Tag Archives: Hara Setsuko

Ozu’s tragicomic penultimate move: “End of Summer”

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Kohayagawa-ke no aki” means “Autumn for the Kohayagawa Family”; the 1961 film is known in English, included in the “late Ozu” Criterion release as “The End of Summer,” but also (despite the frequent mention of the heat and mopping of various brows) as “Early Autumn.” The English-language title of so many Ozu movies of the 1950s and 60s have a season specified that it is difficult for me to remember whether I have seen a particular one or not. “Kohayagawa-ke no aki.” was the second to the last movie he made. The title of the last one, “Sanma no aji” (1962) means “The Taste of Saury” but is known in English as “An Autumn Afternoon.” And the one before “Kohayagawa-ke no aki”, Akibiyori (1960) means “Late Autumn.”

They are all autumnal in the sense of showing patriarchs soon to die. Kohayagawa Manpei (Nakamura Ganjiro), the leprechaun-like (short, jolly, sly, egocentric) widower and owner of a store that probably will have to be acquired by a larger company has restarted visiting a mistress, Sasaki (Naniwa Chieko) with whom he was intimate a few decades earlier, though he is probably not the biological father of the woman’s mercenary daughter, Yuriko (Dan Reiko) who is dating Americans and trying to wheedle her supposed father into buying her a mink stole (despite the heat…)

Manpei’s elder daughter, Akiko (Hara Setsuko), a widow who strikes me as horse-faced though smart and kind, is being fixed up with the owner of a small steel factory, Isomura (Hisaya Morishige). A husband has been picked out for her sister Noriko (Tsukasa Yoko), too, though Noriko is in love with a man whose farewell party before taking a position in Sapporo is shown in the first scene.

Although the running time of “Kohayagawa-ke no aki” is less than that of the other films in the “Late Ozu” set, it moves at a pace I find slow, and I am more used to the pace of classic Japanese films than many others (who complain about the pace of Kurosawa films).

“”Kohayagawa-ke no aki” is more comic, less tragic than some other Ozu movies about getting daughters married. The slyness of Manpei playing with his children’s suspicions provides most of the comedy. His sister is critical of his always having done what he wanted, but his children, even the son-in-law (Hisa: Keiju Kobayashi), trying to keep the business afloat, are tolerant.

Conflicts are muted and one might miss the recurrent Ozu theme about social change, indicated by traditional vs. western dress, greater choice about husbands, declining family solidarity, garish neon signs, and the more capitalist less paternalistic businessmen (the differences are more dramatic in Kurosawa’s “I Live in Fear” form a few years before this movie)..

The movie does not need its epilogue provided by a couple working at the edge of a river and noticing an unusual number of crows about. But a bridge-crossing scene before that is quite beautiful (and a welcome break from interiors shot from cameras only a few feet above the floor, shooting up even at the very short Nakamura Ganjiro.

Being in its “Eclipse” line, there are no bonus features, but the visual (color, 1.33:1 aspect) and audio (mono) transfer are up to the highest Criterion standards.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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Tokyo Twilight

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“Tokyo Twilight” (Tôkyô boshoku, 1957) is the last black-and-white Ozu movies and the darkest one I’ve seen — both in the norish lighting of nocturnal scenes, especially those in a mahjong bar (prefiguring something of the look of Shinoda’s “Pale Flower”; Shinoda received his only assistant director credit for “Tokyo Twilight” and later made a documentary about Ozu), and in exploring the borders of despair. It is still a story of a family, albeit one shattered indirectly by the war.

Gradually and indirectly, the viewer learns that while the patriarch of the family, banker Sugiyama Shûkichi (Ozu’s go-to father, Ryû Chishû) was overseas (in Korea), his wife and mother of his two daughters and one son, was dallying with a man in Tokyo. After her husband returned, she ran away with her paramour. Akiko was only three at the time and does not remember her mother. All photos of the wife/mother had been destroyed.

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Her older sister, Takako (Ozu’s go-to daughter, Hara Setsuko) was old enough to remember her mother. He father pressured her to marry an academic, Numata (Shin Kinzo), who has turned into an abusive drunkard, rather than the man she wanted to marry. Both daughters have come home, Takako with an infant (Machiko), Akiko (Arima Nikeko [Black River, The Human Condition] with a growing embryo fertilized by a feckless student named Kenji (Masami Taura) who is hiding form her having found out she is pregnant.

