Yasujirō Ozu, 小津 安二郎, Ozu Yasujirō, December 12, 1903December 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.

Early lifeEdit

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.

Early careerEdit

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.

In 1935, Ozu made a short documentary with soundtrack: Kagami Shishi, in which Kokiguro VI performed Kabuki dance of the same title. This was made as per a request by Ministry of Education. [1]

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.

Postwar careerEdit

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).

Ozu often worked with screenwriter Kogo Noda; other regular collaborators included cameraman Yuharu Atsuta and the actors Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara and Haruko Sugimura.

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's last film was Sanma no aji ("An Autumn Afternoon") in 1962. He died the following year of cancer on his 60th birthday, and his grave is at the temple of Engaku-ji , Kamakura.

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 films "Late Spring", "Tokyo Story", "Good Morning" and "Early Summer" all feature young brothers named Minoru and Isamu.

Partial filmographyEdit

The following 33 films survive:


  • 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.



  1. Google Book Result from Donald Richie's book

Further ReadingEdit

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