The West’s canon of classic Japanese cinema is made up largely of the work of three giants: Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and Ozu. While the films of Kurosawa (considered the most “Western” of the three) are regularly revived in Los Angeles, the films of Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) have been almost impossible to see on local screens in recent years. In honor of his centenary, Shochiku (the studio for which Ozu made almost all of his films) has made Ozu’s films available to North American audiences, and the Archive, in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is proud to bring this retrospective to Los Angeles.
Ozu first became known outside of Japan late in his career, with his remarkable melodramas outlining the disintegration of the family in postwar Japan. With their almost motionless camera and “straight-cut” editing, these films have influenced directors from Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders to Hou Hsiao-hsien and Abbas Kiarostami. (In fact, the latest films from these last two directors are explicit homages to Ozu.) Ozu’s postwar films have earned him a reputation as the most “Japanese” of the big three Japanese filmmakers. However, Ozu’s prewar work has garnered more attention in recent years, and these films are anything but “transcendental” in style. In fact, with their gangsters and femmes fatales, their use of dramatic lighting and camera movement, they reveal an Ozu enamored of genre and of Hollywood. (He once claimed that Lubitsch was his favorite director, but the influence of von Sternberg’s drama and Harold Lloyd’s deadpan comedy are visible as well.)
Together, the screenings at the Archive and LACMA display the range of Ozu’s genius, from rollicking farce to heartbreaking subtlety. The Archive’s screenings include several gems from his prewar period, including the uproarious I WAS BORN, BUT… and the remarkable, Sternberg-inspired gangster film DRAGNET GIRL. We open with LATE SPRING, the masterpiece that many (including Ozu fans Claire Denis, Hou and Wenders) count among the filmmaker’s finest. And we close with the sublime AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON.
Thursday, November 4
Ozu’s favorite of his own films, LATE SPRING marks the Ozu debut of Setsuko Hara, in the first of many classic pairings with Chishu Ryu, another of the director’s regulars. Hara plays Noriko, a loving, uncommonly old-fashioned daughter who refuses to marry in order to take care of her widowed father, Professor Somiya (Ryu). Worried for his daughter’s happiness, Somiya devises a ruse to incite her to marry—he pretends to consider remarriage himself. A film of subtle glances and quiet, eloquent gestures, LATE SPRING counts among its many admirers directors Claire Denis, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Wim Wenders, who calls it his favorite Japanese film of all time.
Shochiku. Screenplay: Kogo Noda. Based on the story “Father and Daughter” by Kazuo Hirotsu. Cinematographer: Yuharu Atsuta. Editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura. With: Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara, Yumeji Tsukioka, Haruko Sugimura. 35mm, 108 min.
Saturday, November 6
I WAS BORN, BUT…
(Umarete wa mita keredo)
Generally considered Ozu’s first major film, I WAS BORN, BUT… is not so much a children’s film as a film about childhood (and its antagonistic relationship with the adult world). When Yoshi (Tatsuo Saito) moves into his boss’s neighborhood, his two young sons find themselves mercilessly bullied. Claiming inspiration from their father, they fight back only to be shocked one day when they observe their father’s obsequious manner in front of his boss. Determined to rid him of his self-demeaning ways, the boys embark on a hunger strike. Ozu’s caustic commentary on social hierarchies and the essential injustice of power relations was sufficiently dark for Shochiku to delay its initial release for two months. Ozu later remade the film with sound and color as GOOD MORNING.
Shochiku. Scenarist: Akira Fushimi. Story: James Maki. Cinematographer: Hideo Mohara. Editor: H. Mohara. With: Tatsuo Saito, Mitsuko Yoshikawa, Hideo Sugawara, Kozo Tokkan. 35mm, silent, 91 min.
The brash, earthy types Ozu remembered from his Tokyo childhood inspired his series of Kihachi films, so-named for the recurring, central persona embodied by actor Takeshi Sakamoto. Kihachi is Ozu’s proletarian Everyman; the precise qualities of Kihachi may vary from film to film, but the character’s happy-go-lucky nature and stubborn sense of honor remain constant. Like so many Ozu films the story of a parent and a child, PASSING FANCY (critic Tadao Sato has noted the film’s resemblance to King Vidor’s THE CHAMP) depicts the comic relationship between dim-witted day laborer Kihachi and his spirited young son Tomio (Tokkan Kozo). Fatherly love is put to the test when Kihachi’s infatuation with a young girl and his drunken behavior prompt his son to protest.
