BFI: 32 Ozu Films

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#901 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Sep 23, 2021 11:46 pm

I can easily understand the more limited appeal of Tokyo Twilight. Not sure I have a current Ozu top 5 (quit trying to keep track due to fluctuations in my preferences) -- but the last time I made one (years ago) it was something like Tokyo Story, Early Summer, Tokyo Inn, Late Spring and Tokyo Twilight. Making an unranked top 20 would be easier and more accurate for me (if I had the energy to do it).

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#902 Post by domino harvey » Thu Sep 23, 2021 11:51 pm

I rank Ozu much lower than most, but Tokyo Twilight is my favorite of the ones I’ve seen

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#903 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Sep 24, 2021 12:26 am

domino -- You probably like it best because it is the most atypical (good) Ozu film.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#904 Post by domino harvey » Fri Sep 24, 2021 12:28 am

Entirely possible!

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#905 Post by knives » Fri Sep 24, 2021 8:34 am

Wouldn’t Hen in the Wind fit that citation best?

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#906 Post by artfilmfan » Fri Sep 24, 2021 9:03 am

But I do like (perhaps really like, I should say) Hen in the Wind. It’s one of the Ozu films that I put in the “really like” category which includes A Story of Floating Weeds/Floating Weeds, Tokyo Inn, and What Did the Lady Forget? I don’t dislike Tokyo Twilight. It’s just that, for whatever reason that I can’t explain, I don’t really like it.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#907 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Sep 24, 2021 9:33 am

artfilmfan -- I put Hen in the Wind, Tenement Gentleman, Early Spring and Tokyo Twilight in their own subgroup. These are the films where Ozu was most explicit in showing disapproval of aspects of Japanese behavior. Granted, there is a lot of humor in Tenement Gentleman, and some humor in Early Spring -- but in all Ozu's attitude is more upfront. I think Tokyo Twilight is unique, even among these, in that it is deliberately alienating. Perhaps it is perverse that I LIKE it because of this -- and your negative reaction is probably more reasonable. Or perhaps it is just that I fell in love with Ineko Arima (and the terribly wounded character she played).

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#908 Post by Jack Phillips » Fri Sep 24, 2021 9:56 am

As someone who has the highest regard for the films of Ozu's late period--with the exception of Early Spring, which is an exercise in bad faith--what certainly attracts me to Tokyo Twilight is its position as an outlier. It's not just that the film isn't one of the typically "sunny" ones (although that would be enough), but the fact that the world of the film is less insular than usual. What we get in the typical Ozu family drama is a focus on a few characters and their problems and the almost total exclusion of the outside world. At several points in TT, however, Ozu breaks the hermetic seal around his principals and lets in a little air.

My favorite example of this is the episode in the late-night kisaten where Akiko (Ineko Arima) is waiting for her boyfriend who never shows up. In terms of narrative development, the scene runs for the purpose of showing the woman's growing desperation and her eventual conflict with the authorities. Ozu could have accomplished the same thing with an empty coffee shop and an officer who walks in, but he chose instead to populate the scene with a real crowd. This perhaps makes the scene more authentic (I take it that such places were popular because nothing else was open during those hours), but it also allows Ozu to give us glimpses into the lives of others who, except for their brief appearance here, exist outside the film.

The scene begins with a young couple at the bar, the man smoking, the woman leaning on her hand with her eyes closed. The man touches the woman to get her attention but she doesn't react. Who are these people? We will never learn. We cut to an older gentleman, alone, stirring his coffee, thoughtful. He stops stirring, and takes a sip, then a second one. The camera lingers on him just long enough to make us wonder what's on his mind. We cut to a man in a booth who appears to be sleeping (the scene will end on him for its pillow shot). Then we see a woman by herself, smoking. She too is lost in thought. We cut to a couple in a booth sitting side-by-side, and finally hear some words of conversation. The man speaks: "So, what's wrong? Well?" And then, imploringly, "Tell me!" The woman looks at him but says nothing. Cut to the front door: a man enters, looks around. He hails the smoking woman, breaking in on her reverie. She looks up, stubs out her cigarette, walks to the cashier, pays, leaves with the newly-arrived man. Finally we cut to Akiko, also in a booth, smoking. Until this moment, we didn't even know she was in the scene. We go back to the side-by-side couple. The man says, "And what did you say?" Woman: "Nothing." Man: "Like hell." They get up to pay and leave, and it is at this point we first see the plain clothes cop, already in the room, checking people out. Focus returns to the central narrative, but the presence of the background characters has been so well detailed up to that point that we can't help thinking about the fact that we are in a world, that there are many stories, that what we're seeing in the film is one of a multitude.

