Yasujiro Ozu
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

, /10
Links:

If English is your first language and you could translate the Italian text, please contact me.


Scroll down for recent reviews in english.

1. I bambini

Yasujiro Ozu, nato nel 1903 e rimasto orfano di padre in tenera età, completò gli studi universitari nel 1923 e in quello stesso anno si impiegò presso una casa cinematografica, diventando in breve l'aiutante di un regista specializzato in farse. Esordì alla regia nel 1926 con una serie di brevi comiche in stile Chaplin, per passare poco alla volta a un tipo di commedia più seria, che prendeva in esame la vita quotidiana della piccola borghesia e in particolare i rapporti fra genitori e bambini. Ozu passò scapolo tutta la vita in compagnia della madre, e qualcosa di questa situazione si riflette nelle prime opere.

Cominciata con Kaishain Sekatsu/ The Life of an Office Worker (1930), sulla famiglia di un impiegato, la stagione sociale di Ozu si protrasse fino al 1936, acquistando col tempo elementi tragici che smorzarono con toni amari l'originario ottimismo idilliaco. Tutte questi film sono muti, nonostante in quegli anni il sonoro fosse ormai d'obbligo; in quanto a fedeltà nei confronti del muto, Ozu batte persino Chaplin.

The silent Tokyo No Korasu/ Tokyo Chorus (1931) is a domestic film that investigates the ordinary life of an ordinary family via both comic and tragic scenes. It feels like a slightly fictionalized documentary.

A moustached teacher inspects men of various ages in uniform. One of them is a clownish kid who repeatedly upsets the teacher. Years later the young man, Okajima, is married with three children and works in for an insurance company. His son wants a bicycle, knowing that Okajima is about to get his yearly bonus. All the other children have a bicycle. The boss hands out the bonuses to anxious employees who form a line outside his office. They keep their bonus secret although they can't wait to open the envelop and see the number. One of them does so in the restrooms and the envelop drops in the urinal. There is only one man who is unhappy: a middle-aged coworker who is about to be fired because two of his clients have died just after buying an insurance policy. Okajima thinks that the workers should stand up and defend the poor man, but nobody else is willing to complain with the boss so Okajima walks into the boss' office by himself and confronts the boss. The argument between the two escalates to the point that they push each other, and eventually the boss fires Okajima. He can't buy his son a bicycle anymore, so he buys him a smaller toy, but the child, who had already told the other children that he was getting a bicycle better than theirs, is offended. His mother sides with him, scolding the husband for not keep his promise. Then Okajima shows her the letter that he has been fired. Nonetheless the parents decide to buy the child a bike. Okajima can't find a job because his degree makes him overqualified. He meets the middle-aged man who has found a job, but feels humiliated because it's a low level job. His son is playing with other children in a mudpool. The boy tells him that his sister is sick. Okajima rushes home and finds the girl in bed. His wife is afraid of taking her to the hospital because it would cost too much, but Okajima does not hesitate and everybody goes to the hospital with the girl. His wife stays at the hospital. She is worried that they cannot pay the bill. Okajima and his son return home. Days later they pick up the girl, who is now healed, and return home in a festive mood. The man plays with his children. His wife finds out how he paid the medical bills: he sold her kimonos. She is moved to tears watching the man play with the children. On the way back from yet another failed job interview, Okajima meets his old moustached teacher, who is now the owner of a restaurant and gladly offers him a job: it's the same humiliating job that the middle-aged coworker had to take: walking around town carrying a big sign that publicizes the restaurant. Her wife and the children saw him pass by, and she is ashamed. At home she confronts him. He blushes but admits that it's the only job he could find, and they need the money. They go to sleep speechless. Endorsing a Okajima suggetion, the old teacher calls for a reunion dinner of the Okajima's class in the restaurant. The men assemble around a table and enjoy food, drinks and company. The dinner is interrupted by the delivery of a letter. The teacher reads it and hands it over to Okajima: it's a job offer. They are looking for a teacher in a remote village. Okajima and his wife are not excited at the idea of moving far away, but they realize it's the sensible thing to do. They rejoin the party where the former students stand up and sing along a happy song. Nostalgia brings tears to the teacher and Okajima but sooon they both join the choir.

2. Umarete wa mita keredo

Il film con cui Ozu stabilisce la sua reputazione di menestrello della vita familiare della classe media è una commedia malinconica che segue Chaplin e anticipa DeSica: Umarete Wa Mita Keredo/ I Was Born But (1932).

