WHO is he?

Japanese film director and screenwriter who made close to 50 feature films between the twenties and the sixties, and who is regarded as one of the foremost artists of cinema. Ozu’s films bear a close resemblance to one another and take a philosophical view of life, underscoring the natural cycle of birth, aging and death — a perspective that is reflected in the season-based title of these films.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

Ozu’s scripts, most of them co-written by Kogo Noda, single-mindedly deal with parent-child relationships, especially the bond between father and daughter. They explore, in its various manifestations, the interaction between filial obligation and the need for independence. The elliptical plot almost always revolves around weddings, funerals and reunions and long conversations unfold over numerous eating and drinking sessions. The family is the most significant social unit in these films.

Style

Ozu’s rigorous aesthetic is one of the most recognisable in the entire history of cinema. The camera in his films seldom moves and is instead fixed at a foot or two above ground, recording the ‘action’ head-on. The shots utilise all three planes of the image, with the principal interaction happening in the middle one and the foreground serving as a framing device. Shots begin before significant action commences and end after the latter is over. Conversations are cut in such a way that only the character that speaks is seen. The scenes take place mostly indoors, especially inside houses, bars and offices. The films are frequently book ended by shots of trains and empty interiors.

WHY is he of interest?

In contrast to his contemporaries like Mizoguchi and Kurosawa, Ozu exclusively dealt with relatively insignificant preoccupations of the Japanese middle class. That Ozu remains a gigantic icon despite this potentially problematic conservative bent, influencing scores of major modern-day filmmakers across the globe, is a testament to the formal prowess and universal appeal of his body of work.

WHERE to discover him?

Indisputably the most widely-seen Ozu film and a melting pot of the most characteristic themes and stylistic elements of his cinema, Tokyo Story (1953) centres on an elderly husband and wife, who travel from their hometown to Tokyo in order to meet their children, only to return disappointed. Lyrically tragic yet very level-headed, Tokyo Story portrays the inevitable drift of one generation away from its fading predecessor.