The mother, Soma Kikuko (Yamada Isuzu) is back in town. The man she ran off with died in a POW camp (this confuses me, since I thought the lovers decamped after the husband returned after the war!) and she and her current man (it is not clear to me that they are married, or, indeed that she legally divorced…) run the mahjong parlor. In search of Kenji, Akiko goes there and intuits that the woman is her mother.

Takako is very unhappy that her mother, cause of so much pain, has met Akiko and goes to order her not to reveal to Akiko that she is her mother. This does not work out well

Plot spoiler alert

After an abortion and a confrontation with her mother in which Akiko says she will never bear a child, and some more melodramatic turns of the wheels, Akiko steps in front of a tram at a dangerous crossing, dubbed “Devil’s Crossing). Officially an accident, there is no doubt in my mind that it was deliberate. Not killed instantly, Akiko decides she wants to live, but doesn’t. After telling their mother that it is her fault (which I don’t accept in that the collision immediately followed another conversation with the irresponsible Kenji; moreover this follows soon after police haul her in for being a single female in a seedy bar without any semblance of a crime to charge against her), Takako has a conversation with her father about the need of a child to have two parents. She is going back to expose her child and herself to more drunken violence, which does not strike me as a happy ending. I think her father blames himself for too much. As for inadequate communication with his daughters (his son died in a skiing accident, btw), there utter unwillingness to tell him what bothers them seems to me as much a culprit as his oblivousness. So far as I can tell, he did his best to be a single parent and not dwell on his own pain.

End plot spoiler-alert

Many Japanese movies seem slow to western viewers. This one seems needlessly prolonged (141 minutes) for its fairly simple story. The long-held shots of objects (“pillow shots”) don’t appeal to me, and the invariant camera placement at the level of one meter wore on me many Ozu films ago (especially, when this results in the head being cut off from the frame). As usual, there are enough cuts that the lack of camera movement does not lead to the movie seeming visually static. And, as usual, the Ozu troupe of actors performs subtly and superbly.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

“Tokyo Story” (1953): The greatest?

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Ozu’s 1953 “Tokyo Story” (Tōkyō Monogatari’) was voted the best film ever in 2012 a Sight & Sound poll of film directors. I don’t see this choice: it’s not even my favorite postwar Ozu film. (Just as I prefer “Chimes at Midnight” to the old champion, “Citizen Kane.” The most recent (2012) S&S critics poll has “Vertigo” #1, “Citizen Kane” #2, “Tokyo Story” #3. I love “Vertigo,” but my favorite Hitchcock film is “Notorious” BTW, the first of Ozu’s Noriko trilogy, “Late Spring,” was #15; “Seven Samurai” was #17, “Rashomon” #25, (they were #17 and #18 in the directors’ poll), “Ugestsu” tied for #50.)

There is one tracking shot in “Tokyo Story,” though I don’t see any particular reason for it. There is a lot of intercutting, though often between static shots. And, typically of Ozu, many shots are held after all characters leave the frame. The music is a bit sentimental, though not cloying.

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Insofar as so quiet a family movie has events, they are mostly not shown. Rather, they are alluded to (or in some cases talked about) after they have occurred (though the film drags out to 139 minutes). I think the characters are all types, though exquisitely acted by the Ozu/Shochiku troupe of actors. Ryû Chishû smiles and makes subverbal backchanneling noises (Hmmm, Ummm, etc.). Higashiyama Setsuko also smiles and begs others not to inconvenience themselves on her account. Sugimura Haruko plays her usual unpleasantly selfish character (the eldest daughter, Shite), while Hara Setsuko as the childless widow of the couple’s older son smiles and does all she can to smooth over the ingratitude and selfishness of Shige and Dr. Hôichi, the eldest son (Yamamura Sô) and his two bratty y sons. The youngest son of the elderly couple, Keizô (who lives in Osaka) only appears late, along with Kyôko the unmarried teacher who lives with her parents in Onomichi, in Hiroshima Prefecture. (The rest have migrated to Tokyo. They don’t seem to have seen their parents since before the war; the grandchildren are meeting their grandparents for the first time.)

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The movie probably encourages everyone with still-living parents to be more patient with and nicer to them, and it stimulates those whose parents to have died with twinges of guilt.

