Japanese Cinema: 7x Yasujirō Ozu

Yasujirō Ozu (1903-1963) is one of Japan’s most famous film makers. I recently watched 7 of his films:

  • 東京の合唱 (Tokyo no gassho/Tokyo Chorus, 1931)
  • 戸田家の兄妹 (Todake no kyodai/Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family, 1941)
  • 晩春 (Banshun/Late Spring, 1949)
  • 東京物語 (Tokyo monogatari/Tokyo Story, 1953)
  • お早よう (Ohayo/Good Morning, 1959)
  • 秋日和 (Akibiyori/Late Autumn, 1960)
  • 秋刀魚の味 (Sanma no aji/An Autumn Afternoon, 1962 – his final work)

They all focus on the everyday life of the Family; work, children, marriage, death … The family focus is so strong that it borders on satire. But I’d rather call it obsession.

Three of the films had the same plot: A daughter who doesn’t want to marry, partly out of pity since she lives with her lone parent. The whole film focuses on her acquaintances’ attempts to get her to marry, which she eventually does.

Ozu seems to say: Traditions are important. Change is inevitable and should be embraced.

My favourite was the silent movie Tokyo Chorus, because of the way Ozu shapes the main character, a pretty ordinary guy whom it is impossible not to love.

Ozu uses the same set design and the same actors in many of his movies. Watching the movies so close together almost gave me the impression of a soap opera. (Movie buffs may hate me.) Same plots, same quarrels, same actors – but in different roles. Maybe a better comparison is that of a travelling theatrical company. I couldn’t help but smile when an actress I had “got to know” suddenly emerged in a new role.

The films are all very slow and sport a minimalistic aesthetics. I fell asleep during several of them. But I still liked them, especially to watch on a Sunday when you’re hungover.

3 thoughts on “Japanese Cinema: 7x Yasujirō Ozu

  1. Notice how often the protagonist say something like “so des ne” and “so des ka” (so desu ne, so desu ka) with a long sigh. I’ve read it means like when we say “oh really?” or “is that so?”. Probably difficult to really translate, but i relates to the Japanese concept of mono no aware, taking things as they are, very zen. Tanizaki wrote about it in his In Praise of Shadows.

    I always love it when they use these expressions in Ozu movies. I remember a scene from probably Tokyo Story where four women are sitting in a lunchroom talking about marriage etc., and suddenly all four of them use this expression a few times in a row. Its very funny (accomapnied with a bowing movement of the head).

  2. Someone over at Dennis Cooper’s blog once suggested, I don’t know on what authority though, that the constant refusal of the daughter of the family to marry, as in most Ozu movies, is due to her latent homosexuality, and channels Ozu’s own sexuality problems. (The daughter is basically a stand-in for Ozu himself that way). Well, anyway, the Japanese would probably react on this with a classic “So des neeeeeeeeeeeee?”

  3. Haha, you’re right, Ozu’s films are very so des ne/ka. But so are all Japanese films I’ve seen, it’s basically the only full sentence I ever get. 😉 And I agree, it’s very zen. Even the most outrageous claims are met with a so des ne in Ozu.

    I’ve also seen in the English Mishima translation a couple of “Is that right?”, which makes me smile and say “so des ka”.

    As for the marry refusal, I had the same interpretation myself, but supposed that I was just fucked… The question came up in the imdb forum too, and someone said that we’re just biased from today’s focus on gay issues. But since no one can discuss homosexuality without a bias either way, the question is still open. I like the interpretation that Ozu is the woman. Hence the obsession with the subject.

    At least, I think his complex sexuality was what made him focus so hard on the family in his films. He didn’t live that life himself at all. That’s why I think you can see the dwelling on family relations and traditions as an obsession bordering on satire.

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