A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Equinox Flower (Yasujiro Ozu, 1958)

Equinox Flower is Ozu's first color film. Once again he lagged behind film industry trends -- the first color film in Japan was made in 1951 -- and managed to anger the Japanese film industry by using the German-made Agfa color process instead of Fuji film because he thought the reds in Agfa film were truer. American viewers may be struck by how the movie often seems to be a Japanese translation of the American family comedy: think Father of the Bride (Vincente Minnelli, 1950). It centers on Wataru Hirayama (Shin Saburi), who finds his wife and daughters scheming against him when he insists on arranging the marriage of his elder daughter, Setsuko (Ineko Arima). When a young man he has never met before, Masahiko Taniguchi (Keiji Sada), comes to his office one day to ask for Setsuko's hand, Hirayama is furious, and not only forbids the marriage but also insists that Setsuko, who has met Taniguchi at the place where she works, be confined to home. Eventually, things work out for the young couple, but not before Hirayama has learned a lesson about the way the roles of the sexes have changed in Japan. In fact, when we first see Hirayama, he is giving a speech at a wedding, indicating his preference for parental approval and noting that even though their own marriage had been arranged, he and his wife, Kiyoko (Kinuyo Tanaka), who is sitting silently beside him, made a go of it. We will soon learn that Kiyoko is not quite so submissive as she seems. The bite that underlies this quite charming comedy lies in its portrayal of the post-war Japanese male, the warrior turned salaryman, most effectively seen in an episode in which Hirayama, after reluctantly attending the wedding of Setsuko and Taniguchi, goes to a reunion of his old classmates, who sing songs about the glory of the Japanese warrior though their own lives consist of office work and golf. The screenplay by Ozu and Kogo Noda was based on a novel by Ton Satomi. The cinematographer was Yuharu Atsuta.

A Story of Floating Weeds (Yasujiro Ozu, 1934)

This is the first, silent version of a film that Ozu remade with sound and in color in 1959, shortening the title to just Floating Weeds. I haven't seen the remake yet, but it's available on Hulu Plus. Yes, 1934 is late to be making silent films, but Ozu was following the lead of the Japanese film industry, which didn't switch to sound until 1931 -- and Ozu waited till 1936 to make a talkie. It's the story (written by Tadao Ikeda and Ozu himself under his pseudonym James Maki) of Kihachi Ichikawa (Takeshi Sakamoto), the head of a troupe of traveling players who find themselves in a village where Kihachi has a former mistress, Otsune (Choko Iida), with whom he had a son, Shinkichi (Koji Mitsui). The now almost-grown son has always known Kihachi as "Uncle," because Kihachi has kept his parentage secret, not wanting him to follow in his footsteps as an actor. But when Otaka (Rieko Yagumo), an actress in the troupe and Kihachi's most recent mistress, discovers the secret, she decides to take revenge by asking a younger actress, Otoki (Yoshiko Tsubouchi), to seduce Shinkichi. The revenge backfires when Otoki falls in love with the young man. As usual, Ozu's sympathetic view of human relationships carries the film, giving depth to the somewhat slight story. And the glimpses of the world of the traveling players is both fascinating and funny. The lovely cinematography is by Hideo Shigehara, who filmed and sometimes edited many of Ozu's pre-war movies.