December 11, 2023

Ozu Yasujiro, the leading Japanese film director behind classics including “Tokyo Story” and “Late Spring,” has had his double birth and death anniversaries – Ozu died in 1963 on the day of his 60th birthday, a little more than a year after the release of his last film “An Autumn Afternoon” – celebrated throughout 2023 at places as varied as the Cannes Film Festival, Los Angeles’ Margaret Herrick Library and the Taiwan Film & Audiovisual Institute.

But it falls to October’s Tokyo International Film Festival to put on this year’s biggest and most comprehensive reconstruction of Ozu’s surprisingly varied career.

Working in conjunction with the National Film Archive of Japan, the festival will present an extensive retrospective that covers almost all the films that Ozu directed (TIFF/NFAJ Classics: Ozu Yasujiro Week) from Oct. 24-29.

Ozu spent his entire career, from camera assistant in 1923 to renown director in 1962, as an employee of major Japanese studio Shochiku, with all the advantages and disadvantages such an arrangement brought.

While Ozu is best known for his stripped-down dramas, often centered on family relationships, sometimes troubled or contentious, involving parents and young or grown-up children, many hinging on questions of marriage, generational misunderstandings or the loneliness of the elderly, the director’s register may not entirely have been of his own choosing.

“The apparent consistency of the post-war films surely owes as much to this production situation as to Ozu’s aesthetic choices,” wrote critic Tony Rayns in a recent Sight & Sound portrait. Rayns also suggests that Ozu’s pre-War output was more varied than what followed, and that it freely borrowed from other industries, including Hollywood.

“Few knew that the director of films like ‘Tokyo Story’ and ‘Early Spring’ had once made riotous student-slacker comedies and gangster movies,” Rayns writes.

Ozu’s films have needed repeated re-exploration. His post-WWII films were scarcely seen outside Japan until western audiences in the 1950s tuned into Kurosawa Akira and Mizoguchi Kenji. Similarly, many of his pre-war works were thought to be lost and were only later re-assembled and reassessed within Japan.

The titles playing at the Tokyo festival run the entire gamut from 1929 to 1962, while those playing at the National Archive focus more on the earlier period, and run from 1929 to 1941 (see below).

Japanese scholars and contemporary film makers including Kelly Reichardt, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Jia Zhangke and Wim Wenders will be on hand the same week to head a discussion section called The Shoulders of Giants that follows the screening of restored 1959 film “Good Morning.”

Wenders, who is this year set as the head of Tokyo’s competition jury and is also responsible for the festival’s opening title “Perfect Days,” is an Ozu aficionado and will lead the tribute. Another session, hosted by radio personality Chris Tomoko, will feature Ozu discussions by variety of guests, as well as a live performance by Kanenobu Sachiko.

The talk sessions are co-hosted by The Tokyo Toilet Art Project, which was also involved in “Perfect Days,” Shochiku and the Kawakita Memorial Film Institute among others.

(Shochiku was responsible for the 4K digital restoration of “Tenement Gentleman” while Toho was responsible for the restoration of “Muneteka Sisters,” which both played at Cannes in May and are set for French theatrical re-releases.) 

A public reading of the screenplay of “Tokyo Story” and personal recollections of time spent with Ozu by Nakai Kie will take place on Oct. 26. It is backed by Shochiku and the Mitsukoshi retail chain, both of which have Ozu connections.

Japanese pay-TV platform Wowow has recently commissioned six up-and-coming filmmakers to remake half a dozen of Ozu’s early, silent films. Three episodes will play at the film festival as part of its TIFF Series section.

Ozu Yasujiro Titles at the Tokyo IFF

“A Straightforward Boy” (1929, 21-min.version),
“I Was Born, But…” (1932, WP) “Dragnet Girl” (1933, 4K, (screened with live performance by renowned trumpeter Kuroda Takuya) “Kagamijishi” (1936, WP)
“There Was a Father” (1942, 4K)
“Record of a Tenement Gentleman” (1947, 4K) “A Hen in the Wind” (1948, 4K)
“Late Spring” (1949, 4K) “The Munekata Sisters” (1950, 4K)
“Early Summer” (1951, 4K) “Tokyo Story” (1953, 4K)
“Tokyo Twilight” (1957, 4K) “Equinox Flower” (1958) “Good Morning” (1959) “Floating Weeds” (1959, 4K)
“Late Autumn (1960)
“The End of Summer” (1961, 4K**)
“An Autumn Afternoon” (1962).
*4KWP: World Premiere screening of the 4K digitally restored version.
**4K: Screening of the 4K Digitally restored version.

Titles at National Film Archive of Japan During Tokyo IFF

“Days of Youth” (1929)
“I Graduated, But…” (1929)
“Woman of Tokyo” (1933)
“The Lady and the Beard” (1931)
“A Straightforward Boy” (1929, 14-min. version)
“A Straightforward Boy” (1929, 21-min. version)
“Walk Cheerfully” (1930),
“That Night’s Wife” (1930),
“Tokyo Chorus” (1931)
“Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth?” (1932)
“Passing Fancy” (1933)
“A Mother Should be Loved” (1934)
“A Story of Floating Weeds” (1934)
“An Inn in Tokyo” (1935)
“The Only Son” (1936)
“What Did the Lady Forget?” (1937)
“Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family” (1941).

Record of a Tenement Gentleman, directed by Ozu Yasujiro.
(c) 1947 Shochiku Co. Ltd.

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