Ozu Collection Volume 3 Review
The third part of Tartan’s Ozu Collection sees a turning point in the director’s career. Certainly, Ozu’s themes, clearly evident in the first and second sets, remain consistent here. But in continuing to follow the fortunes of the Japanese family through the immediate post-war years we increasingly see a greater conflict between traditional values and the influence of technology and the outside world. The third set collects Ozu’s final film made in black and white – the appropriately themed and titled Tokyo Twilight (1957), one of Ozu’s darker mediations on negative family values; his move into colour filmmaking with Equinox Flower (1958); and Good Morning (1959), an update on his 1932 silent movie I Was Born, But... and one of Ozu’s greatest films, filled with life and humour.
Tokyo Twilight (1957)
Unusually for Ozu, Tokyo Twilight depicts the darker side of human and family relationships. It’s not unique in Ozu’s film career and there is a measure of conflict and tragedy in most of his films - Ozu wouldn’t be the director he is if his films only depicted the positive values of family relationships. At his best, in films like Tokyo Story Ozu manages to combine both aspects in a manner that is usually termed as bittersweet, but in reality the counterbalance of tragedy and comfort offered by the family bond is often far more complex and mutually inter-dependant than that reductive description would indicate.
These same issues then are examined in Tokyo Twilight, although the balance and tone present quite a different perspective on post-war Japanese living and family values. As the title suggests, the film skirts the darker side of Tokyo, the twilight world of Shinjuku gambling houses, mah-jong and pachinko parlours, police cells, late-night bars and pick-up joints, where lives are falling apart and relationships are fractured.
Takako (Setsuko Hara) and Akiko (Ineko Arima) are two sisters, raised alone by their father Mr Sugiyama (Chishu Ryu) after their mother walked out on them many years ago. The broken family unit has had an unfortunate affect on both women. Takako is married to Numata, with a young daughter, but her husband drinks a lot and it is an unhappy marriage. Takako has temporarily moved back to with her father, who blames himself for arranging the marriage. Akiko is not married, but leads a rather dissolute life hanging around late-night bars and gambling houses looking for her boyfriend Keiji. At a mah-jong parlour, she meets a woman who claims to know her as a neighbour in the district they grew up as children, but she suspects the woman might be the mother who left them when she was only three years old.
Touching on issues such as alcoholism, mothers abandoning children and unwanted pregnancies, Ozu’s concern in Tokyo Twilight is not so much the social issues they give rise to, as the affect they have on the family unit. If that message is a little too heavy-handed and obvious here, lacking the complexity of his finer work, formally Tokyo Twilight it is as strong as any Ozu film, with superb compositions and performances, maintaining a subdued, even languid tone throughout.
Equinox Flower (1958)
Family matters are unsurprisingly to the fore also in Equinox Flower - Yasujiro Ozu’s first colour film - opening with a lavish traditional wedding where Mr Hiriyama (Shin Saburi) is the guest of honour at the marriage of one of his old high school friend’s daughters. And it’s the relationship between fathers and daughters and marriage that are Ozu’s angle on family bonds this time.
Hiriyama has plans for just such a traditional wedding for his daughter Setsuko (Ineko Arima), but he finds out from the experience of many of his friends that attitudes towards marriage are different for the younger generation. Hoping to arrange a suitable match for Setsuko, he is consequently shocked to find out that his daughter appears to have made her own arrangements, becoming engaged to a young man who she works with, and he refuses to give his approval. Only too happy to assist in bringing about a reconciliation between a friend, Mr Mikami (Chishu Ryu), and his daughter Fumiko (Yoshiko Kuga), who have similar differences in attitudes towards marriage, it is not until he is tricked by his daughter’s friend that he comes to understand and make amends with Setsuko.
Although it has a more positive outlook than his previous film, Tokyo Twilight, Equinox Flower is likewise a rather uncomplicated and straightforward film for Ozu, that lacks the complexity or balance of light and shade that makes up his best work. In essence, it’s a standard conflict between parents and children over the issue of traditional arranged marriages, and the difficulties parents have letting their children go. At its best however, it achieves an unusual counterbalance in overturning the expectations of situations that usually have a negative affect on family life. On an excursion that the whole family take on a little weekend break to a lake for perhaps the last time, Hiriyama’s wife remembers the war years, with unexpected fondness, as a time when the family were brought closer together. And rather than his daughter’s marriage seeing the family being driven apart, it similarly has the effect of bringing the family closer together.
It’s not one of Ozu’s most challenging subjects, but Equinox Flower is still a likeable enough film, the script delicately balanced with some nice touches of humour, filmed with an immaculate sense of pacing and correctness of tone. More than that however, Ozu’s first colour film is startlingly beautiful in its photographic compositions, the director making remarkable use of spot reds to achieve just as delicate a balance in the visual language and tone of the film.
Good Morning (1959)
The standout film in this collection however is, of course, Good Morning (Ohayo). Lighter in tone than the previous two films, it is however most successful in blending its simple storyline of ordinary people’s everyday lives with deeper, relevant social issues.