Un carro stipato di mobili attraversa la desolata periferia di una città. È il trasloco di una famiglia, composta da un padre, di professione impiegato, e dai suoi due bambini, che si stabilisce nello stesso palazzo del principale. La famiglia è molto unita e vive, d'amore e d'accordo, pur nell'umiltà imposta dalle limitate risorse economiche del padre. I bambini devono vedersela a scuola con altri bambini prepotenti, e vincono grazie all'aiuto di un ragazzo piu` grande. Uno dei loro amici e` il figlio del principale del loro padre: i bambini fanno a gara a sostenere il proprio padre. Ma un giorno i bambini scoprono che il padre, del quale hanno sempre avuto una grande stima, ha accettato di fare il buffone per un filmino casalingo del principale. Ne sono tanto umiliati che rifiutano di mangiare e tengono il muso per tutto il giorno. Alla fine si riconciliano. L'indomani i due bambini incoraggiano il padre a salutare il boss che sta aspettando con la limousine a un passaggio ferroviario. Il boss invita il padre in auto, mentre il bambino del boss scende e si aggrega ai bambini del padre. I tre bambini si avviano insieme, riconoscendo a vicenda che il padre degli altri e` tanto importante quanto il proprio.

La critica sociale, in linea con il contemporaneo filone del film ideologico, passa in secondo piano rispetto alla crisi familiare ingenerata dalla rivelazione traumatica che il loro dignitoso padre è un disgraziato come tanti che, per sopravvivere, deve scendere ogni giorno a umilianti compromessi. E, tra le righe, si intuisce che quei bambini ribelli sono destinati a diventare un giorno servili come il padre.

Hijosen no onna/Dragnet Girl (1933)

 

 

3. Toda-ke no Kyodai

 

 

Dekigokoro (1933) e Ukigusa Monogatari/ Floating Weeds (1934), remade in 1959, indugiano ancora sui rapporti fra padre e figlio, il primo mostrando l'effetto benefico della compagnia di un figlio, delle sue innocenti e ingenue inesperienze, il secondo, ambientato fra i guitti, mostrando invece l'effetto deprimente della separazione dal figlio (seppure illegittimo).

The silent film Dekigokoro/ Passing Fancy (1933) abandoned the theme of young people starting a life and focused on the ordinary struggles of poor families led by middle-aged parents. In this case it is also the portrait of a man torn by existential fatigue, who has principles to follow but doesn't seem to believe in them all that much. Ozu concocts an acrobatic mix of comedy and melodrama

A group of low-class men and women are sitting in a room and listening to a narrative ballad about the true love of a geisha. A man tries to wake up his child who is bored into sleep. The man notices a coin purse that someone lost, and at first takes it, but then puts it back on the floor, and finally empties it into his own purse (a metaphor for his indecisive philosophy of life). He then throws it away. Several other people see it and pass it around involuntarily until it gets back to the man who lost it in the first place, except that now it's empty. Meanwhile some ferocious fleas are attacking the audience and men start jumping up and down, disrupting the performance (a metaphor for how turbulent their humble life can be). The man who took the coins is Kihachi, and the child is Tomio, his only child (who has a patch on one eye). As he walks out of the room carrying his sleepy child on his shoulders, he is attracted to a young pretty and shy girl who played in the performance. She doesn't say a word to him, and his friend tells him to leave her alone. They meet her again later and this time she tells Kihachi that she has just lost her job and doesn't have any family. He replies that he has no wife and invites her to stay with them, despite the reproaches of his friend Jiro. The following morning the child, Tomio, hits his dad with a stick to wake him up so he won't be late for work. He then wears his uniform and walks to school, proud to be a good student and a good son. When the dad gets up, he learns that the good old woman who runs the restaurant, Otome, likes the new girl, Harue, and has given her a job.
Kihachi works at a brewery with Jiro. He spends the day fantasying about Harue, who reminds him of his ex. Jiro reminds him that he is an "old man" and does not like Harue to start with. Kihachi takes a day off, wears his best kimono and approaches Harue at the restaurant. Later she plays with his son. She and the child then go to Jiro's room and clean it up. When Jiro arrives, he is not amused: he senses that Harue is in love with him, and tells her that she is making a fool of Kihachi. She responds that Kihachi is like an uncle to her, not like a husband. Later Otome asks to see Kihachi alone about Harue. Kihachi gets excited and sends his child to play outside (the child now has no patch on the eye anymore). Otome, however, wants to ask him something completely different: Harue is in love with Jiro, but Jiro seems to despise her, and Otome wants Kihachi to talk to him. Kihachi is hurt, but then accepts the mission. Jiro is stubborn and refuses to get married. Kihachi insists and the two get into an argument. From that day Kihachi becomes a different man: he drinks and skips work. Tomio is ashamed of his father when the other children make fun of him. At home Tomio, after crying alone, confronts his father and even beats him. Kihachi let Tomio punch him repeatedly in the head until the child bursts out crying. They hug, Kihachi asks to be forgiven and returns to his old good manners. The father is so happy that he gives Tomio a lot of money to spend whichever way he likes. Tomio buys a lot of candies and junk food and gets terribly sick. Jiro, who is still angry at Kihachi for their arguments over marrying Harue, leaves work and rushes to the house. He tells Kihachi that they need a doctor immediately. The doctor finds the child in critical conditions. Everybody helps: Harue behaves like a nurse to the child and the teacher comes to bring well-wishes from the other children. Kihachi doesn't have the money to pay the doctor's bills. Harue offers to find the money. Jiro is moved by Harue's kindness and confesses he loves her, but also reproaches her for trying to make money too fast (implying that women who do that become prostitutes). Jiro visits his friend who is a barber and borrows the money, offering in exchange to travel to a distant place where workers are in high demand. When the child gets well, Kihachi learns that his friend is about to leave and then the barber tells him why. Kihachi immediately offers to take his place, so Jiro can stay and marry Harue. The barber is moved by the general kindness of these people, willing to sacrifice for each other, and would forgo the debt, but Kihachi has decided and takes off after admonishing his child to be a good student and don't eat too many candies. He takes a ship and starts chatting with the other migrant workers. He gets nostalgic about his son and decides to swim back home with a smile on his face.
Sono commedie a tratti esilaranti, ma sempre attente alle piccole tragedie della famiglia e al ruolo dei bambini; e con il passare degli anni lo stile di Ozu si semplifica, verso l'austera semplicità dei classici.

Kagamijishi (1936)

Hitori Musuko/ The Only Son (1936)invece è dedicato allo spirito di sacrificio della madre, nell'ambito dell'"hakamono" in voga.

Dopo aver passato una vita a lavare i pavimenti di una fabbrica e aver sacrificato tutto per pagare gli studi dell'unico figlio (è vissuta solo per lui), una madre va a trovarlo a Tokyo; lo trova sposato con figlio, povero e infelice; si sente dire da questi, divenuto un insegnante di Tokyo, che non è soddisfatto della propria vita; torna a casa con il morale a pezzi, e, dopo aver salutato i colleghi con un sorriso, va a nascondersi in un cortile, fra i cesti della spazzatura, perché nessuno la veda piangere.

commedia Shukujo wa nani o wasureta ka/ What Did the Lady Forget? (1937)

Toda-ke no Kyodai/ Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (1940) complica le situazioni base.

La vedova e l'orfana di un industriale si trovano improvvisamente sulla strada e devono chiedere ospitalità ai parenti, che le sopportano di malumore. Ozu descrive il disagio delle due donne attraverso una serie di rituali familiari, per esempio l'esclusione da un tea-party. Il ritorno del figlio soldato pone fine a questa umiliante situazione, ma genera un nuovo contrasto, questa volta fra la sorella, che spinge il fratello a sposarsi e questi non ne vuole sapere.

Chichi Ariki/ There Was a Father (1942) è un'amara riflessione sulla fugacità del ricordo e sull'ingratitudine dei figli (qui un giovane che dopo i funerali dimentica le ceneri del padre nonostante questi fosse vissuto solo per lui).

 

4. La religione del nulla

 

In questi film si delineano le caratteristiche dell'arte di Ozu. La famiglia costituisce un sistema isolato, in perfetto equilibrio; su di essa non agiscono forze esterne, e quindi si evolve in maniera indipendente. La sceneggiatura trascura l'azione e i colpi di scena, presenta vicende semplici, comuni e lineari, al limite del cinema-verità.

La regia è talmente essenziale, scarnificata, depurata, distillata, che si risolve sovente in poche inquadrature e il montaggio ha dei bruschi punti di discontinuità (uso intenso del controcampo); così puro e sommesso, lo stile di Ozu rasenta una pratica religiosa. E in effetti i temi dei suoi film si riallacciano alla tradizione giapponese e anelano alla conquista di un equilibrio stabile nella tumultuosa esistenza umana; la prassi di stasi, estasi e iterazione dello Zen, la filosofia del mono no aware, la coscienza della gioia e del dolore insite in tutte le cose che decanta in una serena rassegnata accettazione del destino.

La purezza assoluta amplifica a dismisura ogni oggetto e ogni parola, conferisce un senso a ogni oggetto, procede secondo un ritmo fatto di pause e di silenzi; nei geometrici interni, sondati pudicamente da una macchina da presa posta all'altezza del tatami, si addentrano negli stati d'animo di due o tre personaggi, avvinti dal legame familiare in una intimità discreta sempre un po' imbarazzata.

Ozu edifica la società su due stati fondamentali dell'esistenza: la giovinezza, radiosa stagione dell'amore, e la vecchiaia, malinconica rassegnazione della morte; e su poche situazioni familiari che si ripetono con variazioni minime di film in film. Ozu si è paragonato a un pittore che dipinge sempre lo stesso quadro.

Ozu è senza dubbio il regista più tradizionalista e nostalgico del Giappone; rigidamente attaccato alla mentalità del vecchio Giappone, rifiuta sprezzante la contaminazione con il mondo occidentale. La sua famiglia è rigorosamente patriarcale, e tutte le convenzioni del vivere in casa (camminare scalzi, sedere sul tatami, salutare con un inchino, etc.) sono rispettate fino alla noia. Nella sua stessa schiva, discreta, e al tempo stesso assidua, sofferta, professione, si può riconoscere uno spirito orgoglioso e integerrimo d'altri tempi.

