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Is there a director in the history of cinema with a more distinct style
than Yasujiro Ozu? 1958's Equinox Flower was Ozu's first colour film
and concerns itself with one of his favourite themes the family and
it's discontents. The film is set during a time when arranged marriages
were being challenged in Japan and it pits the emerging youth of the
country, full of post war freedom and optimism, against their
traditional parents who are finding it difficult to let go of their
customs and ultimately their children.
A Tokyo businessman, Waturu Hirayama, is continually approached by friends for advice, friends who have become powerless as parents and are struggling to impose their will on their daughters. Hirayama's apparent disappointment and resignation regarding his own arranged marriage informs his advice throughout. Consequently he is often conciliatory and impartial, trying his best to get both sides to see each other's point of view. Neither traditional nor modern in his outlook, instead he takes a humanist approach and strives for harmony amongst the protagonists.
However, when a young man he has never met before enters his office and asks him for his own daughter's hand in marriage he finds it difficult to adopt this approach for himself and his family. On the one hand, he is initially hurt by the apparent lack of respect and involvement that he feels he should have been afforded by the young couple. He questions his role as a father and feels castrated by this power being taken out of hands. On the other hand, though, he suffers a sense of loss. He has nothing personal against the young man, and after making enquiries, is assured of his good nature. Nevertheless, rather than gaining a son, he's acutely aware that he is losing a daughter and, with that, some of his own identity. Not only losing her in marriage but also to a new way of life, a new culture where Hirayama is unsure of his role.
In a broader sense, Equinox Flower, also offers an insight into the fast socio-cultural changes in post-war Japan as it becomes more influenced by capitalism and Western culture. Throughout the film, Hirayama alludes to the fact that his business and his workload are becoming increasingly busier. Scenes are often interspersed with images of industrial development and progress mixed with more traditional scenes of mountain ranges, the countryside and churches. It's also worth noting that, throughout the film, it is largely the women that are seen as the advocates of change, trying to find greater equality in a patriarchal society. The men, in comparison, are seen as passive and confused. Japan itself, like Hirayama, is going through a struggle, a process of change that tries to balance the traditional against the modern.
Stylistically, Ozu's cinema is remarkable for those willing to give it a chance. All his trademarks are here zero camera movement, single character shots and evocative editing techniques. His unwillingness to ever let the camera move allows him to frame scenes as if they were photographs or paintings where the characters then suddenly come to life. His use of colour, here for the first time, is accomplished to say the least. Combine that with some wonderful sets and scenery and at times you could be forgiven for thinking you're watching an old MGM musical. Most remarkable of all, though, are Ozu's trademark tatami-level shots. Using a special camera dolly to simulate the three foot height of the average person kneeling or sitting on a tatami pad, Ozu creates a way of seeing the world that is specifically Japanese, specifically Ozu.
The style is so unique and effective that it's difficult to imagine films being directed any other way. Buy the box sets, ration yourself to one film a year and you're in for a rare treat.
Ozu is such a pleasure, a quiet one, meditative.
The story here is about lives, whether they are arranged and what agency we have in arranging them. Many viewers will suppose that the topic was chosen because of some desire to make a comment about Japanese society.
No, its because the filmmaker had turned introspective in his later years. His films are characterized by the way the shots are composed. Each one is a matter of absolute perfection. The perfection is so complete, you have to stop and study. You have to rerun certain scenes to see how amazingly the components arrange. He is the ultimate classical Japanese composer. Sometimes you see that the sets must have been especially built for one setup. Pure geometries and symmetries dominate. The camera is always static.
The effect is that what you see has nature. Its natural, human. It flows in much the same languid, undramatic way that life does around us. But what we see is that flow in a highly composed context. Every element in that context naturally occurs but seems to have found its own harmony to please the eye of the viewer. Its the cinematic Japanese garden.
There's a subtle thing here. Ordered nature presented so that the human composition seems so in tune with nature that we love it. But it is arranged. It is pure and unnatural too, sort of abstractly sublime.
