3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2014
"Equinox Flower", Ozu's first colour film, is one of the best in a long line of delicately crafted films which sensitively bring out the changes within Japanese society, under pressure from the passage of time and the adoption of the different social and moral standards which accompany it. Here, the story centres on a father and his daughter, and the test to which the father's apparently liberal views on marriage are put, when it comes to his own daughter...
"There Was A Father", shot in 1942, when Japan was at war, but before the tide had turned decisively against her, is a fascinating story of a father attempting to guide his young student son in his education and career, in tumultuous times. In documentary terms alone, it is a precious record of how rural and small-town Japan looked back then, but on top of that there is an absorbing story to be savoured..
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 February 2015
Ozu Yasujirō was one of the greatest film directors and after decades of obscurity outside Japan it is cause for celebration that at last BFI are doing him proud by releasing all 36 of his surviving films on both DVD and Blu-ray. The way the films are being released is also to be applauded. The earliest films have been offered in box sets, the Student Comedies and the Gangster Films making up two desirable items, while the late post-war masterpieces are offered in duel releases, the Blu-ray versions as supplements to the DVDs containing one `main' feature each coupled with one of his earlier sound films from the 30s/40s. In this way we get to see rare films which we ordinarily might pass over and realize that they are every bit as good as the main features they support.
Before I turn to the films in more detail, as a long-term resident in Japan I'd like to offer a few insights into what makes Ozu special. He has been called `the most Japanese' of the great directors and of the `big three' I'd say this is true though Mizoguchi Kenji also has a strong claim. But where Mizoguchi's focus lies on `high' Japanese culture (folk tales, Kabuki theater, Nōh drama, etc) Ozu's subject is everyday family life. His films reflect culture and attitudes that are unique to Japan which foreigners (I'm thinking of myself when I first arrived here 20 years ago) find opaque and difficult to comprehend. There is no doubt that the family is the central unit of Japanese society and Ozu's films are full of the feeling of maintaining `wa' (harmony) between family members and friends. Society here is anything but straightforward. Nothing is said or done directly. For example, in the Japanese language there are no words for `yes' or `no' and opinion-giving is frowned upon for fear of causing offence. It is the upholding of an agreeable `tatamae' (surface) which is the oil of Japanese social discourse. For this reason Ozu's films are full of (seemingly) mundane conversations about everyday things - the weather, basic greetings, conversation about superficial subjects and statements of the obvious. Family occasions and ceremonies assume central importance with funerals, weddings and commemoration rituals taking up so much of the narrative focus even if (through typical Ozu narrative ellipsis) they might not be shown.
Japanese people generally avoid direct statement of emotions and foreigners not used to the country might find this odd and cold, but beneath the (for foreigners) bland surface harmony there is an ocean of deep emotion which is evidenced only obliquely, subtly and with great restraint. It is this feeling that lies at the heart of Ozu's universe. For those with the equipment to register it (Japanese people and those foreigners who understand their mentality) his films are extraordinarily moving. For those without, even if the technical achievements can still be grasped, the films may appear to be about nothing at all. This is the barrier preventing many from appreciating Ozu.
International producers were scared to release films which seemed only to appeal to insular Japanese tastes. In the 1950s when both Ozu and Mizoguchi were arguably at their height it was perhaps their misfortune to fall under the shadow of Kurosawa Akira, their younger `rival' who propelled Japanese cinema onto the world stage in 1950 by triumphing at Cannes with Rashomon. This was the first Japanese film most Americans and Europeans had ever seen and audiences of the time can be forgiven for assuming that Kurosawa's cinema was emblematic of Japanese culture as a whole, but looked at objectively we can see that influences on Kurosawa (ranging from Shakespeare to Dostoyevsky and from John Ford to Carl Theodor Dreyer) were fundamentally western. In fact his films have never sat easily with some Japanese people because of their bold metaphysical speculation where images and script are always aiming to `make a statement'. It's important to realize that this is fundamentally a western aesthetic and that a number of people in Japan accused Kurosawa (some still do) of intellectual snobbery and arrogance. The fact that after he left Toho studio in 1965 he had difficulty finding funds, ending up going to Russia to make Dersu Uzala and then making Kagemusha, Dreams and Ran with foreign money, shows how much he was ill-trusted in his home country.
