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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

Tokyo Chorus Review


Excellent
The earliest of three silent comedies directed by Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu and released by The Criterion Collection, 1931's Tokyo Chorus is one of many early Ozu films that clearly telegraph all the thematic concerns he would tackle in dozens of subsequent films while also showing off the very particular techniques that have fascinated students of cinema for decades.

In this simple tale, young and insouciant insurance executive Shinji Okajima (Tokihiko Okada) gets himself fired when he berates his boss for badly treating one of his colleagues. In typical Ozu fashion, there's a bit of slapstick in the argument. Watch as the two men poke each other with Japanese fans with steadily increasing force. It's bad news for Shinji because, like America, Japan is feeling the effects of the Great Depression (Shinji even cracks a joke about Herbert Hoover), and jobs are scarce.

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Tokyo Twilight Review


Very Good
The title Tokyo Twilight gives a subtle hint that this story is one Yasujiro's darker efforts. Once again focusing on the crumbling of a middle-class Tokyo family, this time around Ozu goes farther than he usually does, marching straight ahead into chilly tragedy and leaving us emotionally drained.

Mr. Sugiyama (Ozu favorite Chisyu Ryu) is an aging father of two adult daughters. Older daughter Takako (Setsuko Hara, another Ozu regular), is separated from her boozing husband, while younger daughter Akiko (Ineko Arima) has slid into what is considered bad behavior in 1950s Japan: hanging around mah-jongg parlors in the bad part of town and getting herself pregnant.

Continue reading: Tokyo Twilight Review

The End Of Summer Review


Excellent
Yasujiro Ozu clearly had a lot on his mind as he wrote The End of Summer, his penultimate film: the old vs. the new, generational shifts, family loyalty, death. It's all in there in this wonderfully elegiac film. Leave it to Ozu to make the smoke from a crematorium chimney look positively poetic. "It's the cycle of life," someone watching the smoke comments. Indeed.

Ozu introduces us to a widowed family patriarch Mr. Kohayagawa (Ganjiro Nakamura) who is enjoying his merry widowerhood much to the consternation of his three adult daughters, each of whom has a few issues of her own to work out. One daughter, Noriko (Yôko Tsukasa), is trying to fight off an arranged marriage while worrying that her boyfriend is moving all the way to Sapporo. Another daughter, Fumiko (Michiro Aratama), is married but concerned about the family's sake brewing business. And widowed daughter Akiko (Setsuko Hara) is trying to decide if she should seek another husband.

Continue reading: The End Of Summer Review

Late Autumn Review


Very Good
Yasujiro Ozu has fun with a group of old friends who bumble through some ridiculous attempts at matchmaking in Late Autumn, a lighthearted yet poignant look at how people with the best intentions can sometimes make a mess of things on the way to a happy outcome. "Life by itself is surprisingly simple," says one character. If only that were true.

We begin at a temple ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of Mr. Miwa. His lovely widow Akiko (Setsuko Hara) is in attendance with her 24-year old daughter Ayako (Yôko Tsukasa). Miwa's old friends show up, and we soon learn that three of them were all once in love with Akiko, and they admire her to this day. Now that the time has come to find a good husband for Ayako, they plot among themselves to get this problem solved, with one of the men, Taguchi (Nobuo Nakamura), taking the lead.

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Equinox Flower Review


Terrible
Equinox Flower is notable for being the first of Yasujiro Ozu's films to be shot in color, quite a departure for this master of black and white imagery. His reds are gorgeous, but sadly, that's pretty much the most notable aspect of this otherwise minor work in Ozu's catalog. A rather unaffecting look at generational clashes and hypocrisy among the upper middle classes, it tells truths but lacks the typical Ozu impact.

We first meet businessman Hirayama (Shin Saburi) at a big wedding for the daughter of one of his friends. Pretty much everyone in his social circle has a handful of daughters who need marrying off, and he himself has two. The older one, Setsuko (Ineko Arima), is prime marriage material.

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Early Spring Review


Excellent
If you want to know who Yasujiro Ozu was and what he was all about, this is a great place to start. Early Spring is a beautifully crafted distillation of all of Ozu's themes and techniques, a textbook example of what made him Japan's cinematic king of the domestic drama. The film runs long -- 2 hours and 28 minutes -- but it never feels boring, even as it deals with the most mundane of concerns.

Shoji Sugiyama (Ryo Ikebe) lives the bleak life of Tokyo salaryman, slaving away at the Toa Fire-Brick Company in a clerical role and staring out the window with his colleague to marvel at the "340,000" white-shirted office workers they watch scurrying to their jobs. At home, Sugiyama's very patient wife Masako (Chikage Awashima) doesn't mind when her husband spends his down time on company outings, at bars with his co-workers, playing mah-jong, or visiting a sick friend. She rarely joins in the fun, choosing instead to stay home and take care of the skimpy family budget.

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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

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

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Tokyo Twilight Movie Review

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The End of Summer Movie Review

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Late Autumn Movie Review

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Equinox Flower Movie Review

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Early Spring Movie Review

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