1953; directed by Yasujirō Ozu; written by Kōgo Noda and Yasujirō Ozu; 136 mins
After a couple of mentions on the blog so far, here’s the first review of an Ozu film. I rented this from Fatso.co.nz and then by coincidence it turned up as a retrospective screening at the film fest, so I figured I’d see it on telly and on the big screen – see what the difference is. Truth is… it was more of a slog the second time round and I’m not sure why. It may have been that it was easy to tell for certain stretches that the audience around me was getting restless. The brochure did mention the film’s No. 3 position in Sight & Sound’s 2012 poll of Greatest Films of All Time. I wonder if, perhaps, that “greatest” status does put certain preconceptions in people’s minds which are then confounded by Ozu‘s style which is so quiet and gentle and intimate, with the camera moving twice in the entire film that the word ‘great’ and this story are almost diametrically opposed. That said, there is still a lot to love in here.
Elderly couple, Shūkichi and Tomi Hirayama travel to Tokyo to visit their grown-up children, some of whom are short on tolerance for their happy-go-lucky parents and quickly see about shifting them out of the way and making them feel thoroughly unwelcome.
This film is usually seen as a depiction of how the young are ungrateful but that only does a disservice to the characters of daughter-in-law, Noriko (Setsuko Hara) and youngest daughter Kyōko (Kyōko Kagawa) who give up a lot for the Hirayamas but like and respect them nonetheless. The film is too smart for that sort of prescriptiveness, it’s about life, death, aging, loss, selfishness, compromise, drinking, family and all the things that make us the complicated fleshbags that we are.
The performances are great all round; Chishū Ryū is stunning as the grandfather, particularly since he was only in his late 40s at the time of shooting, he ‘plays’ old extraordinarily well with no makeup at all. Chieko Higashiyama never gets enough praise as the kind of big, smiley grandmother we all want but she beautifully reveals the pains of past family traumas and the worries of aging. Setsuko Hara is also radiant as lonely, heartbroken Noriko, still haunted by thoughts of her husband, Shōji Hirayama, missing in action and never returned. Haruko Sugimura gives a wonderfully nuanced bitch performance as harsh but hampered eldest daughter, Shige.
The film is funnier the second time round, particularly the scene in which Shukichi and his friend turn up at Shige’s salon, pissed out of their brains at some ungodly hour of the morning. The actors play drunk really well, although, if Ozu’s drinking habits were anything to go by, he was just very good at directing them.
The slow pace is complicated by an awful lot of shots following characters somewhat too forensically between rooms on their way to and from the action which all adds up in the end but this is still essential Japanese cinema.*
*As mentioned in the review for Tokyo-ga, if you’re wanting to start with Ozu, I’d say go for Good Morning, which is shorter, quicker and funnier.