Shochiku. Story: James Maki. Cinematographer: Shojiro Sugimoto. Editor: Kazuo Ishikawa. With: Takeshi Sakamoto, Nobuko Fushimi, Den Ohikata, Choko Iida. 35mm, silent, 103 min.
*Live musical accompaniment provided by Michael Mortilla
Sunday, November 14
(Hogaraka ni ayume)
Opening with a bravura tracking shot that only hints at the virtuoso filmmaking to follow, Ozu’s highly entertaining gangster pastiche revels in Hollywood iconography and stylistic abandon. Nicknamed “Ken the Knife” (shades of The Threepenny Opera), temperamental swindler Kenji finds himself falling hard for the target of one of his cons. As he contemplates reform, his sinister girlfriend Chieko (a vampish Satoko Date, donning a Louise Brooks bob cut) attempts to lure him back into a life of crime. Crammed with playful stylistic devices and lurid expressionist borrowings, the action-packed WALK CHEERFULLY is also full of trademark Ozu themes, motifs and devices, including his famous “tatami shot,” with the camera placed at the level of a person sitting on a tatami mat.
Shochiku. Scenarist: Tadao Ikeda. Story: Hiroshi Shimizu. Cinematographer: Hideo Mohara. Editor: H. Mohara. With: Minoru Takada, Hiroku Kawasaki, Nobuku Matxuzono, Utako Suzuki. 35mm, silent, 96 min.
(Hijosen no onna)
In his spectacularly delirious DRAGNET GIRL, Ozu appropriates the baroque flourishes and brooding atmospherics of such Sternberg landmarks as UNDERWORLD and BLONDE VENUS, luxuriating in the fantasy of a Tinseltown-inspired dreamland where jazz is played nonstop, gangsters and molls haunt the pool halls, and Nipper, the RCA Victor Dog, is the presiding cultural icon. Once again, a gangster—here a one-time champion boxer turned small-time ringleader—finds himself torn between the affections of a vamp (Kinuyo Tanaka, cast against type in the Dietrich role) and an innocent maiden (a very adorable Sumiko Mizukubo). An eye-opener for those who know Ozu primarily through his postwar films, DRAGNET GIRL is among the most brazenly stylized of his silents, a neon-lit, aggressively modern world filmed through mirror reflections and distorting panes of glass.
Shochiku. Scenarist: Tadao Ikeda. Story: James Maki. Cinematographer: Hideo Mohara. Editor: Kazuo Ishikawa. With: Kinuyo Tanaka, Joji Oka, Sumiko Mizukubo, Hideo Mitsui. 35mm, silent, 100 min.
*Live musical accompaniment provided by Michael Mortilla
Wednesday, November 17
A family drama set in Kamakura, the leisurely, poignant EARLY SUMMER ends, as so many Ozu films do, in tears. The Mamiya family takes up the challenge of finding a husband for eldest daughter Noriko, a happily unmarried “working girl.” Her boss suggests a middle-aged businessman as a suitable prospect, but when Noriko impulsively accepts another proposal, the family begins to disintegrate. Consistently ranked (with LATE SPRING and TOKYO STORY) as among the best of Ozu’s postwar films, EARLY SUMMER is perhaps the most freely structured of the three in its elliptical, enigmatic narrative. The film’s original Japanese title, “Wheat Harvest Season,” refers to the haunting final shots of a wheat field in harvest, a reminder from war veteran Ozu that Shoji, the Mamiyas’ missing son, was a casualty of that disastrous conflict.
Shochiku. Screenwriters: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu. Cinematographer: Yuharu Atsuta. Editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura. With: Setsuko Hara, Chishu Ryu, Chikage Awajima, Kuniko Miyake. 35mm, 124 min.
Sunday, November 21
WOMAN OF TOKYO
(Tokyo no onna)
A quickie, both in that it was made in eight days and that it lasts only 47 minutes, this Depression melodrama tells the story of a young woman who, to put her younger brother through college, works two jobs: translator by day, prostitute by night. When the boy finds out about his sister’s night job, tragedy ensues. While reminiscent of the social realism of Mizoguchi, WOMAN OF TOKYO also nods to comedy in a clip from Ozu’s favorite Hollywood director, Ernst Lubitsch. After its premiere revival in New York, J. Hoberman enthused about the film’s “subtle riot of discordant formal devices. The eye-line matches are as weird as the spatial jumps are bizarre…The crucial scene is dominated by a giant close-up of a teapot… Ozu never made another film like this one, and neither has anyone else.”
Shochiku. Screenwriters: Kogo Noda, Tadao Ikeda. Based on the story “Twenty-six Hours” by Ernest Schwartz. Cinematographer: Hideo Mohara. Editor: Ishikawa Kazuo. With: Yoshiko Okada, Ureo Egawa, Kinuyo Tanaka, Shinyo Nara. 35mm, silent, 47 min.
*Live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla
THE RECORD OF A TENEMENT GENTLEMAN
The story of a stern, child-hating widow who is tricked into caring for a homeless war orphan, THE RECORD OF A TENEMENT GENTLEMAN represents Ozu’s contribution to a genre of postwar Japanese problem films dealing with the countless numbers of orphaned children. Initially hostile to the boy, the widow eventually warms to him, and when the boy runs away in fear of punishment for wetting his bed, she goes on a frantic search. In THE RECORD OF A TENEMENT GENTLEMAN, Ozu takes a sentimental, Hollywood-like idea and gives it a decidedly unsentimental, even funny treatment. The chaos of postwar urban life is masterfully rendered in a studio recreation of Tokyo’s shitamachi community, an area destroyed by air raids during the war that was being rebuilt house by house.
Shochiku. Screenwriters: Tadao Ikeda, Yasujiro Ozu. Cinematographer: Yuharu Atsuta. Editor: Yoshi Sugihara.
Friday, December 3
Bored with his marriage and the routines of office life, young salaryman Shoji has a brief fling with a typist named Goldfish, a liaison that threatens his already precarious marriage. The rituals of workaday life have rarely been observed with as much patience and attention to their diurnal rhythms and patterns. The object of critique may remain the same as Ozu’s prewar salaryman silents, but the method has changed from overt, comic satire to something more minimalist and expansive. “A great, unpleasant film with some of the most poetic and mysterious montage in Ozu’s career. The sequence of cuts showing commuters arriving at the station in the early morning, and the cut, later on, in the midst of the dramatic crises to a neon sign at twilight are of a profoundness found nowhere else in cinema.” (Nathaniel Dorsky)
Shochiku. Screenwriters: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu. Cinematographer: Yuharu Atsuta. Editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura. With: Chikage Awajima, Ryo Ikebe, Keiko Kishi, Teiji Takahashi. 35mm, 144 min.
Saturday, December 4
THE END OF SUMMER
(Kohayagawa-ke no aki)
An epic saga revolving around the decline of a bourgeois family, THE END OF SUMMER (aka EARLY AUTUMN) tells the story of the Kohayakawa family. Neglecting the family sake business that’s fast running out of steam, aging patriarch Manbei instead busies himself philandering with a former mistress. What begins as social comedy, played out in lush, late summer environs, suddenly darkens when the old man has a heart attack. Ganjiro Nakamura gives a lively performance as the untamable Mambei, a paterfamilias gone AWOL into a state of regressive, adolescent behavior. While Nakamura’s performance raucously subverts the director’s contemplative ethos, Ozu’s compositional sense is as exquisite as ever and the film’s late sequences have a moving directness that suggests the director was facing his own mortality. “One of Ozu’s most beautiful films, and one of his most disturbing.” (Donald Richie)
Takarazuka Eiga/Toho. Screenwriters: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu. Cinematographer: Asakazu Nakai. Editor: Koichi Iwashita. With: Ganjiro Nakamura, Setsuko Hara, Yoko Tsukasa, Michiyo Aratama. 16mm, 103 min. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
THE BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE TODA FAMILY
(Toda-ke no kyodai)
The patriarch of the Toda clan suddenly dies, forcing his children to sell the family villa and take care of their widowed mother. She soon finds herself shunted to and fro, from household to household, carrying her birds and plants throughout her odyssey, even as her children pay cruel, eloquent lip service to the tradition of familial duty. While some critics view THE BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE TODA FAMILY as wartime propaganda, with its emphasis on patriarchal authority and its elusiveness about the conflict in China, others consider it remarkably daring in its critique of the superficial social mores of the rich. Among the film’s many treasures is the portrait of the seemingly bad son who turns out to be the most honest member of the family, as well as Ozu’s masterful use of absence in a street scene that captures the mother’s homelessness.