This viewer is a Westerner who works with Japanese concepts of ideal, natural harmony. Watching this makes me cry with a pleasure that avoids being joy.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
This is the first Ozu film I've seen, though I did see a film about him
years ago. Therefore, I am aware of Ozu's liking for a particular and
eccentric camera angle, and his apparent preference for an acting style
which is, depending on your point of view, understated, stilted or highly
restricted. Ozu appears to like portraying what is perhaps the reality of
culture which values conformity.
Take a tip - adjust quickly to the apparently straightjacketed acting. This is an excellent cast, whose talent shines through even Ozu's iron hand.
And it makes the humour even more effective. I was astonished at just how much I, and the rest of the audience, laughed out loud at a few of the scenes. I find it difficult to simply convey why it works. Suffice to say Ozu is clearly a master of the slow buildup. There's a scene where the father takes one of his employees to a bar, to meet a girl who is the daughter of one of his friends. The girl has run away and cut off contact with her dad. The central character tries to get her to at least talk it over. The humour of this scene revolves around the acute embarrasment the junior employee feels, as a regular patron. Ozu milks this scene for every last laugh with a master's touch. Sounds dull as I've written it, right ? Well, on screen, it's a killer.
After this film, I'll look forward much more to my next Ozu.
The emptiness of the space in the very first images of "Equinox Flower"
makes an impact on the viewer. An opening of this sort resembles those
of Ozu's most famous films such as "Late Spring" and "Tokyo Story".
However, soon we find out that "Equinox Flower" differs quite
remarkably from these since it is essentially a comedy. In the first
scene of the film Ozu instantly introduces the marriage motif -- a
recurring subject in his oeuvre -- as two railroad workers are
wondering the great amount of newly-weds. Only few artists have been
able to establish a theme and set a tone, which are fully consistent
with the rest of the work, so quickly yet still with such restraint and
precision. Therefore, it is certain to the viewer from the start that
what unfolds is the craft of a master.
At its heart, "Equinox Flower" is a tender comedy because it fluently combines two aspects, which too often appear as contradictory, the ironic and the melancholic. Striking is also the fact that the film is Ozu's first comedy in approximately two decades. One must go back to the silent days to find a benchmark. This choice of return seems to coincide with Ozu's new sympathy (though I use the word hesitantly) for the younger generation, whereas he so often has sympathized the elders. It seems to me that in "Equinox Flower" the lightness and hopeful attitude towards life, noticeable in Ozu's earlier films, merges with the Chekhovian wisdom and elegiac tone of his later oeuvre.
To an extent, "Equinox Flower" is a satirical treatise on the decline of parental and especially patriarchal authority in the Japanese family and society. However, Ozu is never hostile nor aggressive. He doesn't point out. He reveals. Although there are moments when Ozu lets us laugh at the protagonist's helplessness when trapped by his own outdated norms, Ozu never attacks on him. In addition to theme, Ozu's return to comedy also marked a turning point in his visual development because he used color for the first time, which later on became an inseparable element in his subsequent films. As a consequence, the world of colors in "Equinox Flower" is strikingly rich and precisely considered, leaving the viewer with several memorable and widely associative visual motifs.
"Equinox Flower" is in many ways what one might call a simple film. There's not much of a story going on, let alone action of any kind, nor surprising twists in plot. Nonetheless, the viewer (any viewer whether an admirer of Ozu or not) is left with a powerful impact by the rich simplicity of the visuals; and the utter beauty of details. Above all, "Equinox Flower" is purely based on Ozu's unique poetry of the mundane; a vital principle in his cinema.
