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An Autumn Afternoon Review


Essential
Waking up, going to work, having a drink with co-workers, and visiting with friends make up the mundane stories that family members have to suffer through when you finally arrive home. Although these events hardly carry a dinner conversation, Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu turned those everyday happenings into a film career. An Autumn Afternoon's plot, like many of his 50-plus films (this was his last), centers on a father growing old and marrying his daughter off. Just when the variation on a theme may grow old, Ozu proves that it's not what you say; it's how you say it that makes the difference.

Japanese salaryman Shuhei Hirayama's life is changing. One of his admired childhood professors now runs a noodle shop, his friends are growing older -- marrying off their children and taking new wives -- and he's realized that he can't keep his daughter trapped as the household caretaker. So Hirayama sets off to find a suitor for his daughter in the old tradition of arranged marriage. Although this dilemma drives the majority of Ozu's later work, it's Hirayamam's reaction to the change that thrills Ozu fans. Whereas the marriage of a widower's daughter is met with uncertainty, fear, and sadness in Late Spring and The End of Summer, Autumn Afternoon's Hirayama almost effortlessly supports his daughter's marriage, despite his impending loneliness. It's those subtle tonal shifts within Ozu's work that shows the evolution of Japanese life and culture -- one that goes beyond culture and strikes at the very core of family and relationships that we all can relate to.

Continue reading: An Autumn Afternoon Review

Early Summer Review


Essential
Yasujiro Ozu was still largely unknown to Western audiences when his delicate family drama Early Summer was released in 1951. Since that time, new prints of the film have no doubt been made; still, I imagine that most Americans will never have seen an Early Summer in any format as radiant as the new Criterion DVD release of the film. It matters; Ozu's studied composition and luminous black-and-white cinematography invite adjectives such as "luscious," even as his content refutes the extravagance and sensuality of the term. Criterion's Early Summer is a marvel of contrast, restoring to the screen a full palette of blacks, whites, and grays; a scene such as that near the end in which two women walk the dunes by the sea reveals a visual artist working at the peak of his form. You could lose yourself in such images indefinitely, even if the proceedings offered nothing to hold your mind.

But they do. Early Summer, like many of Ozu's "home dramas," is the story of a family - three generations of it - that struggles to find serenity within the cycle of life that the state of being human embodies. (Ozu's titles often find a metaphorical connection in the cycle of the seasons: Late Spring, Early Autumn, Late Autumn.) The central figure is 28-year-old Noriko, an attractive young single woman who lives with her brother Koichi, his wife Fumiko, their two young boys, and her elderly parents. We also meet her neighbors (a widower her age and his mother), her three girlfriends, a great-uncle who comes for a visit, her employer, and her brother's co-worker. Present in the thoughts of the family, though never pictured, is Noriko's brother Shoji, a soldier who remains unaccounted for from the war.

Continue reading: Early Summer Review

Tokyo Story Review


Essential
The works of director Yasujiro Ozu, who worked for many decades before his death in 1963, embody a certain classical approach to filmmaking in Japan. His films are slow-moving, meditative, and austerely stylized, and they return again and again to the same themes: the life of the family, the interaction between generations, the basic sadness of life and the ways in which honest people can overcome it. His style is so complete in its serenity and his output so monumental that it took a whole generation of younger directors, led by his one-time student Shohei Imamura, to react against him, as though Ozu's influence required a Herculean effort to work out of the Japanese film industry's system. And if cameras were to move, if the underside of life in Japan was to be portrayed on the screen, if violence and sex were to find their way into that country's cinema, it had to be. Ozu's body of work stood in opposition.

Because of the contemplative nature of Ozu's work, Western audiences strive to find something Eastern and spiritual in them. But Ozu's true greatness lies in exactly the opposite quality; below the Zen-like peace of their surfaces, the films tell stories as universal as any ever have. His 1953 Tokyo Story is the classic example: an aging couple travel to Tokyo to visit their children, but find that their children have little time for them when they arrive. Traveling back to their small town, the mother becomes sick and dies, and her surviving spouse and children come to terms with her loss.

Continue reading: Tokyo Story Review

Late Spring Review


Extraordinary
Legendary director Yasujiro Ozu is a filmcritic.com all-star. Do a search, and you'll find nothing but four and five-star reviews. That's quite a feat for a man remembered for crafting small-scale domestic dramas featuring understated performances and static camera work. What's his secret? You could write a dissertation about the Ozu magic (and many people have), but the short answer is that Ozu has a way at revealing huge truths about the human condition from the smallest of gestures.

