For Reel


I Was Born, But… (1932)
June 29, 2016, 7:25 pm
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Director: Yasujirō Ozu
5 Stars
I Was Born, But...One of the key moments in the maturation process is coming to understand that your parents are imperfect and don’t have all the answers. Yasujirō Ozu’s I Was Born, But… remarks on the devastating realization—towards the end of the film, two young boys (Tomio Aoki and Hideo Sugawara) who have spent the duration of the picture attempting to stand up to bullies witness a home movie wherein their father (Tatsuo Saito) makes a fool of himself by making slapstick faces to please his boss. To the boys, it’s a shameful moment of pure subservience, the equivalent of the game a boys play wherein they force their inferiors to lay on the ground until given permission to stand. If the boys have not yet understood that sometimes compromises need to be made, the parents are in denial that the day will ever come—how does one explain the precarious balance of what it means to assert oneself and what it means to make it in a social environment? That Ozu incorporates the whole of this drama of generational divides within a film that is often a comedy reminiscent of the Hal Roach “Our Gang” series is the genius of I Was Born, But…, ultimately re-contextualizing Ozu as not just a master dramatist, but a master storyteller regardless of genre.



The End of Summer (1961)
February 9, 2016, 8:16 pm
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Director: Yasujirō Ozu
4.5 Stars
The End of SummerThose familiar with the films of Yasujirō Ozu will likely be startled by the opening shot of The End of Summer. Instead of a typical domestic scene, Ozu’s penultimate film begins by establishing modern Osaka, complete with neon billboards that grapple for one’s attention. A key advertisement reads NEW JAPAN, literally demonstrating the recurrent theme of traditional Japanese culture vs. encroaching modernity. In his late films, Ozu seems to have fully come to terms with the younger generation. That is not to say that he doesn’t have a great affection for the widowed patriarch (Ganjiro Nakamura) of The End of Summer, but the film is about how his children overcome their father’s influence and begin to live their own lives. Manbei (Nakamura) is a key argument against the assertion that Ozu was a patriarchal filmmaker, but what is particularly interesting about his characterization is that he is both liberated (he is a man who lives purely for pleasure) and oppressive, failing to recognize that his daughters might want a different future than the one he tries to push on them. His passing, then, releases the women from his influence, but also serves as a transference of his penchant for pursuing personal desires openly. Ozu’s films often involved the troubled encounters between an individual and his/her family, and The End of Summer resolves it conclusively, not merely with a death but by the passing on of a sensibility.



Equinox Flower (1958)
February 9, 2016, 8:05 pm
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Director: Yasujirō Ozu
4 Stars
Equinox FlowerAs all of Yasujirō Ozu’s sound films are, Equinox Flower is an elegiac family drama, remarking on the shifting of generations with an uncommon serenity. Even if the film is comprised of a conflict that sets a father (Shin Saburi) and his daughter (Ineko Arima) at an impasse, characters in Ozu films don’t resort to theatrics to get their point across, instead preferring to have frank discussions about their contrasting point-of-views. If Ozu’s body of work often feels like an inalienable whole, Equinox Flower is distinguished not just by being the filmmaker’s first dalliance with color, but in discussing masculinity in a way that often goes unrecognized in discussions about Ozu. Waturu Hirayama (Saburi) is characterized rather bluntly as a hypocrite–although he has embraced modernity enough to give open-minded advice to his friends, he is tortured by the idea of having his own daughter choose a suitor without him. By framing the discussions from the familiar tatami angle and with characters facing the camera (as if speaking directly to the audience), Ozu withholds judgment by lending equal weight to the plight of each of his key figures. His films don’t argue for a certain social cause as much as they suggest that these types of family conflicts do happen. The inevitable resulting harmony in Equinox Flower’s conclusion doesn’t off-set the messy notions that behaviors are often wildly consistent, and the passing of one generation to the next will be cause for sorrow if one doesn’t have the ability to compromise.



Floating Weeds (1959)
January 23, 2012, 2:30 am
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Director: Yasujirô Ozu

A remake of his own highly successful silent film A Story of Floating Weeds, Yasujirô Ozu’s Floating Weeds is the more remembered version, though it suffers by comparison in not having the same concision in the storytelling. While the central narrative is largely identical – and, indeed, a number of scenes almost play as direct copies – his world is expanded with even more attention to the kabuki performances and a greater development of the auxiliary members of the troupe. Tonally, the picture is much lighter, which Donald Richie suggests is due to the Daiei studio (Ozu was typically associated with Shochiku), in which, “the chosen audience was young people looking for novelty.” The comedic elements work to the film’s detriment – in particular, an ugly woman in the village becomes a source of frequent comic relief, which today plays as mean-spirited and detracts from the seriousness of the melodrama. Kazuo Miyagawa’s (the famed cinematographer who also shot Rashomon and Ugetsu) color photography is perhaps the best justification for this story’s retelling. He delights in capturing the vibrancy of the colors of the costumes, and in his use of Ozu’s familiar point-of-view shots in which the characters speak almost directly to the camera he heightens the intensity of the confrontations.



A Story of Floating Weeds (1934)
January 23, 2012, 2:25 am
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Director: Yasujirô Ozu

David Bordwell assesses that A Story of Floating Weeds was the pivotal film in Yasujirô Ozu’s maturation as a filmmaker. Dealing with the destruction of a family, it first incorporates a theme that would become a staple throughout the rest of Ozu’s career, and it is in the picture that Ozu perfects his influential methods of camera placement, objects that serve as transitions, and a use of elliptical storytelling. Though Ozu’s own remake of the film, 1959’s Floating Weeds, garners much more attention today, the original remains the better achievement. The picture begins when a traveling kabuki troupe arrives in a seaside town. Kihachi, the leader, visits with his former mistress and checks in with the son who believes him to be an uncle. Complicating matters is Kihachi’s present lover, who enlists a fellow actress to seduce Kihachi’s son. In the protagonist, Ozu offers a terribly flawed, albeit wholly sympathetic man. When his son is approached and told that his father only wants him to become a “good man”, it is clear that what Kihachi means is that he wishes anything but his own fate for the boy. His profession as an actor is enlightening in this regard, as, though he has mastered the art of emulating others, he has yet to come to terms with the development of his own character, and so before the picture ends he is forced to re-embark on his perpetual journey.