Following Akiko's apprehension, the next scene is in the police station. Again, we are introduced to several characters that we will never meet again. There is not time or space to do more than to suggest the stories that belong to each. We've got to stick with Akiko's story.

This kind of thing occurs throughout the film. At different times we see groups of people playing mahjong. We get glimpses, hear a phrase, see a reaction. Characters and their lives are no more than suggested. And we move on.

There is also a wonderful moment near the end of TT when Isuzu Yamada and her man are waiting on the train at Tokyo Station to depart for the north. Yamada is hoping Setsuko Hara will come and see her off but she will be disappointed. Meanwhile, a cheer group from Hosei University has come to wish someone else bon voyage. We don't see them so much as hear them, but the goodbye cheering goes on and on. Of course, this is an ironic counterpoint to what Yasuda's character is experiencing, but at the same time, as a viewer, I keep wondering, Who is this person who is receiving such an effusive send off? What's his/her story?

I don't say that Ozu never has examples of such things in his other late films, but in TT he employs the approach relentlessly. After a while, you have to conclude there's some point he's making. Maybe it's as simple as this: There are 8--9, 10, 11--million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#909 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Sep 24, 2021 1:31 pm

Jack -- While I don't share your distaste for Early Spring, I love your discussion of one of the most interesting atypical features of Tokyo Twilight. It is simultaneously unusually isolated" (when looked at from Akiko's perspective) yet open to the wider world. Apparently Ozu was still operating under the impact of Naruse's Floating Clouds when he filmed this -- and I think it shows at times.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#910 Post by artfilmfan » Fri Sep 24, 2021 8:38 pm

Michael,

When you link Tokyo Twilight to my favorite Naruse film, you make me curious if I have missed something about Tokyo Twilight. I think I have seen TT maybe four times over the years. The last time was probably last year. I came away with the same impression or feeling each time. It is the only Ozu film available on Blu-ray with English subtitles that I have not upgraded.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#911 Post by swo17 » Fri Sep 24, 2021 8:40 pm

Where is it available on Blu-ray, Japan?

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#912 Post by artfilmfan » Fri Sep 24, 2021 8:55 pm

Yes

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#913 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Sep 24, 2021 9:26 pm

artfilmfan wrote:
Fri Sep 24, 2021 8:38 pm

When you link Tokyo Twilight to my favorite Naruse film, you make me curious...
Ozu's diary apparently makes clear just how disconcerted Floating Clouds made Ozu. It seems like it really posed somewhat of an obstacle he had to get beyond.

Lots of wonderful films don't "click" with me -- and I'm too old to worry about it anymore (fortunately or unfortunately).

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#914 Post by FilmSnob » Fri Sep 24, 2021 10:59 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:
Thu Sep 23, 2021 10:58 am
FilmSnob -- I actually like or love many of the films you dismiss. I even wrote essays on 2 -- Passing Fancy (at Senses of Cinema) and That Night's Wife (in the BFI DVD set that included this film).
MK you'll be happy to know that I think Passing Fancy and That Night's Wife are the two best Ozu's that I glossed over. Passing Fancy has a beautiful father-son scene, but otherwise it's just a bit too average for me compared so many other Ozu films I would always prefer to rewatch again and again. Along with The Munekata Sisters, That Night's Wife is the only other Ozu movie I have liked less on second watch.

Michael Kerpan wrote:
Thu Sep 23, 2021 10:58 am
BTW -- If Tanaka and Ozu had any sort of difficulties over Munekata Sisters, it seems to have been resolved soon after, because Ozu was one of the biggest supporters of her desire to become a director in her own right (while Mizoguchi basically betrayed her) and co-wrote the script of her second film.
Yes I think that's the case, but there was still a falling out for a few years. Mizoguchi died not long after he betrayed Tanaka. There's a Mizoguchi documentary she was in from the 60's or 70's and she was very gracious, I wonder if he hadn't died maybe they could have had some reconciliation, or what her feelings were later in life. Possibly not if he had unrequited romantic lomging and acted out of spite.
Michael Kerpan wrote:
Thu Sep 23, 2021 10:58 am
I generally turn the "added" soundtracks off for all the silent films. I see no need for them (and often they detract). Tokyo Inn is not only my favorite Ozu pre-talkie but possibly my favorite pre-talkie by anyone...
Tokyo Inn has the original silent score and I think it's great. There are some silent scores I find distracting and have to turn off like Tokyo Chorus, but I give them all a chance because great music can always enhance an already good viewing experience. Donald Sosin's score for I Was Born, But... I could take or leave it, but I love his score for Japanese Girls at the Harbor and Neil Brand's scores for Walk Cheerfully and Dragnet Girl.
Michael Kerpan wrote:
Thu Sep 23, 2021 10:58 am
I don't see the children in Tokyo Story as even remotely villainous -- they are just normal flawed humans
Oh I agree with you. I was being very liberal with my use of the word villain, but I don't think there can be any doubt that Ozu meant to point out their faults very well. Not only did he co-write the rather nasty family members in Toda Family, but there's also a match cut from Noriko fanning her mother-in-law to Shige fanning herself.