Good Morning’s modernity is all the more striking for having seen Ozu’s earlier black and white post-war films in sequence from Late Spring through to Tokyo Twilight in the previous two Ozu collections. The first use of colour in Ozu’s previous film Equinox Flower served principally to highlight the beauty of Ozu’s cinematography (which isn’t so little really), while the film remained formally close to the preceding black and white films. Here in Good Morning the change to colour is properly exploited and in keeping with the films theme of progress and modernity in a society that is changing rapidly and thoughtlessly. TVs, washing machines, burglar alarms and all sorts of modern appliances - the first shot of the film is of an electricity pylon - are all the subject of daily conversations, discussions and disputes.
The photography and direction are an absolute delight, Ozu retaining the low-level formal aspects of indoor dialogues, while also showing the to and fro scurrying of the neighbours and their children between each other’s houses in the little neighbourhood. In a film that is about community, this constant interaction between neighbours is vital. This is life in its essence – minor situations covering every aspect of daily life, from childhood school lessons, through young love, motherhood, to old men struggling to get through their retirement. The film is virtually plotless, yet filled with drama, humour, drunken escapades and even fart jokes. Yet underneath it all, Ozu’s point is plain. The very simplicity of sharing a phrase like “Good Morning”, says everything about socialising, well-wishing, speaking to people, communicating, helping each other out – values that are disappearing through the advent of technology and the “idiot box” in the corner of the room that the director sees insinuating its way into people’s everyday lives.
The idea of Good Morning is simple, its presentation, script and performances flawless, yet it reaches its audience with universal themes and familiar situations, achieving everything it sets out to do almost effortlessly. A true masterpiece.
Ozu Volume 3 follows Tartan’s earlier releases of The Ozu Collection Volume 1: The Noriko Trilogy and The Ozu Collection Volume 2. Volume 4 will include Late Autumn and Autumn Afternoon. The three DVDs included on Volume 3 are dual-layer discs, in PAL format and are encoded for Region 2.
The picture quality on Tokyo Twilight is reasonably good and, if it is not particularly impressive, it is certainly better than many of the transfers on The Ozu Collection Volume 1 and The Ozu Collection Volume 2. There is still an overall greyness to the tone, but outside of shadows there is reasonable detail and definition. Marks are very few and scarcely noticeable for the main part. The light fluctuates only slightly and there are a few frame jumps here and there, but little that is troublesome. The transfer is generally markedly improved from the earlier volumes. The timings indicate PAL speed-up, so perhaps these are not the usual NTSC to PAL conversions as previous releases. There is however still a little blurring and judder in movement. Obviously though, in an Ozu film, there is not a great deal of movement.
There are also a few jerky movements in the transfer of Equinox Flower, but in all other respects Ozu’s fist colour film looks phenomenal. There are scarcely any marks or scratches and clarity is very good, although evidently due to the early colour processing methods, it is inevitably slightly soft. Detail is excellent, with even blacks showing good tones – but it is the colour that is the most striking element here. Beautiful pastel tones abound, with the characteristic slight greenish tint of early Agfa colour that gives the film a nice antiquated look, enlivened by some blazing reds carefully placed in the frame.
Good Morning looks just as good with fine colour tones, excellent detail and very few noticeable marks or scratches. There is a slight jump in the cutting between scenes, but again only really evident when there is movement on the screen. Otherwise, as I think the above capture illustrates, this looks terrific.
The audio track of Tokyo Twilight is not particularly strong. It’s wobbly, wavering and rather dull, but low on any crackle or noise, so it is generally adequate. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks on Equinox Flower and Good Morning are not particularly impressive either, showing a little bit of dullness of tone and some underlying hiss and crackle on voices, although this seems to be filtered out in silent passages. Dialogue is nonetheless quite clear and on Equinox Flower the mixing is exceptionally good, the music showing fine separation from the dialogue and giving the impression of a wider sound design.
Each of the films has removable English subtitles in a white font. The titles are clearly visible at all times and read well.
Tokyo Twilight comes with a Restoration Featurette (1:30), which shows a couple of before and after scenes with little discernable difference between them. Equinox Flower contains the Trailer (1:54), which serves the film well, and another Restoration Featurette (3:43), where the idea of restoration unfortunately seems to be cutting damaged frames out, perhaps accounting for the little jerks in the image now and again. There is however certainly a difference between the before and after, particularly in maintaining colour stability. Good Morning’s original Trailer (1:37) is delightful and is notable for a brief scene of Ozu working on-set. The Restoration Featurette (4:06) shows some major damage being fixed, but again not terribly seamlessly.
The boxset should also contain a booklet of essays on each of the films, but this was not present with the check discs for review.
While Tartan’s Ozu Collection Volume 3 contains only one masterpiece by the director (Good Morning), the two other films are lesser works only in relative terms. Although Tokyo Twilight and Equinox Flower do not have the same degree of complexity in the bonds between family members in bittersweet situations that we expect from an Ozu film, they are still fine examples of the director’s craft, progressing themes and ideas that lead up to Good Morning. In this film is everything that makes Ozu great – simple situations of ordinary people living their lives, fighting, arguing, falling in love and helping one another out - and it is all done with tremendous delicacy, humour and a lightness of touch that belies the depth of social themes and human emotions. Tartan’s presentation of these films on DVD shows a marked improvement from the blurry, smeary transfers that have blighted the previous two collections. Although the DVDs themselves contain little in the way of useful extra features, the transfers of these films are of very fine quality, particularly giving Ozu’s early colour films the kind of quality transfer that these beautifully composed films richly deserve.
Last updated: 23/06/2018 06:20:07