The movie was inspired by the 1937 Leo McCarey “Make Way for Tomorrow” in which an elderly couple (Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi) lose their house and none of their five children will take both of them in. “Tokyo Story” also inspired Doris Dorrie’s “Cherry Blossoms” (2008) in which a final trip is planned by a mother, her husband not realizing she is mortally ill. And it was remade in 2013 by Yamada Yôji.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Ozu’s “Late Spring”

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In Ozu Yasujiro’s 1949 film “Banshun” (Late Spring; the first part of the Noriko Trilogy that included “Early Summer” and “Tokyo Story”), 27-year-old Noriko (Hara Setsuko, dubbed “the eternal virgin” who remained unmarried offscreeen and retired following Ozu’s death) wants to continue taking care of her 57-year-old widower father, Professor Somiya (Ryû Chishû). As in many Ozu films, the father drinks heavily with work associates and enjoys a stable domestic life with an uncomplaining quasi-servant woman relative (daughter here, wife in other films) and is at least unconsciously jealous of suitors for the daughter he monopolizes (with no visible resentment from her).

In other Ozu movies, a mother guarantees continuity and gently pushes her husband to accept that their daughter is grown up and should have her own life. In “Late Spring” it is the aging girl’s aunt Masa (Sugimura Haruko) who pushes, not for independence, but for a change of dependence from father to a husband for Noriko.

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Without the pressure from his sister, Somiya was quite content with the status quo. Given Setsuko’s ability to smile bravely, it is not possible to gauge if she is so uninterested in marrying as she seems and says she is. There is no indication that she wants sex. She does not discuss that with her divorced friend or with her relentlessly if gently pushing aunt. Her father tries to reassure her that she will become happy and come to love the husband selected for her. (Though he does not intend to marry again, he tells Noriko that he is going to marry the widow Miwa (Miyake Kuniko) to allay Noriko’s fear that he will have no one to serve him once she leaves.)

Even on their last pre-wedding trip to Kyoto, she pleads to continue her happiness living with her father, as he dutifully pushes her away, as convenient as her familiar services are to him. Unlike Hara, whose sad eyes often contradict a forced smile. Ryû smiles with his eyes.

Not only is the wedding not shown (though Noriko has a scene in her bridal dress—with her father and aunt), but the groom to whom Noriko is being consigned is never shown.

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Although there are many prototypically Ozu static shots down a corridor into a room (with people bowing and bowing and bowing) and shots of people moving through (and, often enough, out of) the frame, and even a sequence of shots in which a train passes through the frame, followed by another one in which a train passes through the frame, there is at least one tracking shot of the train. And there are more exterior shots (many without people in the frame) than in other Ozu films shot entirely on the Shochiku Ofuna lot. The movie ends with a lingering shot of very gente waves coming in to the shore (not like the surf pounding in “From Here to Eternity” that clearly signals sexual intercourse!).

It came in 38th in the most recent (2009) decennial Kinema Junpo ranking of the 100 best Japanese films of all time (Tokyo Story topped the list: see http://letterboxd.com/mongoosecmr/list/kinema-junpos-greatest-japanese-films/).

Ichikawa Kon remade the black-and-white “Late Spring” in color for Japanese television as “A Daughter’s Marriage” in 2003 commemorating the centennial of Ozu’s birth.

Goto Daisuke claimed that his 2003 softcore erotica film “A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn” (Chikan gifu) was heavily shaped by “Late Spring.” Also in 2002 Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien (who adopted the static camera setups from Ozu) made a 21st-century update “Café Lumière” (Kōhī Jikō) for Shochiku.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Naruse’s adaptation of Kawabata’s Sound of the Mountain

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It’s hard for me to believe that a novel than only takes up 276 pages in English (the National Book Award-winning one of Edward Seidensticker) was serialized over the span of five years, but future Nobel Prize-winner Kawabata Kasunari’s Yama no Oto was (Sound of the Mountain, 1949-54; simultaneously with Thousand Cranes). It was then quickly made into a movie (1954) directed by Naruse Mikio.

In that both Kawabata and Naruse generally focused on female characters, another surprise is that the focus of TSound of the Mountain is a man. Ogata Shingo (Yamamura Sô) starts to think that he must have been a failure as a father, since his selfish son, Shuichi (Naruse and Kinoshita regular Uehara Ken) is out drinking most every night with his mistress, neglecting his uncomplaining wife Kikuko (Hara Setsuko, the dutiful daughter of many Ozu family dramas, notably “Tokyo Story,”mistreated/underappreciated by Uehara Ken characters with some frequency). And Shingo’s daughter, Fusako (Nakakita Chieko), has left her husband and arrives with her bratty daughter and baby in her father’s home. (It suprises me that the children were so spoiled, having grown up during the war with its privations for those at home.)