The characters in Tokyo Story are so much better sketched out though, because despite their flaws they also have their redeeming qualities.

Michael Kerpan wrote:
Thu Sep 23, 2021 10:58 am
I very much disagree that Ozu "plays it safe" after Tokyo Twilight.
I agree with some of your points about Equinox Flower and it's a film I love, but it still falls on the conservative side of the spectrum compared to what Ozu had just directed and the New Wave that was to come. Everything Ozu directed after 1958 is just a remake with invariably softer and less cutting variations.

Conservative is just an adjective, 50% of the time not a bad thing. ;)

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#915 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Sep 24, 2021 11:12 pm

Yes, despite the poor sound quality, the original score to Tokyo Inn is indispensable.

Watching Passing Fancy and That Night's Wife virtually frame by frame resulted in my loving both films.

I don't see Autumn Afternoon as "soft" at all. I (and my family) found it utterly hilarious most of the time -- but it has quite a few barbs and sharp edges. If you look at the daughter as the central character, the film almost stops being funny and becomes pretty sad.

The reason I find "late" Ozu not "conservative" is that he does not (as some critics would have it) place past values and behaviors in any sort of privileged position. He sees value in some old ways, but also sees real issues as well. And while he looks critically (but humorously) at the foibles of younger characters -- he seems to have a lot of sympathy for them. And whether it is due to conservatism or liberalism -- or maybe just Taisho era humanism -- he did not like the corporatization (and dehumanization) taking place in modernizing 50s-60s Japan (even if the digs are often covert).

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#916 Post by FilmSnob » Sat Sep 25, 2021 12:02 am

bottlesofsmoke wrote:
Thu Sep 23, 2021 12:08 pm
Of his “major” films, Tokyo Twilight is the one that I still didn’t really like, even after seeing it again. I think because it is such a somber (and long) movie, the many scenes of Akiko wandering around looking for people, and the general anguish of her and the other characters, becomes tedious without much of anything to break it up. In general, I love melodrama but something about how unrelenting this seems doesn’t click with me. I understand the point it is making, I just haven’t enjoyed watching it being made. I love plenty of other Japanese dramas that are similarly somber, but something about this is different to me.

MK and filmsnob - you guys both seem to really like it, is there something I am missing?

I love Tokyo Twilight first because it's so well made, and second because it fully embraces its despair. Ozu doesn't hedge at all, there's absolutely no off ramp the audience can take to find any hope in this film. Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara play against type, Ineko Irema's performance makes for a revelation, and the train scene is one of the great scenes in all of Ozu for me.

It's also not a melodramatic tragedy in the way those films are always directed. If you've seen the movie then you know the big plot points all happen either off screen or before the movie starts. Typical Ozu, but this is bitter mono no aware indeed.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#917 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Sep 25, 2021 9:30 am

The more I think about Akiko's death in Tokyo Twilight, the less I believe she tried to kill herself. She was distraught and was careless/unlucky at a dangerous crossing. Even though she had no intention to kill herself, she apologizes as if she did because she views her "carelessness" equally culpable to "intent".

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#918 Post by Jack Phillips » Sat Sep 25, 2021 11:10 am

Michael Kerpan wrote:
Sat Sep 25, 2021 9:30 am
The more I think about Akiko's death in Tokyo Twilight, the less I believe she tried to kill herself. She was distraught and was careless/unlucky at a dangerous crossing. Even though she had no intention to kill herself, she apologizes as if she did because she views her "carelessness" equally culpable to "intent".
I've always found the whole matter of Akiko's death ambiguous.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#919 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Sep 25, 2021 1:10 pm

Jack Phillips wrote:
Sat Sep 25, 2021 11:10 am
I've always found the whole matter of Akiko's death ambiguous.
I always found it a bit strange that the early commentators on this film all treated her death as unquestionably due to a deliberate attempt to commit suicide.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#920 Post by FilmSnob » Sat Sep 25, 2021 2:43 pm