Alla stasi drammaturgica si accoppia quindi una stasi storica, indifferente al progresso della civiltà, che finisce per astrarre del tutto la poetica di Ozu. Ozu trascende la realtà quotidiana per indagare nei meandri dell'animo umano e nell'indefinibile plasma che pone gli uomini a contatto; per indagare cioè l'universo del sentimento e della morale, dai quali scaturiscono poi i comportamenti.

Monotona e retrograda, la fissità etica ed estetica di Ozu acquista lo spessore di un poema sul tempo, o di un quadro del tempo: il passare del tempo (per esempio nei contrasti genitore-figlio e giovane-vecchio) o l'assenza del tempo dominano e perfino opprimono i suoi film.

 

 

5. Banshum

  Nagaya Shinshiroku/ Record of A Tenement Gentleman (1947)

Kaze no Naka no Mendori/ A Hen in the Wind (1948)

In Banshun/ Late Spring (1949), tratto dal romanzo di Kazuro Hirotsu dallo scriptwriter Kogo Noda che diventera` il suo abituale collaboratore, la protagonista è una brava ragazza, fedele alla morale tradizionale che pone al di sopra di ognialtra cosa la famiglia (nel suo caso il padre, vedovo); la sua vita trascorre serena nel villaggio natale, sempre monotona, ma di una monotonia accettata con gioia dalla giovane. Il padre, la zia e un'amica divorziata che le racconta casi scandalosi, si preoccupano di trovarle un marito, anche se lei non vuole neppure prendere in considerazione l'idea di abbandonare il padre. La verità è che per lei sposarsi vorrebbe dire rinunciare agli affetti, alle abitudini, al piccolo mondo cui ha accudito per tanto tempo con tanto amore. Il pover'uomo, rimasto solo in casa, si pela una mela con l'aria triste e contenta, rassegnata e orgogliosa, del genitore che ha compiuto un duro sacrificio per il bene della prole, uno dei motivi più ricorrenti nel cinema di Ozu.

The bond that ties the girl to her father may feel Oedipal in nature (father and daughter even go on a vacation to Kyoto before her wedding that sounds like the reversal of a honeymoon trip), but Ozu has something both simpler and more complex in mind. At the simpler level, Ozu proclaims his quietly conservative philosophy of life, which is anti-cosmological and anti-metaphysical, naturalist and ordinary. At a more complex level, this film is a meditation on what happiness is: if you are happy now as things are, why do you have the change? The reason is that time will change things, whether you like it or not. Note that it is not only the girl (ostensibly the protagonist of the story) who has to accept the flow of time but also her father, and the last scene seems to indicate that it will be harder for him than for her. She has to accept that she needs to start her own family, but he has to accept a much more difficult truth: that death is approaching. That explains his own reluctance to make her face change: it reflects his own inability to face death. They both need to accept that there is an end to all things. He eventually puts in terms of duty towards the order of nature. The main ellipsis used in the film is the one of chiming clocks that mark the passing of time, chimes that are always identical but in a continuously changing world. The film was made when Japan was beginning its process of rapid "americanization" after the defeat in World War II, and there are hints that the traditional Japanese family needs to adapt to a new civilization, notably a Coca Cola sign, but mostly it is about old and new, regardless of foreign influences, it is about simple village life and the rising urban life, Noriko riding her bike to the ocean versus Noriko riding the train into Tokyo.

The real protagonist is not the girl but the girl's smile. That smile evolves as the story evolves, from irriverent and carefree to gentle and melancholy.

Ozu films these simple stories using the low viewpoint of someone sitting on a tatami mat, something that makes it feel even more ordinary and colloquial. At the same time Ozu invests in manically precise compositions for a religiously still camera, clearly aiming for a perfection of balance among the many elements of the scene. Narratively, he displays a unique passion for skipping the most melodramatic scenes (in fact, we never even see the bridegroom). Just when strong emotions could come into play, the film skips the action. Ozu's is cinema of small gestures, not of grand emotions. A lot of the important moments take place out of our sight, implied but not shown.

In many ways this film is the archetype for the films that would come later: the single parent will reappear in Tokyo Twilight, Late Autumn, The End of Autumn and An Autumn Afternoon; and the unmarried daughter, the simple soul who can find joy in monotony, will reappear in Early Summer, Equinox Flower, Late Autumn, The End of Autumn, and An Autumn Afternoon. These may look superficially like films about family but they all begin with an incomplete family and end with a further disintegration of the family. This was also the film in which Ozu first experimented the pairing of actors Chisu Ryu and Setsuko Hara.

In a small village with a simple train station before a majestic hill a group of women dressed in traditional style meet in a room idyllic scenery silence Masa's room. Among them is her niece Noriko. She is the only daughter of Masa's brother, an aging widower, who is a university scholar. Noriko not only lives with him but takes care of every chore in the house. The old man is dressed traditionally and works with his assistant Hattori who wears western clothes. They are trying to finish a manuscript. Noriko scolds his father for not being done yet and doesn't let him play majong with a neighbor. The following day they take the train together to Kyoto (a lengthy scene of them inside the train and of the landscape outside changing from green hills to nondescript buildings). He has to deliver the manuscript and she goes shopping. She meets her uncle Onodera. He has remarried and she disapproves of it, calling him a dirty old man. He laughs heartily. She takes him home as a surprise to her father. The two men discuss the fact that Noriko, already 27 years old, is still unmarried. She goes on bike ride with her father's assistant Hattori to the nearby ocean. Her father chats with his sister Masa who complains about the manners of young women (a bride even drank sake at her wedding). Masa tells Noriko's father about the bike ride with Hattori. Noriko is happy doing her household chores and waiting for her father to return home. She tells dad she went to the beach with Hattori, but then she laughs hysterically when he hints at a possible love story because Hattari is already engaged. Cousing Aya, who is divorced, comes to visit and stays overnight. They gossip about other girls, married and pregnant. Even the modern, liberated Aya who works in an office asks Noriko when she's going to get married. At aunt Masa's place while children are playing baseball outside, Masa lecturs Noriko about marriage. She has found a handsome 34-year-old bachelor who looks like a Hollywood star, Satake, a university-educated city character who works for a major company. Noriko is not interested because she can't leave dad alone, but her aunt has already figured out what to do with father: marry him to the childless widow Miwa. Now Noriko turns resentful. At home her father notices that she doesn't have the usual smile. Noriko, suspecting that her father has been hiding the Miwa story from her, doesn't want to talk to him, behaving like a cheated lover. She walks out to go shopping without saying a word. Father and daughter attend a Noh performance and during that lengthy scene (in which Ozu clearly enjoys showing the art of Noh) Noriko catches her father making eye contact with the widow Miwa. Her mind starts wandering away, head bowed as if she were about to cry. On the way back Noriko dumps her father with an excuse and walks on the other side of the road. She heads for Aya's place and, while waiting for her friend, she keeps meditating in a room but a big chiming clock. Noriko tells Aya that she would like to become a shorthand typist like Aya, in other word an independent woman, but Aya chides her: why work if one can get married? Aya has to work because she's divorced and lives alone. Masa the aunt arreanges for Noriko to meet suitor. Her father has already met Satake and only wants Noriko to see him and make up her mind. He finally tells her that sooner or later she'll have to marry. Noriko keeps her head down, obedient but not excited at all. She tries to prove to him that he cannot live without her: he doesn't know how to cook, how to wash his clothes, how to clean the house. She confronts him whether he wants to remarry like Onodera. He says "yes" but it really came from her, not from him. She cries alone in her room. Noriko's room has chairs and the poster of a fashionable western dress. The old man and the aunt at the shrine comment that Noriko has not given an answer yet after meeting Satake. When Noriko, pressured, accepts the marriage proposal, her aunt is delighted: she can now stop worrying about her. Her father, left alone, stares melancholy at the floor. Father and daughter go on a vacation to Kyoto, visiting its ancient temples. They meet Onodera and Noriko actually likes his new wife. At night father and daughter share a hotel room. She is happy sleeping next to her father. The following day, as they are packing to go home, she asks him why can't things continue as they are. Her father lectures her about marriage, even revealing that her own mother was initially unhappy, but in the long term it is up to the two spouses to build a new life together and find happiness. Noriko says she understands and accepts. Noriko gets married in a traditional dress. After the wedding the old man has a drink with Aya and admits that he has no intention of marrying: he only said it to encourage Noriko to get married. The old scholar returns home alone, sits down in a chair (usually he sits on the floor), and starts peeling an apple, a routine gesture. But then he gets pensive and lets the peel fall to the floor.

Munekata Kyoudai/ The Munekata Sisters (1950)

  Bakushu/ Early Summer (1951) is another film centered upon a single woman named Noriko, the perfect wife and nonetheless still single. The film is apparently simple and linear but in reality overflowing with metaphors (the caged birds, the balloon lost in the sky, etc). After so much preparation the film doesn't reveal why Noriko makes the decision she makes: is it to make an old unhappy woman happy? Is it to get out of her routine and away from her family? Is it to help an old friend of her son? Is it the bird in a cage who wants to finally fly away? Is it the balloon that wants to get lost in the sky? The tension between her independence as an unmarried woman and the soon to be limitation of freedom coming with marriage is never truly resolved. She seems to yearn for both the freedom and the family life. Whatever tragedy is brewing, it unfolds gracefully and never gets out of control. By the end everybody has accepted her or his place in the new world, a place that involves both happiness and sorrow, but, mostly, just acceptance of destiny.

The film opens with views of nature but with a caged bird in the foreground. More birds are kept in cages inside the house by the patriarch, a gentle old man. Noriko lives with her parents and her brother Koichi and his wife Fumiko. They all have breakfast together, then the adults leave for work while granpa takes care of child who stays home. Koichi is a doctor. Noriko, instead, is a humble secretary. She shares the office with her boss, who makes fun of her and of another girl, Aya (who wears traditional Japanese clothes) for still being unmarried. After work Noriko has dinner with her brother and his wife. Koichi scolds the women for not adhering to the traditional role of women. Noriko proudly declares that women have taken their place in society, and Koichi sarcastically comments that she cannot find a husband. They are expecting an uncle who has not visited in a while. When the mostly deaf uncle arrives, the first thing he asks her is her age (28) and whether she does not want to get married. Noriko is a a kind and simple person, who behaves like a second mother to her nephews. She always smiles. She takes the old senile uncle and the two children for a walk to the giant statue of the downtown. Noriko then visits her unmarried coworker Aya. A married friend is there because she had a silly fight with her husband over a dog. The three girls make fun of he man. But when the husband calls, the wife runs to him. Aya is bitterly disappointed with her for surrendering so easily. Noriko then visits her boss, who abruptly asks her the same question about marriage. He has a classmate who is a lifelong middle-aged virgin, Manabe, a good man with a good income, and wants Noriko to meet him. The mother of her unmarried coworker Aya visits Noriko's brother at the clinic and so Koichi learns that Noriko has a suitor and later at home tells their father. Granma pays the older child to massage her: the child is saving money to buy a miniature train. Meanwhile, Noriko has attended a wedding and is having dinner with Aya and two married friends. The married girls defend the happiness of marriage. Aya, as usual, is cynical about the treatment reserved to wife by husbands, and boasts about the freedom of unmarried women. The married ones look down on the single ones. The girls decide to meet again on sunday at Noriko's place. At home she chats with her sister-in-law about the wedding and the dinner. Her brother is secretely eavesdropping, curious to find out whether she will consider the new suitor. The whole family is anxious for her to get married. An old friend, Tami, comes to visit Noriko's mother and reveals that a detective has been asking questions about Noriko, obviously hired by the suitor. Koichi, on the other hand, is investigating the suitor. The businessman and Noriko have never met and they are almost engaged. Tami's son Kenkichi is a doctor and has lost his wife in the war. Tami is helping him raise his little girl. Noriko's parents too have lost a son in the war. His father has lost any hope, but his mother keeps hope alive. On sunday the two married girls flake out. Aya (dressed again in a kimono) and Noriko are sorry that such good friends are drifting apart, but they comment that it cannot be helped. Meanwhile Noriko's parents are eating in a snack a park and meditate that this is the happiest time of their lives, with their son happily married and Noriko about to get married too. They stare at a balloon in the sky and reflect that a child must be crying somewhere. Kenkichi drops by to say hi to his old friends Noriko and Fumiko. They encourage him to get remarried like his mother wants him to. His girl needs a mother, after all. Koichi reports back to his wife and his mother that the suitor is respectable businessman, but the women don't like the fact that he is 12 years older than Noriko. He loses his temper with his wife Fumiko and tells her to shut up and he tells his mother than she wants too much for Noriko (but his mother responds with a look that means Noriko is worth that much). Koichi, still tense, scolds his children for being ungrateful and the children go for a walk by the sea. When the children don't return for dinner, Noriko goes looking for them and Kenkichi helps her find them, while Koichi pretends to be indifferent and plays go with his best friend. Kenkichi has been offered a new job in a different city that would mean a higher salary. His mother doesn't like the idea and quietly cries. Kenkichi was a good friend of Noriko's lost brother. The two families have always been very close. On the eve of his departure Kenkichi's mother Tami tells Noriko of her dream that Kenkichi would remarry with her, Noriko, and Noriko surprises her by accepting with no hesitation, as if she had always waiting for the offer. Noriko makes the old woman very happy. AS Noriko is leaving the house, she runs into Kenkichi himself but they hardly exchange a word. He is to leave with an early train. When his mother tells him of the deal she arranged, he does not rejoice: he knows what is coming next. Noriko is confronted by the whole family. They remind her that he is a widower with a young girl. She doesn't seem to mind. They remind her that he is leaving town. She doesn't seem to mind. She doesn't have a rational explanation for her decision. She just felt that it was the right thing to do. Noriko's parents don't say much but they are clearly disappointed. The following day she lies to Kenkichi's mother about her parents and her brother's feelings. Kenkichi's mother is in heaven. At work she chats with Aya, who is sure that Noriko has always been secretely in love with Kenkichi. Then Aya drags Noriko to see the good-looking rich businessman she has refused, and it feels like Aya is the one who wants to marry him now. Noriko's family is meeting to decide whether they can give their approval. When she comes home, everybody is cold to her and she has to eat alone. After a trip to the beach with her sister-in-law, during which she rationally considers that a man with a child is a more reliable husband than a man who has never been married, Noriko quits her job and prepares for her new life. Her boss is not angry at her for refusing to marry his friend, the middle-aged businessman. Her family too comes around and approves the marriage. Father, mother, sister and brother reminisce with a mixture of joy and sorrow how they have been living together for 16 years in that house. There are no bird cages in the house anymore. Now it is Noriko who breaks into tears at the thought of parting with her family.

 

6. Tokyo Monogatari

Sul versante opposto si situa Tokyo Monogatari (1953), dedicato alla città moderna (non al villaggio ancora all'antica) e alla disgregazione della famiglia (invece che alla sua unità).

 

Una coppia di anziani coniugi, che vive in un villaggio con la figlia maggiore, decidono di recarsi a Tokyo in visita ai loro figli; vengono ospitati dal primogenito, medico, sposato con due figli, nella sua casa di periferia; l'altra figlia è proprietaria di un salone di bellezza ed è sposata a un uomo d'affari; un'umile impiegata è invece la vedova del loro figlio morto in guerra. Dapprincipio i nonni sono felici, quasi increduli di ciò che vedono; ma poco a poco si rendono conto che nessuno dei loro figli ha tempo di occuparsi di loro; e fortunatamente non si rendono conto della loro taccagneria: il figlio e la figlia hanno infatti convenuto che non è il caso di spendere troppo per festeggiare l'avvenimento. Per liberarsi dei poveri vecchi, li sistemano in un albergo in riva al mare, del tutto inadatto alle esigenze di due persone anziane; per quanto grati ai figli del soggiorno gratuito, essi intuiscono che è meglio tornare a casa. Non vogliono però trascorrere un'altra notte nell'afoso e rumoroso albergo, e, non potendo abusare del medico e della parrucchiera, vanno ad aspettare che la nuora esca dal lavoro; la giovane, cortese e rispettosa, è l'unica persona che ha dato loro ciò di cui hanno veramente bisogno: calore umano. Mentre la nonna aspetta sull'uscio, il nonno ne approfitta per andare in cerca di due compaesani e, trovatili, per brindare alla perduta giovinezza; si ubriacano come ai bei tempi, ma all'allegria segue presto la tristezza, con la malinconica constatazione che aver perso i figli in guerra o averli ancora non fa poi una gran differenza. La polizia accompagna il nonno a casa della figlia, la quale è seccata del fatto; la nuora invece ospita volentieri la nonna nel suo umile appartamentino, chiacchiera con lei, e le dona persino dei soldi. La nonna si stupisce che suo marito abbia alzato il gomito, visto che da anni non succedeva più. Se ne vanno mascherando la triplice delusione: di aver trovato dei figli meno importanti di come li immaginavano, di essere stati soltanto d'impaccio, e consci che non potranno più ripetere quel viaggio. Entrambi sono commossi soprattutto dalla nuora, che nella vita è stata tanto sfortunata e che non pensa a risposarsi, pur rischiando così di finire i suoi giorni in solitudine. Dopo una sosta a Osaka, per salutare l'ultimo figlio, rientrano al paese, ma la nonna, che si era già sentita male a Tokyo e sul treno, si aggrava; i figli accorrono al capezzale e versano lacrime di coccodrillo; tutti hanno impegno e ripartono dopo la cerimonia. Accanto al nonno rimane soltanto la fedele nuora, la cui presenza fa risaltare agli occhi della figlia minore l'egoismo degli altri figli.

Ma Ozu, pur criticando duramente il modo di vivere moderno, non accusa i figli; ritrae il naturale svolgersi della vita, del quale fa parte anche il distacco dei figli, crudele ed egoista finchè si vuole, ma naturale. Nella pacata rassegnazione del nonno è racchiusa tutta la filosofia di Ozu.

I film di Ozu sono l'equivalente visivo delle miniature poetiche haiku (un derivato della tradizione zen) che cercano di isolare con la laconicità di tre brevi versi una singola poetica emozione.

Soshun/ Early Spring (1956) dura due ore e mezzo eppure ha una trama esilissima:

 

un impiegato attraversa una crisi che lo porta a cercare la compagnia di una ragazza spregiudicata ma alla fine si riconcilia con la moglie.

 

 

7. Tokyo boshoku

 

 

Nel 1957 Ozu rinnova clamorosamente il suo stile dirigendo Tokyo Boshoku/ Tokyo Twilight, storia di una ragazza che trascina la propria esistenza senza né riuscire a inserirsi nella società né trovare la forza di ribellarsi, fino a concluderla tragicamente con il suicidio.

