The Only Son (1936) dir. Yasujiro Ozu. Japan.
Now turn to Yasujiro Ozu, who is one of the three of four best filmmakers in the world, and certainly the one who brings me the most serenity. I’ve seen 14 of his films, four of them with the shot-by-shot approach. That doesn’t make me an expert, but it makes me familiar with his ways of seeing. In the films I’ve seen, he has a few favorite themes, subjects and compositions, and carefully arranges and rearranges them. Some say “he makes the same film every time.” That’s like saying “all people are born with two eyes.” What matters is how you see with them.
— Roger Ebert
Abigail: I feel so much while watching Ozu. This is only the third of his films I have watched, but that is enough for me to know that I love his work. He tackles big ideas – love, loss, relationships – and does it generationally, and with empathy for everyone involved. There is no good guy or bad guy, or even a great obstacle. There is only being human, and the infinite struggle that comes from that. This particular film has some quality kinks – the print is not well preserved, and the sound is pretty bad, particularly if there is background noise, or if they are outside. But the ideas are as exquisite as the shots. Ebert (and maybe he borrowed this from someone else) calls the shots Ozu uses to couch important scenes “pillow shots”, and homage to a similar structure in Japanese poetry. For me, these shots are both what humanizes the characters, and where we see Ozu’s true brilliance. The way he sees the world brings me great joy and great hope.
Forrest: This is the third Ozu film I’ve seen and I can already recognize his style immediately. It’s bizarre. I can’t point to why, quite — his framing, partly, and the angle of his shots; but it’s something more than that. I can’t quite point to why, but I can tell you that I love him as much as I’ve ever loved any film maker. He understands something about humanity that most of us don’t — it’s like he has some hidden knowledge of a secret of the universe. His movies are measured but somehow joyous; often sad, but somehow filled with deep wells of hope. He believes in people — in the basic capacity for human goodness and compassion. It’s something we don’t see enough of today, and that’s often looked down upon as trite or maudlin. For Ozu, it’s not. It’s just an obvious fact of life.