Yasujiro Ozu 1903–1963
Japanese director and scriptwriter.
Ozu, perhaps the foremost of traditional Japanese directors, was known for the spare cinematic style of his dramas of the Japanese middle class. His prolific career centered around films made in the shomin geki genre. These films study family relationships and reflect Ozu's pessimism about the endurance of the family as a cohesive unit. Typically devoid of plot, Ozu's films analyze characters rather than concentrating on action.
After studying at Waseda University, Ozu entered the film industry as an assistant to Tadamoto Okubo. Although Okubo was regarded as a director of little distinction, Ozu prospered from their association because of Okubo's willingness to let Ozu dominate production. At this time, Ozu met Kogo Noda, who became his screenwriter for most of Ozu's career. In 1927, Ozu directed The Swords of Penitence, his first feature. His prewar films were studies of external social conditions contributing to a family's disintegration. I Graduated, But … marks the emergence of Ozu's distinctive style, making the transition from light, simple comedy to more mature concerns. Ozu's first film to receive acclaim, I Was Born, But …, is regarded as a definitive shomin geki, faithfully depicting the rigidity of Japanese society through its tale of two young boys who will not eat to protest their father's ingratiating attitude towards his employer. Like others of its genre, it celebrates innocence while combining elements of comedy and drama.
Ozu's interest in the family was a primary concern, and he preferred to present it in simple terms. Until the mid-1930's Ozu did not utilize sound. He also disregarded cinematic devices such as fades and dissolves, and kept his camera at a uniformly low level. Ozu's last film before the outbreak of war, The Only Son, served as an example of the haha-mono genre, the films about mothers. Ozu made such films because they were lucrative and also because his own life was reflected in them: he lived with his mother all his life and never married.
Because his staff diminished after the war, Ozu found it necessary to modify his style. He had previously utilized a company of actors and cameramen, all attuned to his disciplined, strict manner, and with many of them gone, Ozu branched out into a new realm of cinema. His first work of the new period, Late Spring, is regarded as "one of the most perfect studies of character ever achieved in Japanese cinema." It also marked his renewed collaboration with Kogo Noda, and signalled an even greater simplicity of style. After this Ozu showed an increased disinterest in plot and action.
In 1952, Ozu made Tokyo Story, his best known film. Perhaps more than any other film, it combines the pervasive theme of a family's disintegration with Ozu's perceptive, simple style, culminating in the essence of an Ozu film: an analysis of life's spiritual makeup.
Increasingly, Ozu's films became more introverted, dealing with the inner motivations of familial unrest rather than the social situations that caused them. The final films were starker, allowing nothing extraneous. An Autumn Afternoon, Ozu's final work, is a culmination of Japanese transcendental style, reflecting the Zen tenet that less is more. More than anything, Ozu's work represents traditional Japanese thought and art. His stark style reflected Ozu's opinion of life: it is a simple process that humans should not be allowed to complicate.