Tag Archives: Ryû Chishû

“Tokyo Story” (1953): The greatest?


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.


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.)


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”

4 (1).jpg

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.


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.


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

“Ornamental Hairpin” (Kanzashi)


In 1941 Japan’s total mobilization for war was still in the future, though its incursions on the mainland (first Manchuria) had already been going on for a decade. There is mention of food shortages in “Ornamental Hairpin” (Kanzashi) directed by Shimizu Hiroshi from a story by Ibuse Masuji, but the movie set in a riverfront spa at which a handful of people were spending the summer, as large groups came for single nights or weekends, irritating Professor Katae (Saitô Tatsuo [who had appeared in various Ozu films, and would go on to “Carmen Falls in Love” and “Lord Jim”). Ryû Chishû was playing his age (36) or someone less than his age, the soldier on leave, a soldier named  Osamura. He steps on the titular ornamental hairpin in an outdoor hot spring pool and hobbles through the rest of the summer.

The woman who lost it, geisha Eni (Tanaka Kinuyo) who had been part of one of the groups swiftly passing through, comes back to apologize and cheer Osamura on, along with the two youngsters.


The viewer knows that the Tokyo to which most of the characters are returning is going to be firebombed. Osamura knows he is going off to military service and does not even think of wedding Emi, who clearly loves him (his part is even more underdeveloped than hers or the stock figures of the other guests).

The music (composed by Asai Takaaki, who would do “Morning for the Osone Family” before Kinoshita turned to his brother-in-law for music) is obnoxious (not the group singing in the outdoor bathing pool, though I don’t like it either). The cinematography (of Inokai Suketarô [who shot “Flunky, Work Hard” and other 1930s Naruse films]) is undistinguished. I much prefer the 1936 Shimizu  Ibuse adaptation “Mr. Thank You,” which also has a group thrown together. Both are in the Criterion Eclipse (barebone) Travels with Hiroshi Shimizu set.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray