Friday, October 22, 2010

Ozu & Hara

The Viz Cinema recently completed a weeklong series called Ozu and His Muse: Setsuko Hara. The series consisted of four films directed by Yasujirō Ozu and featuring Setsuko Hara.

Early Summer; Japanese with subtitles; (1951)
Late Autumn; Japanese with subtitles; (1960)
Late Spring; Japanese with subtitles; (1949)
Tokyo Twilight; Japanese with subtitles; (1957)

Chishû Ryû also appeared in all four film while Haruko Sugimura appeared in three.


Early Summer, Late Autumn and Late Spring are variation on the "unmarried daughter" theme. They are really telling the same story with some difference.

In Early Summer, Setsuko Hara is the unmarried daughter who lives with her extended family. Her family want her to marry a slightly older man who is financially successful but she chooses a childhood friend who is a widower. In Late Spring, Hara lives with her widower father who exerts increasing but subtle pressure on his daughter to marry. In Late Autumn, Hara is the widow with a 24 year old daughter. Three male family friends conspire (somewhat independently of Hara) to marry off the daughter.

In Tokyo Twilight, Hara begins the film as a married woman and mother who separates from her husband and comes to live with her father and younger sister. Their mother has abandoned them many years before. Hara's younger sister (Ineko Arima) has issues related to growing up without a mother. She acts out by getting pregnant and distancing herself from her family. The film is less about a young woman being cajoled into marriage and more about the lasting psychological effects of divorce and a broken family.

Like many Ozu films, I find the plot is secondary. That's why Ozu keeps returning to the same themes - family, family conflict, aging, growing apart, parent-child relationships, etc. The difference between three of the four films is quite subtle because of the similar plots and the use of the same principle cast. Slight differences in the attitudes of Hara's characters in Early Summer and Late Spring. Late Autumn and Tokyo Twilight are almost like alternate timelines - what if Hara's character had gotten married and face a similar problem with her daughter or what if Hara's character grew up in a broken household?

I can't really add much to the chorus of praise which Ozu has received over the years. I enjoyed all four films and with each new Ozu film I see, I become more enamored with his unique style of storytelling. Ozu is so strict with his formula in his postwar films that it become predictable - the cloth weave background of the opening credits, the exterior shots which serve a segue to the next scene, the Kamakura train station sign, the tatami shot, even Hara's Western wardrobe seems to remain unchanged throughout.

Ozu did change the relationships between the actors' characters. In some films Chishû Ryû is Hara's father, in one he is her brother; Haruko Sugimura plays her aunt as well as prospective mother-in-law. Hara's character strangely stayed 28 years old for three of the films.


I hope Viz screens some more Ozu films. They have screened 8 of them in the past four months. Later this month and into early November, Viz is screening four films by Kenji Mizoguchi. That series is called Mizoguchi and His Muse: Kinuyo Tanaka.

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