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Shingo is the only one who seems to conceive that Kikuko might have feelings. He feels sorry for Kikuko, though he—as much as and his wife, daughter, and son— avails himself of her domestic skills and readiness cheerfully to undertake doing whatever needs to be done. (With her as a de facto servant, there is no rush to find a new maid.)

Kikuko also seems to remind Shingo of the older sister of his wife (the coarse and entitled-feeling Yasuko, played by Nagaoika Taruko); he had been in love with her, but she died and he married the plainer-looking younger sister. This is reprised in Shingo’s preference for his daughter-in-law over his daughter, which his wife and his daughter complain about. Fusako and her mother both blame Shingo for the failure of Fusako’s marriage, as if he had raised Fusako and his wife had not been involved, though the daughter is coarse, whiney, and selfish like her mother, whereas Kikuko is refined and uncomplaining.

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The saccharine Saitô Ichirô music annoyed me, and the images have not aged well, but eventually Kikuko takes an action that surprised me, and Suichi’s mistress ups the melodrama. Not much is resolved at the wistful ending in Shinjuku Park after the leaves have fallen from the trees—this is still Shingo’s point of view. Neither he nor the viewer knows what Kikuko really thinks about his adoration or the lack of even common courtesy from his son (her husband). In contrast, the mistress’ perspective is spelled out when, late in the movie, she appears.

The set for the Ogata home was modeled on Kawabata’s own, btw.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

“Onna” (1946) and “Ojôsan kanpai“ (1949)

I missed three Kinoshita Keisu films from the late 1940s and am posting on them out of the chronological order I have been attempting to impose (the other  the 1946  “The Girl I Loved“).

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I thought that the narrative of Kinoshita’s “Onna” (Woman, 1948) was threadbare, but it was visually very impressive. Most of the 84-minute run-time juxtaposes closeups of a chorus-line dancer, Toshiko (Mito Mitsuko) who has been dragged off to Manazura with a man, Tadashi (Ozawa Eitarô) she distrusts (with very good reasons, including that he has just been involved in a robbery followed by stabbing a policeman). In the last quarter of the film, there is first a chase (not involving Tadashi) then a conflagration, which sends most of the townspeople rushing to the scene. This part is shot like an early Soviet sound film with lots of cuts (montage) and fairly bombastic music.

In addition to multiple shots of trains and train stations and views down to the sea, there are singing children and opening and closing numbers of dancing girls, including Toshiko. Mito is rather ordinary and conventional; Tadashi sullen and bitter about his life having been ruined by the warkmakers misleading him and the whole patriotic population.

heresto3-1600x900-c-default.jpg“Ojôsan kanpai“ (1949, the title indexes a toast and the English titles include “Here’s to the Girls” and (a more apt one) “Here’s to the Young Lady”) was not written by Kinoshita (it was written by Shindô Kaneto, future director of “The Naked Island” and “Onibaba”). It seems rather Capraesque to me, with a 34-year-old man of the people, auto shop owner Keizo (played by the then-37-year-old Sano Shuji) smitten by and courting twenty-six-year-old Keizo (played by the then-29-year-old Hara Setsuko, who played daughters of Ryû Chishû in many an Ozu film), who comes from a noble family, though her father is in prison as the fall-guy for a fraud.

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Keizo is very aware of his lack of education and cultural capital. Yasuko is a very refined if timid (never been kissed) and keenly feeling the need to save the family mansion for her mother and grandparents (and sisters, and the two children of her elder sister). She is also keenly aware that her interest in the lowborn but now affluent Keizo will appear mercenary to him. (It’s not only that she is on-sale to the highest bidder, but to the only bidder.) He desperately wants her to love him, not just to be grateful to him for financial salvation of her family. According to her, she expended all her love on a fiancé who died in Manchuria.

Though lovestruck himself, Keizo adamantly blocks his younger brother Gorô (Sada Keiji) from marrying his inamorata. Murase Sachiko provides solace (psychological and liquid) in a friendly neighborhood bar.

There is no flashy cinematography by Konishita’s brother-in-law Kusuda Hiroshi’s work, though there is nothing to fault with it. The surviving print Criterion supplied Hulu is damaged, but watchable)

Apparently, the portrayal of breaking the class barrier was a big deal in Japan ca. 1949. The US Occupation was pushing democracy (only abroad, then, as now), whether Kinoshita was aiming to please the rulers (who are certainly invisible within the movie).

©2016, Stephen O. Murray