Until recently it was the only film of Ozu's that had any currency in the West. It makes it onto lists of "The Ten Best Movies Of All Time" and none of his other films ever do.
It's the fourth of his films I've seen. If I'd seen it first I might agree that it's his masterpiece. Having seen it fourth, I'm not so sure. It's a great film, certainly- but is it better the films that surround it? I don't think so.
Ozu's late films offer variations on a theme. They shuffle the same issues, the same actors, the same settings. They gain from being seen together.
Western critics go on and on about how Japanese Ozu is. This can be overdone. I find he makes me think of postwar British drama- specifically ( I'm sorry but I can't help it) of Coronation Street. Ozu, like his British counterparts, is dealing with family life- and the widening gap between the generations- in a traditional society recently traumatized by war- and (heh heh heh) by the impact of American popular culture.
Great directors often work again and again with the same actors. We talk of the Ford stock company, the Bergman stock company. Well, no-one had a stock company the way Ozu did. The actor Chishu Ryu appeared in all his later films- with (I think) only two exceptions. Usually he plays the male lead, but if that role wasn't available for him, Ozu would slip him in as a supporting player or extra. And what an amazing actor he is- utterly convincing as the charming, doddery old chap in Tokyo Story- even though he was only 49 at the time- and equally convincing- playing a man of his own age- as the dour, rather unlikable older brother in Early Summer.
Equally amazing is the radiant Setsuko Hara who if we weren't all so insular (and racist) would be as internationally famous as Garbo, Monroe or either of the Hepburns.
Ozu is wonderful. I need to see more......