozu's work. What do you
> reccomend as a good starting point?

Well, there are only a relative handful of Ozu's (extant) films available in 
the US:

Umarete wa mita keredo a/k/a I Was Born But... (1932)
Tokyo no onna a/k/a Woman of Tokyo (1933)
Tokyo no yado a/k/a Inn in Tokyo (1935)
Nagaya shinshiroku a/k/a Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947)
Banshun a/k/a Late Spring (1949)
Bakushu a/k/a Early Summer (1951)
Tokyo monogatari a/k/a Tokyo Story (1953)
Higanbana a/k/a Equinox Flower (1958)
Ohayo a/k/a Good Morning (1959)
Ukigusa a/k/a Floating Weeds (1959)
Sanma no aji a/k/a Autumn Afternoon (1962)

The starting point for most theorizing about Ozu (and his transcendental 
nature) tends to be "Late Spring".  This film is then often used as a 
template for looking at Ozu's other films. In fact, I would argue the film is 
somewhat atypical. Because of this, despite the fact that "Late Spring" is a 
wonderful film, I recommend holding off from it for just a bit.

Ozu made quite a lot of different films, unfortunately many of the films that 
would help show this (even late ones) are not available -- most importantly, 
Ochazuke no aji a/k/a Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952), Soshun a/k/a 
Early Spring (1956) and Tokyo boshoku a/k/a Tokyo Twilight(1957).  
Consequently, if any of these show up at a theater anywhere near you, grab 
your chance.

If you like silent films, "I Was Born But" is probably pretty readily 
available.  It is a wonderful "chronological" introduction.  Be forewarned, 
this video is absolutely silent -- so pick out some suitably cheerful music 
to play as your own homemade accompaniment.  It demonstrates, early on, a 
basic Ozu tactic of starting funny...and then switching gears to something 
more serious. Here, children go on a hunger strike to protest what they see 
as their father's demeaning subservience to his boss.  The acting is 
splendid, especially Tatsuo Saito and Tomio Aoki as the younger son.

"Good Morning" is commonly described as a "remake" of "I Was Born But".  It is 
no such thing.  Virtually the only thing the films have in common is the 
notion of a children's "strike.  Here, though, they go on a strike against 
speaking to protest the meaninglessness of adult polite conversation (and, 
more pragmatically, to protest their parents' refusal to buy a television).  
This is the only Ozu film on DVD, and the Criterion disc (though extra-less) 
makes this look about as good as possible.

"Tokyo Story" is as famous as "Late Spring", telling a tale of elderly 
parents' visting their supposedly successful children in Tokyo, and finding 
that their children are not as successful as imagined and are really too 
pre-occupied to entertain them properly.  They are treated well only by the 
widow of a son lost in the war (who was a bit of a rotter). There is no 
gentle nostalgia pervading the film as a whole,  the first two-thirds 
(despite some serious touches) is mainly mischievously funny.  The transition 
to serious territory (when the mother becomes ill on her way home) is gradual 
with some wicked humor perpetrated even as the children go off to what might 
be their last visit with her.

"Floating Weeds" is a wonderful film in almost every respect, but especially 
atypical.  Although nominally not set in the past, it's subject matter -- an 
ill-fated troupe of traveling kabuki players suffering from almost-empty 
houses due to a long stretch of bad weather, while its leader is preoccupied 
by an old mistress and their son (who thinks he's only "uncle") and its 
leading lady (his current mistress) is consumed with jealousy.  This is the 
only Ozu film with cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa -- and its use of color 
is awesome (and the Home Vision video shows this quite well).  Machiko Kyo 
gives a marvelous performance as the petulant "prima donna".

If you read German, then the Facets video of "Tokyo Inn" should be no problem 
-- for some reason this has German (and not English) subtitles.  I would 
argue that this is one of Ozu's best films.  It tells the story of an 
unemployed and homeless single father with two sons looking for work in 
depression-era Tokyo, whose life intersects with a single mother of a little 
daughter likewise forlornly seeking a way to live.  Despite this scenario, 
there is lots of humor -- at least to start with.  Takeshi Sakamoto as the 
father and Yoshiko Okada as the mother give extremely touching performances.

If you don't want to tackle German or silent films, "Tenement Gentleman" 
provides a way to get another taste of the pre-war Ozu in a post-war setting.  
For the last time, most of his pre-war "repertory company" is brought 
together -- to tell the story of a grumpy and selfish older woman forced into 
taking care of a young boy who has lost his homeless, job-seeking father in 
the bustle of Tokyo.  Her machinations to rid herself of this burden, and her 
gradual change of heart are beautifully portrayed by Choko Iida.

"Autumn Afternoon" was Ozu's last completed film.  But despite co0mmon 
misperceptions, it is no "swan song".  Ozu had already mostly written his 
next planned film (about ham actors) when he took ill after completing this 
film.  The English title is actually a complete misnomer -- properly this is 
"The Taste of Sea-Mackerel".  The fish of the title is apparently a delicacy 
available only briefly at the end of July/early August.  It tells a story of 
a widower who is convinced by his buddies that he needs to marry off his 
daughter "before its too late".  This point is re-inforced when they hold a 
reunion with an old teacher (now retired from teaching, but needing to run a 
greasy spoon eatery to make ends meet) who selfishly persuaded his daughter 
to stay single and care for him instead. Are there poignant moments in this 
film, without a doubt -- but Ozu intended this to be very funny in the main 
-- and it is.  Chishu Ryu is absolutely wonderful as the bemused and 
befuddled father of the daughter who needs to be married off.

The other available films are likewise wonderful, but I think the above films 
will provide as well-rounded a picture of Ozu's genius as is possible with 
the films available on video. It's past my bedtime, so I can't comment 
further now anyway.  Let me know what you think about some of the films from 
the first batch -- and I'll try to get around to commenting on the rest 
another day.

Michael Kerpan

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