In 2023, events will be held at locations as diverse as the Cannes Film Festival, Los Angeles’ Margaret Herrick Library, and the Taiwan Film & Audiovisual Institute to commemorate Ozu Yasujiro’s double birth and death anniversaries. Ozu died in 1963 on the day of his 60th birthday, a little more than a year after the release of his last movie, “An Autumn Afternoon.”
However, it is up to the Tokyo International Film Festival in October to present the largest and most thorough reconstruction of Ozu’s remarkably broad career this year.
In collaboration with the National Film Archive of Japan, the festival will hold its TIFF/NFAJ Classics: Ozu Yasujiro Week event from October 24-29, which will feature a comprehensive retrospective of practically all of Ozu’s works.
Ozu worked for big Japanese studio Shochiku for the entirety of his career, from camera assistant in 1923 to renowned director in 1962, with all the benefits and drawbacks that this relationship offered.
While Ozu is best known for his straightforward dramas, many of which are about parents and their young or grown children and frequently revolve around troubled or contentious family relationships, as well as questions of marriage, generational miscommunications, or the loneliness of the elderly, the director’s register may not have entirely been of his own choosing.
“The apparent consistency of the post-war films surely owes as much to this production situation as to Ozu’s aesthetic choices,” wrote critic Tony Rayns in a recent Sight & Sound portrait. Rayns also suggests that Ozu’s pre-War output was more varied than what followed, and that it freely borrowed from other industries, including Hollywood.
“Few knew that the director of films like ‘Tokyo Story’ and ‘Early Spring’ had once made riotous student-slacker comedies and gangster movies,” Rayns writes.
It was necessary to repeatedly reexamine Ozu’s films. Prior to Western audiences tuning into Kurosawa Akira and Mizoguchi Kenji in the 1950s, his post-World War II films were hardly ever viewed outside of Japan. Similar to this, many of his pre-war creations were believed to be lost and weren’t assembled and reevaluated within Japan until much later.
While the films showing at the National Archive are primarily focused on the older era and stretch from 1929 to 1941, the movies playing at the Tokyo festival span the entire range from 1929 to 1962 (see below).
The same week, Japanese academics and modern filmmakers such as Kelly Reichardt, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Jia Zhangke, and Wim Wenders will be present to lead a discussion section titled “The Shoulders of Giants” that will take place after the showing of the restored version of the 1959 film “Good Morning.”
Wenders, an admirer of Ozu who is this year’s choice to lead the Tokyo competition jury and is also the man behind the festival’s opening title “Perfect Days,” will oversee the tribute. A live performance by Kanenobu Sachiko will take place at a different session, which will be moderated by radio personality Chris Tomoko.
The Tokyo Toilet Art Project, which was also participating in “Perfect Days,” Shochiku, and the Kawakita Memorial Film Institute, among others, are co-hosting the conversation sessions.
Both films, which debuted at Cannes in May and are slated for French theatrical re-releases, were restored in 4K digital by Schochiku for “Tenement Gentleman” and Toho for “Muneteka Sisters.”
On October 26, a public reading of the “Tokyo Story” screenplay and personal accounts of Nakai Kie’s interactions with Ozu will take place. It has the support of Shochiku and the Mitsukoshi retail network, both of which have ties to Ozu.
Six upcoming filmmakers have just been hired by the Japanese pay-TV service Wowow to adapt twelve of Ozu’s early silent films. The TIFF Series section of the film festival will screen three episodes.