Yasujirō Ozu, 小津 安二郎, Ozu Yasujirō, December 12, 1903 – December 12, 1963 was an influential Japanese film director. Although marriage and family were among the most persistent themes in his body of work, Ozu ironically remained single and childless all of his life.
Ozu was born in the Fukagawa district of Tokyo. At the age of 10, he and his siblings were sent by his mother to live at his father's home town of Matsuzaka, Mie Prefecture, where he spent most of his youth. He was educated at a boarding school, but spent much of his time in the local cinema instead of the classroom. He worked briefly as a teacher before returning to Tokyo in 1923 to join the Shochiku Film Company.
Ozu was initially hired as an assistant cameraman. He became an assistant director within three years, and directed his first film, Zange no Yaiba ("The Sword of Penitence", now lost), in 1927. He went on to make a further 53 films: 26 in his first five years as a director, and all but 3 for Shochiku studios.
Ozu first made a number of short comedies, before turning to more serious themes in the 1930s. His Umarete wa mita keredo ("I Was Born, But…", 1932), a comedy with serious overtones on adolescence, not only marks the beginning of this transition, but was also received by movie critics as the first notable work of social criticism in Japanese cinema, winning Ozu wide acclaim.
Like the rest of Japan's cinema industry, he was slow to switch to the production of talkies: his first film with a dialogue soundtrack was Hitori Musuko ("The Only Son") in 1936, five years after Japan's first talking film, Heinosuke Gosho's "The Neighbor's Wife and Mine".
World War IIEdit
In July 1937, at a time when Shochiku was unhappy about Ozu's lack of box-office success, despite the praise (and awards) he had received from critics, the 34-year-old director was conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army, and he served for two years in China as an infantry corporal in the Second Sino-Japanese War.
The first film Ozu made on his return was the critically and commercially successful Toda-ke no Kyodai ("Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family", 1941). He followed this with an autobiographical theme: Chichi Ariki ("There Was a Father", 1942), describing the strong bonds of affection between a father and son despite years of separation.
In 1943, Ozu was again drafted into the army to make a propaganda film in Burma. However, he was sent to Singapore instead, where he spent much of his time watching American films that the Japanese army had confiscated. According to Donald Richie, Ozu's favorite was Orson Welles' Citizen Kane.
Ozu's films were most favorably received from the late 1940s, with works such as Banshun ("Late Spring", 1949), Tokyo Monogatari ("Tokyo Story", 1953) – considered to be his masterpiece – Ochazuke no Aji ("The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice", 1952), Soshun ("Early Spring", 1956), Higanbana ("Equinox Flower", 1958, his first film in colour), Ukikusa ("Floating Weeds", 1959) and Akibiyori ("Late Autumn", 1960).
As a director, he was eccentric and a notorious perfectionist. His films were typically infused with the Japanese concept of Mono no aware, an awareness of the impermanence of things. He was seen as one of the 'most Japanese' film-makers, and as such his work was only rarely shown overseas before the 1960s.
Ozu was also well-known for his drinking and, excepting Sam Peckinpah, was probably the heaviest drinker of all major film directors. In fact, Ozu and his co-screenwritner Kogo Noda used to measure the progress of their scripts by how many bottles of sake they had drunk. (Occasionally, visitors to his grave pay their respects by leaving cans and bottles of alcoholic drink.)
Ozu is possibly as well known (if not more) for the technical style and innovation of his films as for the narrative content. The style of his films is most distinctive in his later films, and he had not fully developed it until his post-war talkies. He did not conform to most Hollywood conventions, most notably the 180 degree rule. Also, rather than use the typical over-the-shoulder shots in his dialogue scenes, the camera gazes on the actors directly, which has the effect of placing the viewer in the middle of the scene. Ozu also did not use typical transitions between scenes. In between scenes he would show shots of certain static objects as transitions, or use direct cuts, rather than fades or dissolves. He moved the camera less and less as his career progressed, and ceased using tracking shots altogether in his color films. He also invented the "tatami shot," in which the camera is placed at a low height, precisely where it would be if one were kneeling on a tatami mat.