Contrast Kurosawa with Ozu. Ozu was a life-long Shochiku company `salaryman', making only 3 of his 53 films away from that studio. From the time of The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family onwards he was considered a model of reliability in that he made shomingeki (domestic dramas) which made pots of money for Shochiku who were happy to let him use their best actors and technicians. Foreigners might see Ozu as an art house name, a director who made odd films of little interest to a wider audience. Actually, he was hugely popular in Japan, capturing great commercial success when he was alive. The artists that made up the Ozu family who always worked with him (writers Fushimi Akira, Ikeda Tadao and Noda Kōgo; cameramen Yuharu Atsuta and Mohara Hideo; composers Itō Senji and Saitō Kojun; actors Hara Setsuko, Iida Choko, Mitsui Koji, Miyake Kuniko, Sugimura Haruko, Ryū Chishū, Saburi Shin and others) all owe their careers to him and stay deeply loved by Japanese people to this day. Unlike Mizoguchi, Ozu showed indifference to whether he was accepted (or even distributed) overseas and was content to make films about his favorite subjects, adopting reactionary techniques which seemed to contradict the norm at the time, but consequently now seem so modern with his achievements surely set to last. Ozu's famous `minimalist' technique is rendered through his suppression of usual dramatic effect by the heavy usage of narrative ellipse, a camera that almost never moves, cutaway so-called `pillow shots' of buildings or nature which act as continuity links, precise `square' framing of images with a low camera looking up at characters (an aesthetic reflecting the interior design of Japanese houses and the screens and tatami straw mats which surround lives which take place mainly on the floor), and a tendency to shoot actors' faces full-on rather than using the over-the-shoulder, action-reaction approach of traditional Hollywood cinema. This puts the audience squarely in the film itself, a feeling alien to those weaned on the western norm.
The world of Ozu isn't so different from the world of his Japanese audiences when his films were first released and the attendant themes involved (family conflict, social transition, a search for selflessness which is seldom found, the growing up process) reverberate strongly even in today's society in Japan. His films are simple, dedicated and reflect on the deepest of emotions in everyday life without resorting to intellectual bombast or camera trickery. Ozu's aesthetic is pure, subtle, refined and it is in this indirect appeal to our emotions that he shows his innate Japanese-ness. I have already said that Japanese people are not known for showing their emotions directly, but that does not mean they are not emotional. An Ozu film is a hugely emotional experience which is achieved as it were out of nothing. The biggest compliment you can give an actor, a writer or a director is where the mechanics of their craft disappear, and in an Ozu film everything seems effortless and completely natural. One would never know Ozu had prepared each scene meticulously at the script stage, had every camera set-up firmly in his head in advance and went on to demand absolute obedience to his complex preparations from everyone while shooting on set.
In the 50s when Europe was about to be hit by a French New Wave of vibrant self-reflexive film-making, the reactionary Ozu was going in the opposite direction, crafting out exquisite family dramas where ticks and tropes of style don't exist. We are moved in a profound and quietly devastating manner which is really quite unique to him, though echoes of his style are to be found today in the films of Hou Hsiao Hsien and Kore-eda Hirokazu. In fact in a world where the films of Theo Angelopoulos, Abbas Kiarostami and Béla Tarr (other masters of the narrative ellipse who are often accused of obscurity) have found sympathetic audiences around the world perhaps the climate is now right for Ozu to be recognized everywhere as the master he really was.
NB: Work in progress. I will review There was a Father later
THERE WAS A FATHER (Chichi ariki)
(Japan, 1942, 93 minutes, b/w , Mono, Japanese language - Optional English subtitles, Original aspect ratio 1:33:1 / 4:3)
EQUINOX FLOWER (Higanbana)
(Japan, 1958, 118 minutes, Color, Mono, Japanese language - optional English subtitles, Original aspect ratio 1.33:1)
Ozu lightened up on the gloomy and deeply tragic masterpiece Tokyo Twilight (1957) for his next film, a gentle comedy and his first color feature. Ozu had always been reactionary in the way he adopted new technology and just as he made his first sound feature in 1936 (The Only Son) virtually as if it were a silent film, he makes a sizable portion of Equinox Flower here as if it were still in the world of b/w. Color is used ingeniously to mirror the development of our central character, rich family patriarch Hirayama Wataru (Saburi Shin). He starts off proposing a toast at a wedding ceremony (one of the very few ceremonies shown in any Ozu film) to the new fashion of marrying according to romance rather than the established omiai system where husbands are found by the bride's parents. The occasion is a happy one and after the somber tones of Tokyo Twilight the garish colors are quite shocking. The film ends in a similar eruption of color in the aftermath of another wedding (check out those awesome bright orange Fanta bottles!), but in between as Hirayama's hypocrisy is explored (he advises others to marry for love while refusing to let his own daughter Setsuko (Arima Ineko) choose her own way), all color is drained out of the film so that it looks like a b/w feature after all, a point underlined by a bar scene where everyone wears gray and an English advert for `Black and White' whisky is displayed prominently on the wall. Ozu's only concession to Shochiku studio (who had high expectations of selling their new starlet Yamamoto Fujiko through `the first Ozu color film') is the jokey inclusion of red in every single shot. A reference to the blooming of the 'red spider lily' of the title, from the most garish of scarlet obi (kimono belts) to the simplest of red dots on an Asahi beer bottle the color is omnipresent throughout. Most obvious of all is the red kettle in the Hirayama home which keeps popping up incongruously as if to say `so what, is it really necessary to see that I am red?' Beyond the truly radical usage of color, the film (like Late Autumn, a Noda/Ozu adaptation of a Satomi Ton novel) is one of the most revealing of all Ozu's films about the mores of Japanese society. Another shomingeki, it explores generation conflict, this time coming down strongly on the side of the young generation. Great fun is had watching the ganko jiji (stubborn old man) vainly trying to lay down the law in a domestic environment which is really controled by the women, in this case his wife (played by Mizoguchi regular Tanaka Kuniyo) who together with Setsuko's friend (Yamamoto Fujiko) push him into final acquiescence. As much as the young are given their way though, Ozu is very careful to include scenes of quiet melancholy to the older generation mourning a society which is changing too rapidly for their liking - a drinking party at a hot spring (which features Ryū Chishū singing!) is particularly touching as well as the scenes of trains (always Ozu's metaphor for `the transience of all things') which book-end the film. Having experienced the hypocrisy of men like Hirayama myself and at the moment living a life under the cosh of quiet domestic tyranny (!) I can assure you the world Ozu paints in this film is absolutely genuine and still pertinent 60 years after it was made. It's a wonderful polished little gem enlivened by a roster of fine performances (Saburi and Tanaka especially) and Ozu's knack of making magic from everyday domestic mundaneness.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 2011
Equinox Flower is (1958) one of Yasujiro Ozu's later films. Several of the actors are old-time Ozu collaborators, especially Chishu Ryu (here in a minor role). The themes are typical for Ozu: the problem of marrying away daughters (or not marry them away) is in the centre, as well as relations between generations and the influence of Western culture. Shin Saburi plays the father (Hirayama) who talks positively about modern values and choosing who to marry, but who cannot accept that his daughter wants to marry someone of her own will instead of letting the parents arrange it, or at least consult them. Chishu Ryu plays Hirayama's friend, whose daughter has run away with her boyfriend instead of fighting dad, and Hirayama tries to help. As usual in Ozu, the older generation has to accept that time is changing. Ozu's films are both moving and entertaining and he manages to get the viewer to care for all the characters, even the stubborn Hirayama.
Included in the Bfi-package is also an earlier (1942) Ozu film: There was a Father. Here Chishu Ryu (who plays a minor part in Equinox Flower) plays a father who wants his son to have a good education. Interestingly enough, Shin Saburi (who plays Hirayama in Equinox Flower) here plays a minor part as a student.
Equinox Flower was Ozu's first film in colour. Watching this on Blu Ray is of course fantastic with incredible details and subtle colors. The picture and sound of the extra film, There was a Father, is more problematic with lots of scratches and noise. But I wasn't very disturbed by this as the film is captivating enough. Highly recommended, especially if you're into japanese cinema.