Late Spring is classic Ozu. Set mainly in the small confines of the suburban Tokyo home of Professor Somiya (Chishu Ryu) and his 27-year-old daughter Shukichi (Setsuko Hara, Ozu's favorite leading lady), the issue at hand is a deceptively simple one: When will Shukichi get married and leave home? Finally fully recovered from wartime illness, widower Somiya wonders if his daughter should be considering marriage, but she's enjoying a sort of domestic bliss, taking care of her father and showing no interest in dating or marrying. Somiya's pushy sister Aya (Yumeji Tsukioka) buzzes around fretting about Shukichi's spinsterhood and looking for appropriate matches, but Somiya himself is sort of ambivalent.

Continue reading: Late Spring Review

Good Morning Review


Excellent
All hail Ozu, whose Good Morning stands as a masterpiece of Japanese cinema. His Asian Peyton Place features catty housewives and petulant children, their small suburban community coming undone because of neighborhood dues that have gone missing. To add to the hubbub, the children refuse to speak or eat because their parents won't buy them a TV. This leads to endless bitterness among the women of the mini-town, all presuming the other families are either thieves or bitches.

Ozu plops his camera down in each scene and never moves it, giving us a directorial simplicity and stuffiness that melds beautifully with the vitriol on screen. It's just like Japan: All smiles on faces but turmoil in the gut. This allegory about appearances and attitudes is simply too rich to miss.

Continue reading: Good Morning Review

Early Summer Review


Essential
Yasujiro Ozu was still largely unknown to Western audiences when his delicate family drama Early Summer was released in 1951. Since that time, new prints of the film have no doubt been made; still, I imagine that most Americans will never have seen an Early Summer in any format as radiant as the new Criterion DVD release of the film. It matters; Ozu's studied composition and luminous black-and-white cinematography invite adjectives such as "luscious," even as his content refutes the extravagance and sensuality of the term. Criterion's Early Summer is a marvel of contrast, restoring to the screen a full palette of blacks, whites, and grays; a scene such as that near the end in which two women walk the dunes by the sea reveals a visual artist working at the peak of his form. You could lose yourself in such images indefinitely, even if the proceedings offered nothing to hold your mind.

But they do. Early Summer, like many of Ozu's "home dramas," is the story of a family - three generations of it - that struggles to find serenity within the cycle of life that the state of being human embodies. (Ozu's titles often find a metaphorical connection in the cycle of the seasons: Late Spring, Early Autumn, Late Autumn.) The central figure is 28-year-old Noriko, an attractive young single woman who lives with her brother Koichi, his wife Fumiko, their two young boys, and her elderly parents. We also meet her neighbors (a widower her age and his mother), her three girlfriends, a great-uncle who comes for a visit, her employer, and her brother's co-worker. Present in the thoughts of the family, though never pictured, is Noriko's brother Shoji, a soldier who remains unaccounted for from the war.

Continue reading: Early Summer Review

Tokyo Story Review


Essential
The works of director Yasujiro Ozu, who worked for many decades before his death in 1963, embody a certain classical approach to filmmaking in Japan. His films are slow-moving, meditative, and austerely stylized, and they return again and again to the same themes: the life of the family, the interaction between generations, the basic sadness of life and the ways in which honest people can overcome it. His style is so complete in its serenity and his output so monumental that it took a whole generation of younger directors, led by his one-time student Shohei Imamura, to react against him, as though Ozu's influence required a Herculean effort to work out of the Japanese film industry's system. And if cameras were to move, if the underside of life in Japan was to be portrayed on the screen, if violence and sex were to find their way into that country's cinema, it had to be. Ozu's body of work stood in opposition.

Because of the contemplative nature of Ozu's work, Western audiences strive to find something Eastern and spiritual in them. But Ozu's true greatness lies in exactly the opposite quality; below the Zen-like peace of their surfaces, the films tell stories as universal as any ever have. His 1953 Tokyo Story is the classic example: an aging couple travel to Tokyo to visit their children, but find that their children have little time for them when they arrive. Traveling back to their small town, the mother becomes sick and dies, and her surviving spouse and children come to terms with her loss.

Continue reading: Tokyo Story Review

Akira Kurosawa's Dreams Review


Bad
At the risk of sounding disrespectful to one of filmmaking's masters, Akira Kurosawa couldn't dream his way out of a paper bag.

Based on Akira Kurosawa's Dreams -- a film consisting of, you guessed it, a bunch of his dreams put on film and strung together one after another -- Kurosawa didn't have dreams any more interesting than you or me. George Bush's dreams -- that I'd like to see. Saddam Hussein's dreams -- that'd be a hoot! But a creative filmmaker naturally has kooky, inspirational dreams. And of course they're complete nonsense.

Continue reading: Akira Kurosawa's Dreams Review

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Late Spring Movie Review

Late Spring Movie Review

Legendary director Yasujiro Ozu is a filmcritic.com all-star. Do a search, and you'll find nothing...

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