The Legacy of Ozu, 50 Years Later


Yasujiro Ozu's An Autumn Afternoon

The legacy of great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu will be honored this December in Ozu and His Afterlives. Known for his distinctive, spare style that was the opposite of popular Hollywood films, he has been called “the most Japanese of directors.” Timed to the 110th anniversary of Ozu's birth (and the 50th of his death), the series will feature the U.S. premieres of restorations of two of his color films—Equinox Flower (1958) and An Autumn Afternoon (1962), both in extended runs—and a selection of works by notable modern directors that show his influence.

“Ozu’s greatness can never be asserted often enough,” said Dennis Lim, Film Society’s Director of Cinematheque Programming. “In this anniversary year, we wanted to recognize his modernity and his eternal relevance by showing two of his final color works, which happen also to be two of his most beautiful. We are presenting them alongside a wide range of more recent movies that were, in some way, made with Ozu in mind. These are all films that—to borrow a phrase from the director Claire Denis—grew under the shade of Ozu.”

Ozu’s influence on Denis can be seen in her film 35 Shots of Rum. It is the story of a train driver happily living with his daughter in their own little world. Their cozy life is threatened by outside temptations in the tradition of Ozu’s classic Late Spring. Ozu himself revisits that movie in An Autumn Afternoon. He reworks it to include stronger female characters and sharpens the ironic commentary on rampant consumerism. It is Ozu’s last film, beautifully evoking emotions all the way through.

Hou Hsiao-hsien's Café Lumiere is a celebration of Ozu’s classic themes, made nearly 50 years after An Autumn Afternoon. Traveling from Taiwan to Japan, the film explores urban solitude and the clash between tradition and modernity. Ozu focuses on the struggles of family dealing with changing times in Equinox Flower. A father protests his arranged marriage but cannot accept that his daughter is moving against conservative ideals as well. When the father is accused of being inconsistent he proclaims, “Everyone is inconsistent, except God. The sum total of inconsistencies is life!”

The Match Factory Girl, by director Aki Kaurismaki
Hirokazu Kore-eda's Still Walking

Portuguese director Pedro Costa and Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki tell very different stories about women in their films In Vanda’s Room and The Match Factory Girl. Costa’s documentary offers an unyielding, intimate look at heroin addict Vanda’s daily life. Kaurismaki’s film is nearly as dark, but with the director’s characteristic black comedic elements. We follow as a young woman attempts to leave her monotonous factory job for a life of love and excitement. Witty and bleak, we already know that our heroine will not live happily ever after.

Taking place over a single day of mourning is the quiet and elegantly told Still Walking. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda delves deep into his own personal childhood tragedies to deliver a heartfelt tale of what happens when dealing with death. Ozu’s influence shines clearly in the delicate way the film treats with the inner workings of a family dealing with loss. Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise has a lighter tone but equal shades of Ozu in its dedication to exploring the American urban sprawl. Director Jarmusch himself describes the film as: “a neo-realistic black comedy in the style of an imaginary Eastern European director obsessed with Ozu and The Honeymooners.”

Director Wim Wenders of Tokyo-Ga traveled from the USA to Tokyo to pay homage to Ozu’s birthplace. There, he interviews many of Ozu’s past collaborators from actresses to cameramen, visiting iconic places along the way. Wenders introduces his movie as a “Diary on film”, but it’s much more than that. It’s a love letter to Ozu in documentary form.

Ozu and His Afterlives runs December 4  12 at Film Society of Lincoln Center. See three films or more and save with a Discount Package!

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