Jack Phillips wrote:
Fri Sep 24, 2021 9:56 am
As someone who has the highest regard for the films of Ozu's late period--with the exception of Early Spring, which is an exercise in bad faith--

Why do you think Early Spring is an exercise in bad faith? I consider this one of Ozu's very best films.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#921 Post by Jack Phillips » Sat Sep 25, 2021 4:23 pm

The moral of the story appears to be (at least to me) that men are going to cheat, and there's nothing their women can do about it, so wives just have to put up with it.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#922 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Sep 25, 2021 6:08 pm

The moral of the story in Early Spring for me was that the "corporatization" of middle class men's life, leading to the breakdown of any semblance of healthy family (and encouraging bad behavior) and that "demotion" to the boondocks was actually salvation for anyone who actually cared about living a normal life (and having any real measure of family happiness). (Clearly Chishu Ryu's character had no desire -- or intention -- to return to Tokyo, and thus give up taking pleasure in his family. The wife's mother's cynical view was (I think) treated as just a symptom of "rot at the center". Very interesting to see a Tokyo-ite like Ozu take such a dim view of his city.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#923 Post by FilmSnob » Sat Sep 25, 2021 8:51 pm

Jack Phillips wrote:
Sat Sep 25, 2021 4:23 pm
The moral of the story appears to be (at least to me) that men are going to cheat, and there's nothing their women can do about it, so wives just have to put up with it.

I don't think that's what Ozu was saying at all. Masako's mother has that point of view, and Haruko Sugimura's character does too in a more comedic way, but Chishu Ryu lectures Sugi to not make the same mistake again, and we just have to look at the Aya character in Late Spring to find a female Ozu character who is more than willing to drop a man at the first hint of dissatisfaction.

Men are no good. They're sly. They say and do nice things until you're married, but after that, you only see their bad side. Marriage is all the same. Just go for it. If he's no good, walk out. No sweat at all.

Masako is not the same character as Aya, and Ozu may be the least polemic director who ever lived. Masako loves Sugi and she wants to make it work, or she wouldn't have gone back. Whether the relationship can be saved depends on Sugi. He looks more tired than Eijiro Tono at the end of the movie (another reason the long runtime is so deserved and justified), but I think he gives her an honest answer when he looks her straight in the eye and says they can start over again. He hadn't been conciliatory towards either Masako or Goldfish the whole movie until that point.

There's not much more than hope at the end of the film, but Ozu handles the last scenes in such a superior way compared to the ending in A Hen In the Wind. Actually the reconciliation at the end, Sugi holding his watch as Noriko did in Tokyo Story, and the two of them looking out the window at the passing train that might take them back from exile to Tokyo in 2-3 years, are among the most moving scenes for me in all of Ozu's oeuvre.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#924 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Sep 25, 2021 9:46 pm

FilmSnob -- "Exile" is painted as a good thing, a chance for re-birth of the relationship, in Early Spring. If they had stayed in Tokyo, there would have been no chance for this. At the end of this "exile" -- especially if they manage to have a child (the death of their first child seems to have very much hurt their relationship -- though this is never explored) -- they may be as reluctant to return to Tokyo as Chishu Ryu's character. (Can anyone recall just what city they move to?)

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#925 Post by FilmSnob » Sat Sep 25, 2021 10:32 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:
Sat Sep 25, 2021 9:46 pm
(Can anyone recall just what city they move to?)

Mitsuishi, in Hokkaido. I think it's a small enough town that it may not even appear on many/most maps 65 years later. Ozu really exiled them far away.

I think you're right that there would be no chance of reconciliation had they stayed in Tokyo, and there's no guarantee their marriage will survive after the film ends, but very much disagree that they would be reluctant to return. Ozu cuts off their conversation so they can walk over to the window and look out longingly at the train.

(Sugi holds and looks down at his watch as Noriko did in Tokyo Story)

-Let's start all over again.
-Yes, let's.
-We'll make it work.
-Of course we will-- ah, look. The train.

(Sugi and Masako walk over to the window to look out at the train)

-We could be in Tokyo tomorrow.
-I know. Two or three years will pass by quickly.

I look at the exile more as a chance at a healthy reset, a chance for a fresh start. All they (and we the audience) have is hope, but compare this to the ending of A Hen in the Wind. Kinuyo Tanaka's character, probably still be bleeding and scratched up from her husband shoving her down the stairs, wraps her arms around him and Ozu shows a closeup of her holding a cross as though she is just praying and hoping everything will be alright.

Here in Early Spring, it's the husband, Sugi, who is holding the watch, as Noriko did in Tokyo Story, hoping that he can be a better man and husband for his wife.

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