Shochiku. Screenwriters: Tadao Ikeda, Yasujiro Ozu. Cinematographer: Yuharu Atsuta. With: Hideo Fujino, Ayako Katsuragi, Mitsuko Yoshikawa, Tatsuo Saito. 35mm, 105 min.
Saturday, December 11
AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON
(Sanma no aji)
As much a reworking as an updating of LATE SPRING, Ozu’s final film recasts Chishu Ryu as an aging widower anxious to settle his daughter’s marriage. After the wedding, still dressed up, he is asked at a bar, “Formal affair—funeral?” “Something like that,” he replies. Ozu’s beautiful last film is at moments his most Sirkian, an almost bitter portrayal of loss linked to the tensions of modern living and the effects of consumer society on the family (displayed in golf clubs and Frigidaires). The film’s Japanese title, “The Taste of Mackerel,” alludes to the time in late summer when the delicacy is in season, and AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON vividly evokes particular moods, flavors, and places, not least the hauntingly empty house in the unforgettable coda.
Shochiku. Screenwriters: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu. Cinematographer: Yuharu Atsuta. Editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura. With: Shima Iwashita, Chishu Ryu, Keiji Sata, Mariko Okada. 35mm, 115 min.
All UCLA programs screen at the James Bridges Theater in Melnitz Hall, located on the northeast corner of the UCLA
Westwood campus, near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Hilgard Avenue.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art presents
YASUJIRO OZU: THE CENTENNIAL RETROSPECTIVE
Friday, November 5
Tokyo Story (1953/b&w/135 min.) scr: Kôgo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu; dir: Ozu; w/Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara, Chieko Higashiyama.
Friday, November 12
The Only Son (1936/b&w/83 min.) scr: Tadao Ikeda, Masao Arata; dir: Ozu; w/Shinichi Himori, Choko Iida, Chishu Ryu,.
A Hen in the Wind (1948/b&w/84 min.) scr: Yasujiro Ozu, Ryosuke Saito; dir: Ozu; w/Kinuyo Tanaka, Shuji Sano, Kuniko Miyake, Chishu Ryu.
Saturday, November 13
Tokyo Twilight (1957/b&w/141 min.) scr: Kôgo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu; dir: Ozu; w/Setsuko Hara, Chishu Ryu.
Friday, November 19
Tokyo Chorus (1931/b&w/90 min./silent) scr: Kôgo Noda; dir: Yasujiro Ozu; w/Tokihiko Okada.
Live musical accompaniment
That Night’s Wife (1930/b&w/67 min./silent) dir: Ozu w/Tokihiko Okada, Togo Yamamoto, Emiko Yakumo, Tatsuo Saito
Live musical accompaniment
Saturday, November 20
Good Morning (1959/color/93 min.) Scr: Kôgo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu; dir: Ozu; w/Chishu Ryu, Kuniko Miyake, Yoshiko Kuga, Keiji Sada.
Equinox Flower (1958/color/118 min.) Scr: Kôgo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu; dir: Ozu; w/Shin Saburi, Chishu Ryu.
Friday, November 26
What Did the Lady Forget? (1937/b&w/71 min.) Scr: Akira Fushimi, Yasujiro Ozu; dir: Ozu; w/Sumiko Kurishima, Tatsuo Saito, Michiko Kuwano
The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952/b&w/115 min.) Scr: Kôgo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu; dir: Ozu; w/Michiko Kogure, Shin Saburi, Keiko Tsushima, Chishu Ryu.
Saturday, November 27
Late Autumn (1960/color/129 min.) Scr: Kôgo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu; dir: Ozu; w/Setsuko Hara, Yoko Tsukasa, Chishu Ryu, Mariko Okada, Keiji Sada.