Monday, November 07, 2005

Re: Great Directors - The Films of Yasujiro Ozu

Re: Great Directors - The Films of Yasujiro Ozu

Relatively unknown in America, but an acknowledged master and influence on nearly every major Japanese director of the 20th century, Yasujiro Ozu has created a unique body of work that rivals the works of William Shakespeare in its examination of the motivations common to our human species. Ozu seems to have invented his very own blend of social study with comedy that allows people to chuckle at issues that touch our more vulnerable emotional states.

Ozu’s style is simple and perhaps well-known to his audiences: the camera sits roughly three feet off the floor and seldom moves, giving the distinct impression that you, the viewer, are sitting on the floor with your ever-changing panorama of hosts and hostesses. The metaphorical restaurateurs that populate Ozu’s films serve up the microcosm of family and all that comes with it: birth, growing pains of childhood, the plight of education, easy and uneasy transitions into adulthood, gender issues, marriage (to be or not to be), bustling careers, failed dreams, separations, alcoholism, tragic suicides, easy deaths, tender reconciliation and the age-old questions that come with old age and the inevitable confrontation with death.

Here is a short list of some of the films that I would recommend without reservation:

1)Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952) A potpourri of Ozu’s themes all woven together in a satisfying tale – a great place to start for Ozu initiates.

2)Tokyo Twilight (1957) A tragic tale of a disintegrating post-war family that features a fleet of masterful performances that will melt the coldest of hearts.

3)Good Morning (1959) A tale of two adorable kids who take on a vow of silence because their parents won’t buy a TV – a great introduction to Japanese film for kids.

4)An Autumn Afternoon (1962) Ozu’s last film tenderly reveals a father facing old age as his daughter contemplates marriage – more great performances from the Ozu stable of actors!

5)What Did the Lady Forget? (1937) FUNNY story of a liberated young woman that visits her fairly conservative aunt and uncle and sets out to break their exalted social taboos.

6)Early Summer(1951) This spacious film features a great performance by Setsuko Hara a dutiful daughter whose family is trying to find a husband. While the theme may be familiar to Ozu fans, the performances and the subtleties of emotion and psycological understanding are the reasons this director has carved out a place that is unique in the history of cinema.

7)Tokyo Story(1953) One of Ozu's most highly acclaimed works, this film presents an elderly couple visiting some of their children in Tokyo, only to find themselves not particularly welcome in their fast-paced urban lives. The couple return to their country village at a time of tragedy that brings the family together at the film's end in a heartbreaking and unforgettable way.

8)Floating Weeds(1959) Shrouded in Ozu minimalism, this film tracks the movements of a band of traveling actors who have settled temporarily in a fishing village. While stranded without work, the actors in Ozu's film give the great director lots of personalities to explore and merge in dramatic and non-dramatic conflict.


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