Due to this simplicity, many western viewers have blamed, or at least explained their discontent, Ozu's films for a slow pace, but this criticism, however, doesn't really hit the mark because Ozu's films precisely create their own time in the poetic universe which differs from our world. In this rhythm or, in fact, Ozu's perception of time lies profound melancholy. The days go by, the clothes line dances in the wind, and emptiness prevails. In "Equinox Flower" the older generation remembers the war-time days, recalling especially its better times of carefree coexistence. In turn, such ideals as personal happiness and privacy threatened by the old, arranged, communal joy throb beneath the youth's dialogue. Ozu's characters are often aware of this melancholy -- human transience in the passage of time -- which brings sadness to their existence. A sensation that the old is about to vanish is always present, though so is the characters' ability to accept things as they are. As time is such an important theme for Ozu, his films can never be summed up with mere concepts such as "comedy" or "tragedy" since their (aesthetic) perspective is never restricted, but always reach to the most profound perspective of all, which is that of philosophy.
Equinox Flower was Ozu's first color film. He was reluctant to do it, but he shouldn't have been. He handles the addition so well. The colors really do join every scene together. Equinox Flower deals with one father's hypocritical view of love and marriage. It begins at a wedding where Hirayama makes a speech to his friend's daughter. He says how lucky they are to be able to choose their own partner. He does this in front of his wife in a very awkward moment. Hirayama and Kiyoko's relationship is interesting. They make their marriage work, even if there wasn't love there at first. They work together and never feel that they are trapped in this relationship. Despite his new world views during this wedding, once his daughter announces she wishes to marry a man, Hirayama is opposed. His hypocritical views are the cause of much comedy. He is also forced to face his prejudices as he finds a daughter of an old friend who has run away to be with her struggling musician boyfriend. Hirayama is supportive of everyone but his own daughter. Again though, with Ozu's eloquence, Hirayama is not a villain. It is understandable that he has different views concerning his own daughter. A group of men sit around and discuss the differences between sons and daughters. The growth of the whole family is well plotted and emotional. It's another wonderful and gentle deconstruction of Japanese family values.
It's pretty obvious when the film begins that it's one of Yasujirô
Ozu's newest films. That's because unlike almost all of his movies,
this one is filmed in color. In fact, it's his first color film. Like
other Ozu films it features a camera positioned very low--like the
cameraman is sitting on the floor. It's odd but works in Ozu's films
because of the traditional Japanese tables and futons--all very close
to the floor. The plot unfolds very slowly and the film also is a
domestic drama--about a daughter who may be marrying and moving out of
her home. This is a very common theme--young people moving to adulthood
and the sort of conflicts this creates as well as conflicts between
traditional and modern values . And, like so many of his later films,
it features some of the same old reliable actors. One thing you've
gotta say about Ozu--when he found a formula that worked, he REALLY
stuck with it. While his films are adored and are often considered
masterpieces, there is a strong sense of déjà vu as you watch them!
This is the story of a middle-aged man and his family. Early in on the film, you learn that the father and mother had an arranged marriage--something very common in Japan up until recently. You can tell that Dad was not thrilled by this and he even likes the idea of people picking their own spouses. Yet, when his own daughter wants to marry a man of her choosing, he refuses to give consent. He's adamant--even though he agrees with the concept of allowing your grown children to run their own lives--provided, of course, they are not HIS children! This is MILDLY humorous (it's cute the way the father gets manipulated repeatedly) and a nice critique of post-war Japan--when families, values and norms were all in flux. In other words, this man's conflicts were a mirror of conflicts in Japan as a whole--the old Japan and the new, and much less tradition-bound Japan.
While this is a beautifully made film, you should be aware that like so many of Ozu's films, it has a very leisurely pace. My advice is although he was a wonderful filmmaker, you might first try some more approachable directors films--such as Kurosawa or a Zatoichi film. That's because Western audiences often balk at such slow pacing (particularly here in hyperactive America). If you do watch it, brew a pot of tea or coffee to help you stay focused--it's worth it, as it's a sweet and exceptional film.
This film is awash with rich color, much like those of Douglas Sirk in
1950s Hollywood - remarkable, given that this is Ozu's debut effort in
color filmmaking. And the film is indeed very much of its time - 1958
and a transition to "contemporary" Japan. In the course of our
protagonist's day he goes from an office, with its rows of "company
men" toiling over paperwork in a modern high rise, to his traditional
home with tatami mats. He sheds his Western clothes each evening by
dropping them on the floor (for his wife to pick up) and transforming
himself into the stern paterfamilias in his yukata.
