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Tony Grist

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Yet More About Ozu [Jun. 11th, 2007|10:26 am]
Tony Grist
Well I had to say something about Tokyo Story, didn't I?

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......
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: karenkay
2007-06-11 12:06 pm (UTC)
For a long time, Tokyo Story was the only Ozu movie available; I think that's one reason for its currency.

Is Tokyo Story the one where the best daughter is the one who actually isn't part of the family? She was engaged to their son, who died in the war?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-11 12:36 pm (UTC)
That's the one.

Though it's not as simple as that. The "nice" daughter-in-law is "nice" because she's desperately lonely and the "unkind" children are "unkind" because they're busy professionals- and also because they have bitter childhood memories of dad as a feckless drunk.

This is what I love about Ozu- he sees everybody's point of view.
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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2007-06-11 01:49 pm (UTC)
She's not technically a daughter-in-law--but that's the point. She *feels* like a daughter-in-law.

Duty doesn't have anything to do with whether or not your dad was a feckless drunk. And this isn't their dad who's sick, it's their mom. Confucianism doesn't give you a pass just because your parents are jerks at times.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-11 02:28 pm (UTC)
The kids aren't horrible to their parents- they do, in fact, more or less perform their duty. For example they make the long inconvenient journey to be at mum's deathbed. The problem is that the duty is performed a little grudgingly- and the parents feel it.

But it could be argued on the other side that the parents are a blithering nuisance- turning up on the doorstep expecting to be indulged and amused. The first time the son "lets them down" is because he's been called to attend to a sick child. Now which is more important- caring for a sick child or showing one's parents the sights of Tokyo? I don't think that's too difficult a decision.

The son and daughter aren't particularly attractive people, but they have their reasons- and some of the reasons are good. When the youngest, favourite daughter- who never knew dad as a soak- gets angry with her siblings, the daughter-in-law says she mustn't judge them harshly; people do grow apart from their parents; life's like that. Well, says the youngest daughter with all the absolutism of youth, life is very disappointing.
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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2007-06-11 03:07 pm (UTC)
Caring for the parents is more important.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-11 04:17 pm (UTC)
I disagree. The guy's a doctor. He has taken the Hippocratic oath. His first duty is to care for his patients

If the parents needed him for something important it might be different, but this is just a sight-seeing tour.

It's not that he or his sister do anything terribly wrong, it's that they fail to show their parents any love. Duty is not enough.
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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2007-06-11 04:29 pm (UTC)
I'm telling you the Japanese cultural POV.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-11 04:32 pm (UTC)
Fair enough- but I don't think Ozu is merely a spokesman for his culture. I think he's showing his audience problems that are thrown up by the culture and asking them to go away and think.

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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2007-06-11 04:48 pm (UTC)
Actually, his movie was being made at a time of great cultural upheaval in Japan. I think Ozu delineates the cultural stressors with a deft hand.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-11 06:28 pm (UTC)
Yes, I'd agree. Very deft.

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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2007-06-12 03:04 am (UTC)
I'd really like to discuss this further with you. I really didn't have time to do this discussion justice at work, and now it's bedtime, and by the time I have a decent block of time, you will have moved on mentally to the next thing. Sigh.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-12 08:36 am (UTC)
Hey, I'm very happy to go on discussing Ozu for as long as you please. I ordered another of his films yesterday. I just can't get enough of him.
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[User Picture]From: zeeshanmn
2007-06-11 12:20 pm (UTC)
You have made me an Ozu fan with your posts. I tried going to some DVD stores here, but the problem is stores in India don't even know who Kurosawa is, forget Ozu :-(.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-11 12:51 pm (UTC)
That's a shame.

I don't suppose most British DVD stores have heard of Ozu either. He's very much a minority taste.

Could you maybe get the films from an internet supplier?
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[User Picture]From: zeeshanmn
2007-06-12 05:36 am (UTC)
I checked that too. It would cost me close to £90 for 10 films :-( [here, a DVD costs around £1 :-P].
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-12 08:40 am (UTC)
Whoops..

There's a huge boxed set- 18 films- for sale at a very reasonable price on eBay. But this is a Chinese edition (clearly the Chinese love Ozu) and most of them don't have English subtitles.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2007-06-11 04:35 pm (UTC)
Ozu is wonderful. I need to see more......

I have never seen any of his films and now I want to see as many as I can find.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-11 06:32 pm (UTC)
I've only just discovered him. I guess it's only very recently that his movies have been widely available in the West.
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From: senordildo
2007-06-12 12:15 am (UTC)
You'll be able to see more quite soon, thanks to Criterion's new Eclipse label. Info here: http://www.criterion.com/eclipse/eclipse_3.asp
I don't know how expensive or easy to come across Criterions are in England, but the Eclipse releases are usually less expensive than Criterions, due to their absence of extras.
I also noticed that the Ozus you'd mentioned were all Criterion releases, so I suspect you're already familiar with the company's Ozu-related output.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-12 08:49 am (UTC)
I've been buying my Ozus from Tartan- a British company that closely parallels Criterion in its policy and output.

They have four boxed sets of late Ozu.

I've also bought a couple of titles from Artificial Eye.

It's the regional thing. I can't play Region 1 DVDs on my Brit DVD player. I know I could get the code removed but- well, I guess it's easier not to....
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