Kuniko Miyake

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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

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

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