Ozu double bill

12 01 2008

Well, what better way to start this blog than with two films from the filmmaker that basically gave birth to everything I love about modern cinema in Asia. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to Ozu (I’ve seen somewhere around 18 of his 35 surviving features) but I’m pretty much unfamiliar with his silent films. I suppose this might be because I’m generally turned off by inter titles and I’m a bit of a modernist but my first venture into silent era Ozu territory turned out quite good…

An Inn in Tokyo (Yasujiro Ozu, 1935)

Outside of the obvious limitations that plague any silent film, this is pretty much perfect. The score is way too expressive (i.e manipulative) and never goes away. I guess I haven’t adjusted enough to the intertitles because they seem to mess up the pace at times. Even then, this is still very much an Ozu film. All the great visual compositions that I’ve become to known and love from the man are present. This is considered Ozu’s last silent film and much of the industry had already begun making talkies so I guess that could play a part in why this looks so good.

Not only does this predate all the neo-realism films of Italy but it’s also a lot better. De Sica and company would never make a film that is essentially this plotless. This probably deserves to be mentioned along with stuff like Los Olividados and Pixote. Now that I think of it, this does remind me even a little bit of Gummo, if only in a strictly narrative sense. The two boys in this have to catch dogs for financial support just like how Solomon and Tummler hunt cats for financial support. Yeah, a dubious connection but that’s the “tone” of the first half of the film.

It becomes a bit less aimless and a bit more conventional once Kihachi gets a job and Otsune becomes a more central character but it’s still really great. I mean, nobody was making something like in 1935, at least not to my knowledge.

The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (Yasujiro Ozu, 1941)

One of only two films that Ozu made during the war (the other being There Was a Father, which I plan to see shortly) implies a lot of steps he would take in his later films, unfortunately this isn’t quite as good. The setup of a family coming together and drifting apart by the death of a key figure is obviously something that is portrayed a bit more convincingly in Tokyo Story. I might actually go as far as to say that this is really just a warm-up for the whole Noriko trilogy. But this actually does hold up quite well on it’s own but in the grand scheme of Ozu’s filmography, this is only a minor footnote.

At this point, Ozu was still developing his style. Thus, there are some technical “flaws” that you won’t find in later Ozu films. The most interesting being the shot length, which is very inconsistent. There’s a few shots that go on for minutes, which is fine by me, but the film doesn’t flow in the same way as the post-war films. After the war, when Ozu had “perfected” his vision, his takes started to flow together a bit more. The timing on the shots are more consistent, which does indeed support the claim that Ozu films feel like slide shows. I actually find the long takes in this to be sort of endearing (assuming one might view them as a flaw) and feel closer to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s style.

I’m guessing that a lot of propaganda material was coming out of Japan at the time and it sort of shows by Ozu wanting to wrap everything up into a more tangible “message.” I suppose this a bit unavoidable when the story is meant to be slightly tragic but it obviously dates the film. In that case, we’re lucky Ozu’s output during the war was so limited; he could have ended up being a full-fledged “political” director.



4 responses

12 01 2008

blog looks good so far, man – I like the more in-depth stuff

I just saw Passing Fancy yesterday and the region-coded dvd I’d rented played it without a score (there might have been options for one but all the menus were in Japanese so I didn’t bother trying to find it) – do you know anything about this? Were silents played truly silent then in Japan? Also, this was 1933, when did sound come in on Japanese films? Was that just a conscious choice by Ozu, a la Chaplin? Would you prefer truly silent to the score you mention disliking?

I put on Black Flag during it. Weird mix.

12 01 2008

luv the theme. Maybe you can get the rest of the group to follow. good luck

12 01 2008
Donald Sosin

I am currently scoring I WAS BORN BUT… , TOKYO CHORUS and PASSING FANCY for a Criterion set that will come out later this year. Your comments are interesting, I am trying to avoid hitting the film over the head with the music. Ozu liked cheerful, general, wallpaper-type music, evidently. I have a hard time writing that sort of feeling for scenes in which, for example, the father is spanking his son, or fighting with the boss, so I have gone in a slightly ironic direction, maintaining a 20’s popular style that shifts from stride piano to blues and ballads. Who did the music for the version you saw?

Best wishes

13 01 2008
Michael Kerpan

Congratulations on the inauguration of your blog. I note that my first posting on Roslindale Monogatari did not report on an Ozu film, but did discuss a Naruse one. I wrote about a re-viewing of “Tokyo” Inn in my blog’s second month, however.

“Tokyo Inn” is among my top 10 silent films (and top 5 Ozu films). The score for this was studio-supplied. Unlike his later films, it would appear that Ozu had little to say about the music in this instance. Ozu had been making “silent talkies” for several years by this point (since 1931 or so).

Ozu completely subverts the propaganda of “Todas” at the very end — notice just how polite and filial the youngest son turns out to be when the concept of getting married for the good of the family (and country) comes up. (He acts like a brat). ;~}

The first successful modern-type talkie was made in Japan in 1931 — Gosho’s “Madamu to nyobu”. But sound cameras were still fairly rare until mid-decade. The most important films of 1933 were still silent (or only quasi-talkies), but by 1934, the tide was beginning to turn. Ozu made his first talkie in 1935 (overlapping with “Tokyo Inn”) — the kabuki documentary, “Kagamijishi”.

The norm in Japan, prior to the triumph of talkies, was narration of films, with musical accompaniment. Ozu’s company Shochiku was very opposed to these narrators (called benshis), and tried all sorts of stratagems to eliminate them (or at least rein them in). The use of copious dialog inter-titles was one way to keep the benshi too busy to have time to embroider narrational frills directors did not really approve.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: