18 March 2012 | chaos-rampant
Languid postwar Ozu
Postwar Ozu, and by contrast to prewar films, little has changed; clear, composed eye, quietly enduring lives, even in the face of near-complete destruction.
Once more, a primary point lies in the edifying fable of the thing. The father is absent, authority if you will, core social integrity, always a looming absence in Ozu, and the orphaned kid will have to rely on the fundamental kindness of the world. Of course that world rises to the occasion, overcomes ego, harshness, in this case no doubt fostered by the hard reality of the times. Instead of scavenging alleys for nails to piece back together destroyed homes, it is asserted that selfless love should take care of that.
This is asserted in a clumsily unsubtle way, straight to the camera. Ozu was back at Shochiku from wartorn Manchuria, and it should not be underestimated, so were many Japanese, back from whatever gruelling role they were forced to play in the war.
To better understand this conservative need for closure, you have to note the way Ozu closes the film. The woman wanting to take care of another orphaned kid is pointed to the direction of Saigo's statue in Ueno Park - where it stands to this day. Saigo was a popular hero famous in conventional history for the last stand of the old samurai faction against plans for a modernized Japan. The ill-advised Tom Cruise film portrays the events.
This is enough to give us pause. Here's a director who had been unerringly forward-looking 15 years ago, had fervently embraced modern foreign film and widely referenced Western mores, no longer a youthful cinephile but sobered from the experience of war, who points for inspiration to this paragon of samurai virtue and ethos. Japan might as well forget the bold experiment with an empire that ended in such humiliating defeat, and look back instead to the simpler times when feudal lords and their police maintained coherence of the world.
This is a pity. The eye is clear but dulled by emotion, making for languid flow but without insight. Japan would have to wait another 10 years for the next generation of forward-looking filmmakers to look deeper into the ruins.