BFI Japan, Top 10 Ozu Films

BFI Japan O

(spoiler free)

BFI’s celebration continues with a twenty one film season of the works of Yasujiro Ozu, an iconic filmmaker revered by his peers and critics alike. His fascinating career began in the silent era and finished with a series of beautiful colour films in the late fifties and early sixties. Ozu’s filmography is a mosaic of life that explores cross-generational relationships. Through simple but powerful narratives focused on the beauty found in everyday life. Told from the perspectives of parents, siblings and through the lens of marriage. His camerawork was unique, favouring his stationary, tatami shot. Which positions the camera at a low angle as if it is someone sat on a tatami mat. While his framing and set design create beautifully composed, painterly scenes, that only became more realised once he introduced colour. Ozu films are gentle, poignant and essential when celebrating Japanese cinema and a wonderful insight into Japanese culture.

#10. Early Summer (1951)

Early Summer is the second installment in the Noriko trilogy (the third being Tokyo Story). It follows the Mamiya family as they are prompted to find Noriko a husband after a visit form an elderly Uncle. Once again this incarnation of Noriko, played superbly again by Setsuko Hara, is content as an employed single woman in Tokyo. Ozu champions Noriko in Early Summer as he examines traditional expectations and cross-generational communication. It is touching, funny and highlights the complexities of family life and the unstoppable force that is change.

#9. The Only Son (1936)

Powerful and poignant, Ozu’s first sound film champions the widowed mother against the backdrop of depression-era Japan. As Tsune, portrayed masterfully by Choko Iida, sends her son off to receive a better education. However, when visiting him years later she finds him as a poor school teacher trying to support a young family. The Only Son works as a wonderful companion piece to There was a Father. Both showing the sacrifices made by parents to help their children and the restraints put on them by their environment.

#8. Good Morning (1959)

Regarded as a loose remake of I Was Born, But…, Good Morning follows the silent protest of brothers Minoru and Isamu as they attempt to strong-arm their parents into buying a TV. It takes place in suburban Tokyo in a neighbourhood that is connected with open doors and windows through which the many families converse and connect. Ozu plays with the concept of language, how it affects and influences our relationships and also the absurdities in adult conversations. Good Morning is playful, whimsical and an excellent entry point into the filmography of Ozu.

#7. Equinox Flower (1958)

Ozu’s approach to tradition in Equinox Flower is comically ironic. A wealthy businessman is caught amongst his own double standards when his daughter and the daughter of a business associate are preparing to marry. However, the choice of husband is a point of contention. Once again tradition clashes with progression, the desire to fulfill one’s duty is lost in translation between generations. Equinox Flower is witty, touching and, although it is Ozu’s first colour film, it contains some of the greatest use of colour in cinema.

#6. There was a Father (1942)

Chishu Ryu puts forward an exceptional stoic performance as Shuhei Horikawa, a widowed middle-school teacher who wants his son to succeed where he did not. There was a Father examines themes of grief, remorse and sacrifice. Ozu shows this relationship between father and son at two different stages that highlights the similarities and differences between Shuhei and his son. While also painfully examining whether Shuhei’s sacrifice was worthwhile.

#5. Akibiyori (Late Autumn) (1960)

Ozu explores family life and marriage from the perceptive of a mother and daughter in Akibiyori. Setsuko Hara is Akiko Miwa, a single woman dedicated to taking care of her widowed mother. However, three of her late father’s friends come forward with the proposal of marriage, in a reluctance to leave her mother alone Akiko is not pleased with their attempts. With Akibiyori, Ozu merely presents the scenario offering neither critique nor praise. It is bittersweet, complex and beautifully displays the relationship between a mother, her daughter and their duty to tradition.

#4. I Was Born, But… (1932)

This simple silent comedy from early in Ozu’s career plays wonderfully on the idolisation of parents by young children. Two young brothers have moved with their family to the Tokyo suburbs. After having a run-in with the local bully, they realise their dad acts differently when around his colleagues and his boss. It is sincere, profound and executes its contrasting perspectives of parent and children with ease. Which many will find ironically relatable, as it shows that the childlike perspective and the desires of a parent are internationally translatable.

#3. Late Spring (1949)

Late Spring begins the exceptional six-film collaboration run between Ozu and Setsuko Hara. In three of these six films Hara plays Noriko, none of whom are connected with the exception of their role as single women in post-war Japan. In this first installment in the Noriko trilogy, she is a single woman who is content living with and taking care of her widowed father. However, her aunt begins to pressure her father into arranging a marriage against the will of Noriko. Under the watchful eye of the Allied occupation, Ozu explores Japanese tradition and presents an idealised Japan. One which is far removed from the Japan favourably portrayed by the West.

#2. An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

Ozu’s final film An Autumn Afternoon is considered among his finest. Starring Ozu’s long-time collaborator Chishu Ryu as Mr Hirayama, the widowed patriarch of his family. Hirayama has realised that he must arrange the marriage of his only daughter. The 24-year-old Michiko, who longs for love, but feels an obligation to care for her father and younger brother. The passing of the mother silently looms large over the Hirayama family. Ozu uses it beautifully to reveal a unique layer to each family member and its influence on internal dynamics. An Autumn Afternoon examines themes of loss, new starts and loneliness and leaves with you an eloquent final scene. That ties up the film but also concludes the beautiful career of one of Japan’s greatest auteurs.

#1. Tokyo Story (1953)

Arguably Ozu’s most well known and most acclaimed work. Tokyo Story is a bittersweet film that follows a retired couple as they travel to Tokyo to stay with their children. All of whom believe they are too busy to spend time with their parents and therefore think of ways to occupy them, unlike their widowed daughter-in-law who opens her home and treats them with kindness. Ozu challenges the behaviour of the children and examines the effects that time and distance has on these relationships. It’s simplistic, minimalist and takes its time meandering through its narrative via conversations between family members. Which allows for the film’s nuanced discussion of family that absorbs the audience in.

Written by Conor Crooks

Thank you for reading our Top 10 and please let us know what your favourite Ozu films are! Leave a comment below or drop us a tweet over at @HCMovieReviews.

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