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Ozu: The Japanese Auteur Essay

1575 words - 7 pages

Auteur theory defines the director of a film the author of their work (Sinha, “Auteur Theory (Filmmaking)”). Ozu is a true auteur of the Japanese post-war cinema. His crown jewel film, Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953) rejects the tropes of the Hollywood system and instead works within the confines of Japanese re-growth. It is truly unique to Japanese national cinema as it responds to the depression and sorrow felt in post-war Japan. The image of Noriko (Setsuko Hara) and Shukishi (Chishu Ryu) looking off into Onomichi Japan captures Ozus’s distinct style and the sadness and uncertainty felt nationally. Ozu created a film style that represents Japanese cinema in one of the worst times for the nation. ...view middle of the document...

Shukishi is found in a balance between the new way of life and that of the sovereign rule that had recently ended. This moment captures the relationships between the young and the old. Pure human emotions are felt as Noriko talks about her hesitations to return to Tokyo. Shukishi reassures her that he will be fine and that everything will move on just fine, but the characters hide behind masks.
Noriko and Shukishi are uncertain in what the future holds. Ozu captures the emotion of a whole nation in this moment. There is a collective sorrow for the destruction of WWII. Japan is modernizing rapidly and there is a fear of loss in the quick growth and rebuild that is occurring nationally. Both Noriko and Shukshi have lost their life partners, but know that they must move on no matter how predictable the future can be. Ozu is able to collect a national moment in this one shot of daily life.
The collective uncertainty felt by Noriko and Shukishi is the emotion felt throughout post-war Japan. Japan’s cinema changed dramatically after WWII. Suddenly there were restrictions on what a film could depict. The themes of nationalism and Japanese traditions were no longer allowed. Instead Ozu worked around these guidelines and created a film about everyday life. Tokyo Story brings the audience into the home of a family that is adapting the quick modernization. Shukishi has a famous line from the film, “Times have changed. We have to face it” (Tokyo Story, 1953). Shukishi acknowledges Japans sadness only through dialogue. At face value they are happy with the change, but the emotional undertones reveal otherwise. Tokyo Story is a very complex layered narrative, where the characters on screen hide their emotions behind masked smiling faces.
Ozu’s style and theme of masked expression fits closely with John Berger’s definition of an image. “An image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced which has been detached from the place and time in which it first made its appearance” (Berger, “Ways of Seeing”) the image of Noriko and Shukishi at face value appears that they are happy with their lives in post-war Japan, but this is detached from the true meaning. In reality they are deeply saddened by loss. One has to look beyond the mask of the image to truly understand Japan’s sorrow.
Ozu’s interpretation of post-war life in cinema is far different from those found around the world. Post-WWII Hollywood films like Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942) always end happily. The United States won the war and therefore films of the period match the triumph. However, Ozu captures the mourning of Japan in his endings. Tokyo story represents life in Japan moving on even with destruction and loss. Casablanca ends with Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Renault (Claude Rains) saving the day. While in Tokyo Story, Noriko and Shukishi discuss how they will return their regular lives after so much loss. Ozu’s ending is an extreme contrast from the heroic ending of Casablanca. Ozu creates a...

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