OZU by Donald Richie


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Ozu, the late great Japanese director, is a sort of Oriental Chekhov. His films, extending from the '20's to the early '60's, are almost always domestic panoramas -- if you don't like family, Ozu is not for you. Slow and frequently plotless, melancholy but with a humorous forbearance, full of superficially commonplace characters and wanly philosophical observations, a camera that rarely pans (Ozu seems to have invented the stationary low-angle shot), these works have one distinctive flavor: an absolute veracity. For whether or not we like Ozu (and many find him incredibly boring), watching Tokyo Story or The End of Summer or An Autumn Afternoon, it would be hard to question the reality of what we see or hear. Who, after all, can quarrel with a mother who says: ""You know, when you come down to it, a son is best. Girls are no use."" Or a father who replies: ""Boy or girl, it's all the same. They all go off sooner or later."" This is the sort of wisdom that makes children run away from home. And yet how wonderfully well it flourishes in the world of Ozu, where the antinomies are the traditional and the modern, the old and the young. And though his heart goes out to the provincial elders, and the forgotten values, Ozu is not unsympathetic to change. In an Ozu film, life is change, and nothing accents that more than the long lingering glimpses of trains and train stations which are used as 'a haunting deus ex machina, separating people or bringing them together, the years meeting and the years dividing. Richie's book is attentive and illuminating, a model study, but given Ozu's inescapable narrowness, rather too copious in its praise: ""Human nature in all its diversity and variation -- this is what the Ozu film is essentially about."" A man who can make a remark like that either has a limited conception of human nature or has led a sheltered life.

Pub Date: June 10th, 1974
Publisher: Univ. of California Press