In narrative structure, Ozu was also an innovator in his use of ellipses, in which many major events are left out, leaving only the space between them. For example, in "An Autumn Afternoon" a wedding is mentioned in one scene, and then in the next, a reference is made to the wedding that already occurred. The wedding, however, never occurs on screen. This is typical of Ozu's films.
The following 33 films survive:
- Days of Youth (1929, 学生ロマンス 若き日)
- Walk Cheerfully (1930, 朗かに歩め)
- I Flunked But... (1930, 落第はしたけれど)
- That Night's Wife (1930, その夜の妻)
- The Lady and The Beard (1931)
- Tokyo Chorus (1931, 東京の合唱)
- I Was Born, But... (1932, 大人の見る繪本 生れてはみたけれど)
- Where Now Are The Dreams Of Youth (1932, 靑春の夢いまいづこ)
- Woman of Tokyo (1933, 東京の女)
- Dragnet Girl (1933, 非常線の女)
- Passing Fancy (1933)
- A Mother Should be Loved (1934) (no complete prints known to exist)
- A Story of Floating Weeds (1934, 浮草物語)
- An Inn in Tokyo (1935, 東京の宿)
- The Only Son (1936, ひとり息子)
- What Did the Lady Forget? (1937, 淑女は何を忘れたか)
- Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (1941, 戸田家の兄妹)
- There Was a Father (1942, 父ありき)
- Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947, 長屋紳士録)
- A Hen in the Wind (1948, 風の中の牝鶏)
- Late Spring (1949, 晩春)
- The Munakata Sisters (1950, 宗方姉妹)
- Early Summer (1951, 麥秋)
- Tea Over Rice (1952, お茶漬けの味)
- Tokyo Story (1953, 東京物語)
- Early Spring (1956, 早春)
- Tokyo Twilight (1957, 東京暮色)
- Equinox Flower (1958, 彼岸花)
- Good Morning (1959, お早よう)
- Floating Weeds (1959, 浮草)
- Late Autumn (1960), 秋日和)
- The End of Summer (1961, 小早川家の秋)
- An Autumn Afternoon (1962, 秋刀魚の味)
- In the movie Tokyo-Ga, director Wim Wenders travels to Japan to explore the world of Ozu, interviewing both Chishu Ryu and Yuharu Atsuta.
- In 2003, the centenary of Yasujiro Ozu's birth was commemorated at various film festivals around the world. Shochiku produced the film Café Lumière (珈琲時光), directed by Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien as homage to Ozu, with direct reference to the late master's Tokyo Story (1953), to premiere on Ozu's birthday.
- John Walker, editor of the Halliwell`s Film Guides, placed Tokyo Story top in a list of the best 1000 films yet made.
- The 2003 movie Five Dedicated to Ozu by Iranian filmaker Abbas Kiarostami is a tribute to Ozu. The film consists of five long shots, averaging about 16 minutes each.
- Ozu by Donald Richie. University of California Press; (July 1977), ISBN 0-520-03277-2
- Yasujiro Ozu in Japanese Film Directors by Audie Bock. Kodansha International Ltd; (1978), ISBN 0-870-11304-6
- Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema by David Bordwell. Princeton University Press; (1988), ISBN 0-691-00822-1
- Ozu's Anti-Cinema by Kiju Yoshida. Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan; (1998), ISBN 1-929280-27-0
- Ozu yasujiro zenshū (Ozu Yasujiro's Complete Works -- two volume set of Ozu's scripts). Shinshokan; (March 2003), ISBN 4-403-15001-2 (in Japanese)
- Ozu yasujiro no nazo (The Riddle of Ozu Yasujiro -- manga biography of Ozu). Shōgakukan; (March 2001), ISBN 4-09-179321-5 (in Japanese)
- Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer by Paul Schrader (1972) ISBN 0-306-80335-6