This is a domestic tale of a man and the three (or four) young women he advises in matters of the heart. No King Lear, this is rather a Japanese "Father Knows Best - not". Travel gently to this non-ironic look at a Japanese family in the era of early "Mad Men", and let the color,time period,and Ozu's visual clarity carry you along.
Equinox Flower like many of Ozu's other movies is about generation gap.
But Ozu has a different way of showing the generation gap. There is no
black or white, but just shades of gray. Even though the parents or the
children may be in wrong on some issue, Ozu still wants us to feel
sympathy for them. Instead of fights there are slight admonishments and
instead of happy reunions there are reconciliations.
A large part of reason for that maybe the Japanese culture in which like many other eastern cultures parents are given more respect. But I think Ozu would have been able to make similar kind of films regardless of which culture he belonged to. This is because his films he films have universal values that strike a chord in everybody.
Equinox Flower is Ozu's first color film. He resisted for long time to film in color. But the result here is very good. It is also a relatively more modern film. Sake has been replaced with whiskey and beer. And the younger generation is more openly defiant. He has made a very judicious use of colors.
What I love most about his most films is the undercurrent of humor that runs throughout. Even though the topic itself is a little soapy, it never feels like that. I always end up smiling at the end of an Ozu film.
User reviewer Martin-f has an excellent summary ("Ozu at the top his
game", martin-f from United Kingdom, 24 April 2006).
'Equinox Flower' is an incredible example of film art. It is my favorite (so far) film of Yasujirō Ozu. Ozu is a daring filmmaker because he handicaps himself almost completely. All of his contemporaries were moving their camera (e.g., the spectacular single-shot opening of Orson Welles's 1958 "Touch of Evil"). Ozu refuses to.
Ozu also refuses to provide dramatic subject material besides family arguments over whom a young girl marries. He also frequently has the camera on the floor looking up at his characters when they are seated, which is often. The actors are never allowed to veer off script, which often is banal dialogue. Finally, most of Ozu's imagery appears like a painting. This is Ozu's first color film; he makes quite a remarkable splash in this medium.
This is regarded as a comedy/romance. We should also say it concerns Japanese manners and patriarchy. We often see in Ozu's films a husband returning to the home from work, removing layers of his clothing and dropping them on the floor for his dutiful wife to take care of. (If Western males tried this there would be Hell to pay.) We see it multiple times here, and this husband/wife interaction helps identify the power relationship between big CEO and patriarch Wataru Hirayama (Shin Saburi) with his wife Kiyoko (Kinuyo Tanaka). At the film's opening when Wataru makes an impromptu speech at a wedding, he insults Kiyoko by publicly lamenting forced marriages like the one he had. Needless to day, Ozu does not plan on Kiyoko enduring these insults forever. She turns out to be a formidable rival.
There are three other young women. The woman playing daughter Sesuko's friend is great (i.e., who plays the pivotal trick on Wataru). She has a great role and she plays it very well.
Finally, Ozu's visual aesthetics are very well chosen and delightful. If you have the patience for 'Equinox Flower', it is very worthwhile.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Viewed on DVD. Restoration = ten (10) stars. To paraphrase an old burger chain ad: Where's the movie? Notable actors are present (Kinuyo Tanaka delivers a particularly poignant wordless performance while the younger actresses tend toward hyper line readings). So are the Director's trademarks including: scene padding; "back acting"; clothes lines; ugly overhead electrical lines to power trains; and static camera. The film score seems just right and is delivered in the right places on the sound track. Cinematography (color) and sound are fine. Subtitles are OK. But the film lacks direction BIG time. The Director conveys to the viewer the impression (rightly or wrongly) of having an astounding lack of interest in most of the scenes he is ostensibly directing as well as the film as a whole! Part of the problem seems to stem from a very weak story line and a lackluster script. Set decoration is minimal. Interior sets look terribly familiar and seem to have been little changed over the past 10 years or so. Skip this one or be prepared to be seriously bored. WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
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