Ozu Yasujiro (小津安二郎)

Yasujiro OZU (December 12, 1903 – December 12, 1963) was a Japanese movie director.

Early childhood

Ozu was born in downtown Fukagawa (Koto Ward), Tokyo as the second son of Toranosuke, a mercantile clerk at the top merchants Yuasa-gumi, and mother, Asae. He moved to his father's hometown of Matsusaka City, Mie Prefecture, when he was nine years old. He later entered Mie Prefectural Uji Yamada Junior High School under the former educational system (now Mie Prefectural Uji Yamada High School). He became engrossed in movie going and did not attend classes. As a result he was expelled from his dormitory for being a delinquent student.

Substitute teacher

In 1921, he took the entrance exams for Kobe Commercial University (now Kobe University) under the previous education system, but failed the exams. In 1922, he also failed the exams for Mie Teacher's School (currently Mie University Faculty of Education) and went to work at Miyamae Standard Elementary School, a small school located in a mountainous region in current day Iitaka-cho, Matsusaka City, as a substitute teacher for a year. He always dressed differently from the other teachers, wearing haori, hakama and sandals, and was loved by the students for telling them stories about movies and playing the mandolin. These students are often interviewed as important sources of information about Ozu before he became a movie director.

Movie career

In March 1923, he arrived in Tokyo and began work at Shochiku Kamata Studios on the recommendation of a relative. He was apprenticed to Tadamoto OKUBO. His debut as a director was with "Zange no Yaiba" (The Sword of Penitence) in 1927.

Before the war, he was known as a director with a humorous style and made movies such as "Daigaku wa detakeredo" (I graduated, but..) and "Otona no miru ehon umaretewa mita keredo" (I was born, but...). He was deployed to Singapore as part of the military reporting movie group during the war. Here he spent time watching many Hollywood movies such as "Gone with the Wind" which had been confiscated.

After the war, he returned to the screen with "Nagaya Shinshiroku" (The Record of a Tenement Gentleman). Later, he made classics such as "Banshun" (Late Spring), "Bakushu" (Early Summer), "Tokyo Monogatari" (Tokyo Story) and became a heavy hitter in the Japanese movie scene. His work in this period has a distinct style that can almost be considered avant-garde and difficult to approach for some, but in general, he was known as 'a movie director with humor and pathos' and a major Shochiku movie director. Many scripts for his movies during this period were collaborations with Kogo NODA. Setsuko HARA and Chishu RYU were often cast as the lead.

He was awarded the Arts Festival (Culture Agency) Education Minister's Award for "Bakushu" in 1951 and the same award and the UK Sutherland Award for "Tokyo Monogatari" in 1958. In 1955, he became a board member of the Directors Guild of Japan.

After the war, he lived in Kamakura and became close to Ton SATOMI. In 1958, he collaborated with Satomi to simultaneously write an original novel and movie script, "Higanbana" (Equinox Flower), and finished "Akibiyori" (Late Autumn) in the same format in 1960. "Higanbana" won his third Arts Festival Education Minister's Award and he was awarded the Medal with Purple Ribbon Award for his achievements. In 1959 he won the Japan Art Academy Award, and in 1960, he won the Art Encouragement Education Minister's Award together with Noda.

In 1962, his mother, with whom he had been living, passed away. In November, he was selected as the only movie director to be a member of the Japan Art Academy. In 1963, he collaborated with Satomi on a TV script "Seishun Hokago," but fell ill and had to have an operation at the Cancer Center in April, and after being discharged he was readmitted to the Tokyo Medical and Dental University Hospital in October. He died on his birthday, December 12. He was posthumously awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, Fourth Class.

Low position

He was known as a movie director favoring a low position with distinct low camera angles filmed just above the ground and stern frontal fixed shots. Scenes taken from a low position, such as 'the family gathering around the table' or 'father worried about his unmarried daughter losing her chance of marrying' and 'father thinking about his daughter' were typical scenes from domestic life dramas on Japanese TV that were perfected by Ozu.

Yasujiro OZU's transition shots did not follow ordinary movie conventions such as the rule that the transition shot should not pass an imaginary line. Many had pointed this out during Ozu's lifetime and since he used this technique with confidence, all his work from the mid-period onwards follow this characteristic of transition shots crossing an imaginary line and finally taking direct shots of objects. Such intentional breaking of movie technique rules give his work a distinct sense of timing and positive uneasiness, which is especially valued by movie critics outside Japan.

Surroundings

Masahiro SHINODA, his younger colleague at Shochiku, made the unique comment that 'things disappeared in his movies.'
The critic Saburo KAWAMOTO commented that he was influenced by the Shirakaba movement and Kafu NAGAI.

The posthumously produced documentary, "I was Born, But...a Yasujiro Ozu biography" contains important recollections from three people, Keisuke KINOSHITA, who brought success for Shochiku together with Ozu, Kaneto SHINDO, who became an independent when he was virtually kicked out of Shochiku, and Shohei IMAMURA, who parted ways with Ozu when he questioned his way of doing things. The documentary was directed by Kazuo INOUE, who was looked after by Ozu and called by the nickname "Ban-san".

Reputation

Ozu's post-war works after "Banshun" were highly evaluated in Japan and were successful, but he became increasingly known as a 'director of old-fashioned domestic-life dramas' after his death.
This is in part due to the rebellion against directors of the former generation by the then newly established directors such as Nagisa OSHIMA, Masahiro SHINODA and Yoshishige YOSHIDA who were part of the 'Japanese New Wave.'
A little while after his death, the international repuation of his work, especially in France, improved and his distinct movie style was considered novel, with many famous people from the movie industry starting to talk about their admiration of Ozu's work. In Japan too, Shigehiko HASUMI wrote energetically and worked for a re-evaluation of Yasujiro OZU.

2003 was the centennial of Ozu's birth. Many commemorative projects were started and commemorative events such as movie showings were held around the country.

International support

He is known internationally as an image artist more than a movie director. Alongside Kenji MIZOGUCHI, Mikio NARUSE and Akira KUROSAWA, Ozu is highly regarded and his work, "Tokyo Monogatari" is particularly popular in Europe.

Many writers who admire or clearly state that they have been influenced by Ozu can be found throughout the world. These include many esteemed movie producers.

Works

He directed a total of 54 works.

The copyright protection (50 years after release and 38 years after the death of the director) for works up to 1953 is considered to have now completely ended. Therefore, several of the works are now released as public domain DVDs.

Although according to records the original recordings were produced with sound, the copies on sale today are silent versions.

Archives, Related Facilities

Onomichi Motion Picture Museum
This museum is to be found in Onomichi City, which was the location of Tokyo Monogatari. It displays documents related to Ozu's movie production methods.

Chigasaki kan
This is a traditional guesthouse facility in Chigasaki City. Ozu used it as a work room.

Mugeiso
This is a mountain resort villa in Tateshina Kogen where Ozu and Kogo NODA worked together on scripts after 1954. The running of the building was taken over by the people in and around Chino City, Nagano Prefecture and it was moved to Pool-daira for preservation and public viewing in 2003. This villa hosts the Yasujiro OZU Commemorative Tateshina Kogen Movie Festival each year.