Every few years a film retrospective comes through Chicago, usually courtesy of the Siskel Film Center, that demands my undivided attention. Past must-see retrospectives have included Kenji Mizoguchi, Dorothy Arzner, Ernst Lubitsch, Josef von Sternberg, Akira Kurosawa (at NU’s Block Cinema), and most recently F.W. Murnau and Buster Keaton.
The latest Film Center treat is eight weeks of classic Japanese cinema as they roll out 25 films by Yasujiro Ozu, spanning from 1929 to 1962. I’m very excited at the prospect of catching up on the films by this highly regarded director.
A sour-faced elderly woman is saddled with an abandoned boy after he follows her neighbor home, and, try as she might, she can’t seem to get rid of him. In the short span of a week, the boy has softened the woman and they settle into a tentative and harmonious household. Humor and heart, as well winning performances by the woman and child, make this a little gem set amidst the rubble of post-war Tokyo. (***1/2)
Late Spring (1949)
A loving portrait of the relationship between a father and his daughter; she happily dotes on him, refusing to abandon her widowed father for a married life of her own. I knew very little about this film (other than it’s one of Ozu’s better known and best loved pictures) and I think the less you know the better. Ozu takes his time telling his story. The camera lingers after characters have left the scene. The set-up for the story, establishing the comfortable and genuine relationship between father and daughter, is quietly established, which makes the emotional tumult of the daughter’s character all the more agonizing and affective. Though it’s a simple story at heart, the performances by Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara make it a moving experience. (****)
Days of Youth (1929)
This was my least favorite of the three Ozu movies seen thus far. While I enjoyed seeing Japan of 1929 through the lens of this silent feature (and the oldest surviving Ozu film) I was kinda bored by the story. Two students compete for the attention of a pretty woman on the slopes of a ski resort. I’ve seen better classic love-triangle films and the visual style of the film, despite some excellent winter skiing location footage, just didn’t wow me. Still, I’ll always be glad to see a silent film at least once. (***)