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Ozu: Poet of the Everyday

"One of the greatest artists of the twentieth century in any medium and in any country."
- British Film Institute

"Ozu’s body of work is incommensurable with that of any other Japanese filmmaker except perhaps Kurosawa...As a contribution to Japanese culture, however, it is comparable only to that of the great poets, painters or sculptors of the past."
- Noël Burch

Recognized in the west today as one of the greatest of all Japanese filmmakers, Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) directed a total of 54 films. More than half of the thirty silent works he created remain lost. Our series, which runs throughout the month of October, will showcase eleven of Ozu’s films, including three of his finest silent works presented with live piano accompaniment. In addition we will screen director Kazuo Inoue’s documentary profile of Ozu, I Lived But..., and are especially pleased to be able to host a lecture/presentation on Ozu by renowned film historian David Bordwell.

What audiences new to Ozu’s universe will encounter is the work of a director exquisitely sensitized to the emotional latticework of human relations, most particularly those within the family. Perhaps no other filmmaker is so attuned to "the ties that bind," so able to evoke the poignancy of everyday heartaches and challenges, so skilled at capturing epiphanies amidst the commonplace, always with the unforced attentiveness of a great listener. Generally regarded as a director whose specialty was the "home drama," Ozu also directed films of social criticism, satires, melodramas, and even a gangster film. Regardless of the genre, however, human beings are privileged over narrative intricacies. As the director himself noted, "Naturally, a film must have some kind of structure or else it is not a film, but I feel that a picture isn’t good if it has too much drama or too much action." Often lauded for their restraint and ‘simplicity,’ Ozu’s films are, in fact, like all great works of art, endlessly revealing in their insights and possessed of numerous subtle complexities both stylistic and thematic. Whether they focus on the interaction of the old and the young or male and female, or the contrasts between the workplace and the homelife, or tradition and change, Ozu’s observant eye has the rare power to draw the sympathetic viewer into unique emotional terrain. In the best of his work—and there are many titles that would fall into the category—he attains poetry.
– John Gianvito


October 1 (Friday) 9 pm
October 3 (Sunday) 8 pm

Tokyo Story

ozu-tokyostory.jpg (9618 bytes)Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Tokyo Monogatari Japan 1953, b/w, 35mm, 134 min.
Japanese with English subtitles
With Chishu Ryu, Chiyeko Higashiyama and Setsuko Hara

Ozu’s sad, simple story of generational conflict is often regarded as the filmmaker’s greatest masterpiece. In fact, in Sight and Sound’s 1992 once-a-decade poll of international film critics, it was chosen as one of the top ten films of all time, outpolled only by Citizen Kane and The Rules of the Game. An elderly couple’s visit to various busy, self-absorbed offspring in Tokyo is met with indifference and ingratitude, only serving to reveal permanent emotional chasms. Ozu’s examination of the slow fracturing of the Japanese family is filled with quiet resignation, and the realization that tradition is subject to change. Melancholic, spare and restrained, Tokyo Story is a meditation on life, love, and mortality.

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October 2 (Saturday) 6 pm
With Live Piano Accompaniment

I Was Born, But... (Umarete wa Mita Karedo )

ozu-bornbut.jpg (12609 bytes)Directed by Yasujiro Ozu 
Japan 1932, Silent, b/w, 16mm, 89 min.

Generally recognized as Ozu’s first major film, this moving comedy/drama was a great success both critically and financially and was his first to top the Kinema Jumpo poll as best Japanese film of the year. One of cinema’s finest works about children, the film begins as a riotous Keatonesque comedy but quickly becomes darker as it portrays a classic confrontation between the innocence of childhood and the hypocrisy of adults. "One of the wisest and most charming films ever made."  (Georgia Brown, Village Voice)

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October 8 (Friday) 9 pm
October 10 (Sunday) 9 pm

Equinox Flower (Higanbana)

ozu-equinox.jpg (14654 bytes)Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Japan 1958, color, 16mm, 118 min.
With Fujiko Yamamoto, Kinuyo Tanaka and Shin Saburi.
Japanese with English subtitles

Another close examination of family life, Ozu’s first color film is presented from the viewpoint of the younger generation. Focusing on a modern young woman (Fujiko Yamamoto) who wishes to choose her husband over her father’s objections, Ozu opens an age-old discussion on respect for the beliefs and values of elders and the tensions spawned by youthful rebellion. As the father is slowly won over, the entire family is subjected to Ozu’s gentle irony and loving detail. The color enhances the tone and mood of the film and showcases Yamamoto’s famous beauty. 

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October 9 (Saturday) 9 pm
October 11 (Monday) 8:30 pm

The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (Ochazuke no Aji)

ozu-greentea.jpg (12760 bytes)Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Japan 1952, b/w, 16mm, 115 min.
With Shin Saburi, Michiyo Kogure and Koji Tsuruta
Japanese with English subtitles

A moving portrait of a middle-aged, middle-class couple who realizes that their arranged relationship is growing stale, this is certainly one of Ozu’s most light-hearted films. As he examines the tradition of the arranged marriage, Ozu departs from his traditional style, employing frequent camera movement and showing both internal and external action, including baseball games, car rides and train trips. A subtle and delicate story of rekindled love and optimism. 

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October 10 (Sunday) 7 pm
With Live Piano Accompaniment

Passing Fancy (Dekigokoro)

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Japan 1933, Silent, b/w,16mm, 101 min.
With Takeshi Sakamoto, Tokkankozo, Den Ohinata  

Another Kinema Jumpo first prize winner, this subtle film concerns the relationship between an illiterate brewery worker and his educated son. The plot focuses on the father’s unrequited interest in a younger woman and the effect this infatuation has on both father and son. An early example of Ozu’s masterful chronicling of the evolution of family ties.  

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October 15 (Friday) 8:30 pm
October 17 (Sunday) 8:30 pm

Early Summer (Bakushu)

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Japan 1951, b/w, 35mm, 135 min.
With Chikage Auajima, Setsuko Hara and Chishu Ryu
Japanese with English subtitles

This extraordinary film about the lives of ordinary people focuses on a young woman who rebels against the wishes of her family by choosing her husband herself. Through small stories and smaller moments Ozu meticulously observes the lives of some 19 characters, transcending the boundaries of the film’s simple plot, creating an elliptical narrative. This is a film driven forward not by its plot but rather by the director’s unique use of space and time and by the constantly changing rhythm of the action. 

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October 16 (Saturday) 7 pm
With Live Piano Accompaniment

A Story of FLoating Weeds (Ukigusa Monogatari)

ozu-floating.jpg (15130 bytes)Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Japan 1934, Silent, b/w, 16mm, 89 min.
With Takeshi Sakamoto, Choko Iida, Hideo Mitsui 

This moody, lyrical work is loosely based on an American silent called The Barker. Infinitely superior to its model, it is the story of the leader of a small group of traveling players who returns to a small town and meets his son, the product of a distant affair. Ozu transforms the slightly melodramatic tale into an atmospheric and intense drama. Celebrated Japanese film historian Donald Richie has called this film, "the first of those eight-reel universes in which everything takes on a consistency greater than life: in short, a work of art."

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October 16 (Saturday) 9 pm
October 18 (Monday) 7 pm

The Brothers and Sisters of the Today Clan (Toda-ke no kyodai)

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Japan 1941, b/w, 16mm, 105 min.
With Miecko Takamine, Shin Saburi, Hideo Fujino
Japanese with English subtitles

This film, the first made in collaboration with Yushun Atsuta, who would become Ozu’s regular cameraman, was a great critical success. An account of the tensions which arise when a widow and her daughter move in with a married son, the film would also be Ozu’s first box-office hit. Shot during the war, the film found a receptive audience in the Japanese public which had been subjected to suffering, separations, and losses of its own.

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I Lived, But...

Directed by Kazuo Inoue
Japan 1983, color, 35mm, 118 min.
With Chishu Ryu, Shohei Imamura, Haruko Sugimura
Japanese with English Subtitles

Directed by Kazuo Inoue, who once served as an assistant to Ozu, and shot by Ozu’s beloved cameraman Yuharu Atsuta, this revered film biography is a loving study of the master filmmaker. Produced by the Shochiku corporation where Ozu shot nearly all of his films, I Lived, But... serves as a lasting tribute to the director with clips from nearly two dozen films, and interviews with actors (including Chishu Ryu) and former assistants (including Shohei Imamura).  

"I could really accept these Ozu families, I’ve always accepted the way they worked. In a way, they are very traditional families. But I never had the feeling in an Ozu film that the structure of these families was repressive, or suppressive, of the individuals. Whereas I don’t like American families at all. In American films, I mean. And in reality. These Japanese families are so strong to me, even though I have nothing to do with them: I have nothing to do with the way they eat, or with the way they sleep, or with the way they get drunk all the time. It has nothing to do with me; and I feel so close to them that, if I had to choose, I’d rather sleep on the floor, and sit my whole life on the floor, and get drunk everyday, and live in an Ozu family, than pass a single day as the son of Henry Fonda..."
-Wim Wenders

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October 22 (Friday) 9:15 pm
October 23 (Saturday) 9:30 pm

Late Spring (Banshun)

ozu-latespring.jpg (11098 bytes)Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Japan 1949, b/w, 16mm, 108 min.
With Setsuko Hara, Chishu Ryu, and Haruko Sugimura
Japanese with English subtitles

A young woman (Setsuko Hara) who lives happily with her widowed father (Chishu Ryu) will not consider marriage, preferring her state of comfortable dependence to the responsibilities of childbearing and household duties. The father, afraid that she will live a lonely and barren life, leads her to believe that he intends to remarry in order to free her. Through a dispassionate observation of the characters’ environment and emotions, Ozu creates a masterpiece of simplicity and restraint. "The most beautiful Ozu movie I know." (Roger Greenspun,The New York Times) 

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October 23 (Saturday) 4 pm

Twilight in Tokyo (Tokyo boshoku)

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Japan 1957, b/w, 16mm, 141 min.
With Setsuko Hara, Isuzu Yamada, Chishu Ryu
Japanese with English subtitles

Ozu’s last black-and-white film, this is perhaps his darkest and harshest depiction of the disintegration of the family. Ozu regular, Chishu Ryu plays a father living alone with his two daughters. The women discover that their mother, whom they thought dead, is actually living nearby with another man. This shocking information results in despair, destruction and isolation. Certainly the filmmaker’s most melodramatic film, it reflects an extreme pessimism without precedent in Ozu’s work. 

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October 29 (Friday) 7 pm
October 30 (Saturday) 9 pm

An Autumn Afternoon (Samma no Aji)

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Japan 1962, color, 16mm, 112 min.
With Chishu Ryu, Shima Iwashita, Shinichiro Mikami
Japanese with English subtitles

Undoubtedly influenced by the death, during filming, of his mother, with whom he had lived all his life, Ozu’s final film is a serene meditation on aging and loneliness. Having arranged the marriage of his only daughter, a widower becomes painfully aware of his advanced age and his isolation. Solace is sought in alcohol and drunken comradeship. Recalling Late Autumn and Early Spring, Ozu’s film is simple and sublime. "Shot in lovely colors...Ozu at his most breathtakingly assured." (Tom Milne)

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