Il film, lugubre e disperato oltre qualsiasi precedente del regista, si contraddistingue anche per la moltitudine di caratteristi che nell'insieme compongono un allucinante affresco del Giappone moderno.

Higanbana/ Equinox Flower (1958)

Ohayo/ Good Morning (1959)

Ukigusa/ Floating Weeds (1959), il remake di un suo film degli anni 1930, fu il suo primo film a colori:

 

la storia del capocomico di una troupe di attori kabuki il quale ritrova la moglie e il figlio abbandonati tanti anni prima ma invano; il suo destino è quello di continuare a vivere sulla strada, con la compagnia della sua litigiosa primadonna; il figlio si è però innamorato di un'altra delle sue attrici e comincia una nuova vita.

 

Kohayagawa-ke No Aki/ Autumn for the Kohayagawa Family/ The End of Summer/ Early Autumn (1961) returns to the Noriko trilogy. It is unusually light-hearted and even comic. There are basically two protagonists: Noriko as usual is the unmarried daughter (who in this case decides to leave her birthplace and start a new life) and her father is a scoundrel who created the family's business but now is indulging in the sin of an illegitimate relationship, indifferent to what people think. The old man is drifting towards death with a content smile. Noriko, still young, decides to live the life she wants, and not the life that others expect from her. Overall, Ozu seems to accept life and death, and demistify both.

Two men meet in a restaurant. One is the uncle of a widow who wants to introduce her to his friend, a middle-aged business-man. The widow, Akiko, who works in an art gallery, shows up dressed in a traditional costume and is humble and shy. The business-man is favorably impressed. Akiko's sister Noriko is still single. She dresses in Western clothes but is equally polite and reserved. She is having an interview with a candidate of her own, recommended by her father. Meanwhile an old friend of Noriko, the handsome widower Teramoto, is dispatched to another town. His friends stage a farewell dinner for him, and Noriko alone follows him to the train station to bid farewell. The eldest daughter, Fumiko, who also wears traditional clothes, is happily married.

The family is puzzled by a mystery: their old father is going out frequently. The father is still the owner of the family's brewery, although day-to-day business is taken care by Fumiko's husband. One day he asks a clerk to follow the old man to see where he goes. The old man realizes he is being followed and plays cat and mouse with the shy clerk. However, the clerk finds out that the old man is seeing a woman named Sasaki. The family is disconcerted because Sasaki is the old man's lover of twenty years earlier, who brought disruption to the family when their mother was still alive, and who claims to have had a daughter from the old man. In fact this girl, Yuriko, is spoiled and greedy, and hopes to receive expensive gifts from her "father", although she knows that most likely the man is not her real father because she remember another father when she was a child. Yuriko likes to date young men from the USA. Fumiko is in charge of scolding the father for his reckless behavior. Nonetheless the "old master" continues to visit his old lover. Meanwhile the business man sees Akiko again at the gallery. He is interested. She is very polite but not very interested. The family discusses the two unmarried daughters over dinner, while the two are walking together by the river. Noriko reveals to Akiko that she is corresponding with Teramoto and Akiko encourages her to follow her heart. The old master has a heart attack. The girls weep. Relatives are summoned from other cities. However, the old master recovers promptly and amuses everybody with his good humor. Akiko disappoints her suitor by not showing up at their next appointment. The old master goes to visit Sasaki again but this time has another heart attack and it is fatal. Fumiko and her husband dress up and go to Sasaki's house to retrieve the dead man. Yuriko is heartbroken that the old man died without giving her the gift she hoped for, and now she is dating a USA boy who doesn't have money.

Two peasants watch the chimney of the crematory from the river. The family is assembled around a table to pay their last respect to the old man. They discuss the fact that the brewery is struggling and they might have to sell it to a bigger company. Noriko tells Akiko that she has decided to follow Teramoto and Akiko is happy for her. The two peasants see smoke coming out of the chimney and comment that someone has died, but praise nature that is also bringing new life to the world while it destroys old one. The family walks in a procession on a bridge, crossing the river towards the graveyard, carrying the ashes of the old man. Akiko is always smiling, no matter what happens. Crows are sitting on the graves.

L'ultimo film è Jamma no aji/ The Taste of Saury/ An Autumn Afternoon (1962), che conclude all'insegna del tema più caro, la serena accettazione della morte, preceduta e in un certo senso preannunciata dalla dolorosa separazione dai figli; la storia del vedovo con figli adulti che parla alla figlia con l'ironia malinconica di chi ha scoperto il trucco della vita, si chiude ancora una volta con l'agghiacciante rinuncia alla vita del vecchio, solo nella casa deserta, condannato ad esserlo fino alla fine.

In questo canto del cigno culmina la filosofia buddista della meditazione, della ricerca di un perfetto equilibrio, e della simbiosi con la materia.

 

Ozu muore l'anno dopo; sulla sua tomba ha chiesto che venisse incisa una sola parola: l'ideogramma che significa nulla.

(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )