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ozu films

July 28, 2010

Share thoughts and observations about Ozu’s Passing Fancy and Tokyo Chorus.

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7 comments

  1. Passing Fancy
    Wow – what an unexpectedly complex film. Similar to Tokyo Chorus, I found the narrative structure to be somewhat unusual with little actual resolution. The protagonist, more a clown than a hero, is thwarted in his love interest, but rather than end up with the girl after trials and tribulations, as would a typical Hollywood narrative, the love interest becomes redirected to his friend and his complication is not to “get the girl” but to persuade his friend whose motives are unclear. Is he trying to save his friend’s feelings, or is there something else that holds him back? The plot seems to center around the family’s struggle to be a unit with the help of friends and neighbors, but the ancillary plot of the love interest seems almost to get in the way. Also, the protagonist is not the one that resolves the problem of the hospital bill at, what could be the climax of the narrative, except that it is undercut by the fact that the misfortune is caused by the son’s own gluttony, making him a less-than-perfect sympathetic victim (which pairs well with his less-than-perfect hero-father). It seems to me that this is a narrative with inverted roles; the Hollywood narrative would have naturally chosen the young, handsome, ex-military man Jiro, so that we could have access to his motives and see the narrative arc around the love story and the fact that he comes to the rescue on raising money for a bumbling friend’s son. Ozu, by focusing on the comically-sad Kihachi, gives a distorting point of view reminiscent of (but a precursor to) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I wonder if Stoppard watched this film.

    In terms of editing, I noticed the position echo found also in Tokyo Chorus, with some straight on, rather than over-the-shoulder shot/reverse shot between Jiro and Kihachi in the beginning. Perhaps this alludes to/foreshadows the structural foil/switch in positions between one another? The camera angle was low in this film as well, which was particularly noticeable for me when characters passed through doorways, which often had hanging banners. The scene when the female restaurant owner passed through the doorway and had to move the banner up to get out made me duck a little bit, such was the feeling of being there by having a lower angle. A higher angle might imply an impossible/ideal/fantasy vantage point for the viewer, whereas it seems that Ozu tries to get you to feel like you are there too by giving you angles you could realistically achieve if you were sitting in the room.

    There were also quite a few shots of two notable items: the hanging paper decoration in the restaurant, and the hanging laundry. Is it notable that these two repeated images are hanging? I feel as though there must be a metaphor here, but I’m not getting it yet. Any ideas?


  2. I agree with what Sandi says about the less-than-perfect hero-father and the not-quite-sympathetic-as -he-could -be son. You’re right. In Hollywood, you would expect the young, handsome ex-soldier to be the hero. Ozu leaves the audience wondering about what is going in Jiro’s mind for most of the movie. Late in the movie when Hakure and he argue over who will help Kihachi pay the doctor’s bill, he says to her, “Don’t you understand me?” She does not know his true feelings, and neither does the audience. Ozu tantalizes the audience by allowing them a little more insight that Hakure has. The viewer wonders about Jiro’s refusal to go the restaurant after he finds her in his room straightening his belongings and her feelings become evident. Does he just want to avoid encouraging a woman that he has no interest in, or is he afraid of his own developing feelings for her? How would he behave if it were not for the fact that his friend Kihachi is love sick for the girl? The viewer is aware of the conversations between Jiro and Kihachi. Hakure is not. However, when the bar/restaurant owner convinces Kihachi to try to persuade Jiro to marry Hakure, Jiro still stubbornly persists in his decision to not even consider the girl as a possibility. Why? The viewer is left to conclude that Jiro really doesn’t trust or approve of the girl. That is why the viewer is almost as startled as Hakure when Jiro insists “Don’t you understand me?” translated as “Don’t you know how much I care for you?” This is a hero moment, but it is down played in a narrative which focuses more on the struggling, less-than-perfect father and his son.
    Ozu makes it clear that this is a movie about the working class. The father, the son, Jiro, and all of the characters in the film, except for perhaps the supervisor at the factory and the doctor are part of this class. The frames are filled with emblems of those who are struggling to make a living. Kihachi’s and Jiro’s apartments contain little more than the bare necessities. There does not appear to be any indoor plumbing. When the men wake in the morning and dress, they must go out into the dirt road to wash their faces, etc. in the tubs in front of the bar/restaurant where other working men wash as well. The word “working men” is a loose term for some of them. Some of them appear to sit on their haunches all day long watching and waiting along the street. In addition to these elements in the mis-en-scene, there are the cuts that focus on a clothesline of hanging laundry blowing in the breeze, the shots of the water or refinery holding tanks, and the shots of a factory chimney. Ozu cuts to these shots on occasion throughout the movie, and they have no apparent relationship to the narrative other than to convince the viewer that this is not a pretty world we are participating in. The characters live in an industrial area where little thought is given to trees, or parks, or niceties. These people must work for a living or else. Ozu paints this picture well for us.
    However, in the midst of the drudgery, Ozu shows us that humor, laughter, and love can and do coexist with poverty. The repeated shots of Kihachi’s grinning face, his son’s unique bow after a joke or a prank, the continued mid-shots of the two friends drive this point home.


  3. It was clear Ozu was behind the camera of Passing Fancy within minutes. His use of shot/reverse shot along with variations of the technique is noticeable. As in Tokyo Chorus, the camera is set at a low angle. Children and people, who are sitting or kneeling on the floor, are the only characters filmed in their entirety. Medium shots are used with the character centered on the screen. I distinctly remember shots of Harue like this. Ozu films people entering and exiting buildings quite frequently. Sometimes the camera shows people stepping out from the building and other times, especially at Kihachi’s house, the shadows of the sliding doors are visible.

    A majority of Ozu’s filming techniques shape the narrative and invite the viewer into the characters’ world. Both Tokyo Chorus and Passing Fancy feature families who are struggling to survive. They work together to try to make ends meet. Passing Fancy features very likeable characters. I sympathized with them, even Kihachi who is a lazy drunk. His smile and mannerisms (i.e. the towel perched on his head and constant hand movements) make him realistic. As in both films, characters seem confident, but hardship is lurking beyond their outward appearances.

    Next, I noticed that clothing seems to be a motif in both Passing Fancy and Tokyo Chorus. The protagonists are constantly getting dressed for work or for the day’s agenda. When they return home, they undress and put on their kimono. Kihachi makes a point to dress in his best kimono when he tries to win the eye of Harue early in the film. People on the street ask him if he is going to a funeral. More importantly, I noticed that the protagonists seem to shed layers of clothing as tense moments arise. For example Tomio slaps his father repeatedly in the face after experiencing a tough day at school. He tries to slap him sober. During this scene, Kihachi takes off several pieces of clothing. The protagonist in Tokyo Chorus undresses as more of his situation is revealed. He comes home with his bonus, but no job. He takes his jacket off, loosens his tie, followed by his dress shirt and pants. He ends up sitting on the floor in his undergarments as his son announces his father is a liar.

    Again, Ozu features the father/son relationship and the reality of poverty. In Passing Fancy, Kihachi doesn’t excel in his fatherhood responsibilities. Thankfully, Tomio is independent and self-motivated. Tomio only asks that his father stop drinking and go to work. In comparison, the son in Tokyo Chorus is rather immature. He begs for a bicycle and will settle for nothing less. Both families struggle to pay their children’s hospital bills too. I agree with Sherry; Ozu does drive home the idea that love and humor can exist in even the most difficult times.


  4. It was clear Ozu was behind the camera of Passing Fancy within minutes. His use of shot/reverse shot along with variations of the technique is noticeable. As in Tokyo Chorus, the camera is set at a low angle. Children and people, who are sitting or kneeling on the floor, are the only characters filmed in entirety. Medium shots are used with the character centered on the screen. I distinctly remember shots of Harue like this. Ozu films people entering and exiting buildings quite frequently. Sometimes the camera shows people stepping out from the building and other times, especially at Kihachi’s house, the shadows of the sliding doors are visible.

    A majority of Ozu’s filming techniques shape the narrative and invite the viewer into the characters’ world. Both Tokyo Chorus and Passing Fancy feature families who are struggling to survive. They work together to try to make ends meet. Passing Fancy features very likeable characters. I sympathized with them, even Kihachi who is a lazy drunk. His smile and mannerisms (i.e. the towel perched on his head and constant hand movements) make him realistic. As in both films, characters seem confident, but hardship is lurking beyond their outward appearances.

    Next, I noticed that clothing seems to be a motif in both Passing Fancy and Tokyo Chorus. The protagonists are constantly getting dressed for work or for the day’s agenda. When they return home, they undress and put on their kimono. Kihachi makes a point to dress in his best kimono when he tries to win the eye of Harue early in the film. People on the street ask him if he is going to a funeral. More importantly, I noticed that the protagonists seem to shed layers of clothing as tense moments arise. For example Tomio slaps his father repeatedly in the face after experiencing a tough day at school. He tries to slap him sober. During this scene, Kihachi takes off several pieces of clothing. The protagonist in Tokyo Chorus undresses as more of his situation is revealed. He comes home with his bonus, but no job. He takes his jacket off, loosens his tie, followed by his dress shirt and pants. He ends up sitting on the floor in his undergarments as his son announces his father is a liar.

    Again, Ozu features the father/son relationship and the reality of poverty. In Passing Fancy, Kihachi doesn’t excel in his fatherhood responsibilities. Thankfully, Tomio is independent and self-motivated. Tomio only asks that his father stop drinking and go to work. In comparison, the son in Tokyo Chorus is rather immature. He begs for a bicycle and will settle for nothing less. Both families struggle to pay their children’s hospital bills too. I agree with Sherry; Ozu does drive home the idea that love and humor can exist in even the most difficult times.


  5. I totally agree with what Sandi and Sherry have stated about Kihachi. In regard to the Ozu films, I found Tokyo Chorus to be the stronger of the two. However, Passing Fancy featured narrative that was more complex and held my attention. Somehow, this film reminded me of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Working in a factory of any type is a serious matter. It is difficult not to sympathize for Kihachi—the stereotypical loveable loser—as he is depicted as a man of honor. In my heart of hearts, I wanted him to win Harue’s affection. In contrast, I did not sympathize with Tomio. One of the themes that I noted in these two films is the inclusion of disrespectful children. In this regard, Tomio fits the bill. While watching the film, I was made to twist in my seat in disgust as Tomio retaliated by striking his father Kihachi. Surely, this is not a true staple of the Japanese way of life. When Tomio became ill from his own gluttony, I celebrated. Again, another reoccurring theme I detected was: ill children and a lack of financial resources. While viewing this film, I wondered why Kihachi didn’t make a move on Otome. Let’s be honest, Harue was out of his league. The gallant Jiro is a better match for her. Do I think he’s a good match? No! However, he is a better choice than Kihachi, a character who makes George Costanza look like “The Fonz”. If my memory serves me correctly, Kihachi asked passengers on the boat to Hokkaido if the scenery outside was America. That is so funny, I’m still laughing as I type this. In regard to the narrative, it seems as if Ozu either ran out of time, resources or interest. Is he serious? All of a sudden, the meek Kihachi becomes aggressive enough to render Jiro unconscious. I had to contain my laughter when he apologized to Harue for doing so afterwards. If he were that aggressive, perhaps he would have been able to successfully woo Harue. The film’s conclusion that shows Kihachi swimming back to shore is just as weak as Kihachi. I guess the desire to raise to funds to reimburse Jiro’s friend was just a “passing fancy”.
    In regard to editing, I noted the same shot/reverse techniques that were used in Tokyo Chorus. As Fran pointed out in class, Ozu continued to use low camera angles in this film too. I also noted Ozu’s continued use of: Shallow focus, vertical framing and eyeline matching. Did anyone catch the George Washington reference? I wonder if that was apart of the original film. What was wrong with Tomio’s eye? As I type this, Thursday seems like yesteryear. Just like in Tokyo Chorus, the characters scratched there bottoms when in thought. (I promise that is the last time I’ll mention that.) Also, I noted that there was a hole in a wall at Kihachi’s home. Perhaps Kihachi purchased the vacated home from Tokyo Chorus that also featured a hole in the wall. Hey, I kid.


  6. Perhaps the most striking narratival feature of both Ozu’s Passing Fancy and Tokyo Chorus was Ozu’s ability to characterize without resorting to stereotypes. While he does use character tropes (what Jermayne calls the “stereotypical loveable loser”), I feel his vantage complicates considering Kihachi (or indeed any of the characters) as stereotypes. Kihachi is a victim of circumstance, and also of alcoholism, so his situation lends itself to the development of a more complex character dynamic than our initial perceptions might allow. His fascination with Harue presents him as something of a Japanese Humbert Humbert, and we cannot help but feel pity for his unrequited desire for her. Unlike Nabokov’s doomed obsesseur, Kihachi reconciles his infatuation for the greater good and demonstrates that he is a thoroughly unselfish character despite his many flaws. He reinforces this characterization when he abandons the boat to Hakkaido to uphold his duties as a father.

    Furthermore, even ancillary characters in the film are surprisingly well developed. The old woman who owns the restaurant becomes a confidante for Kihachi and is herself something of a maternal figure in the film. Jiro as the stoic masculine figure is also hardly one-dimensional. His apathy toward Harue masks (represses?) his desire for her. And, in typical Ozu fashion, Kihachi’s son is both an impish prankster and a loveable victim of a broken home. All of these characters attest to Ozu’s concern with detailing his characters as individuals, with highlighting their idiosyncracies in an attempt to present a more realistic vision of Japanese life.

    As for the mise-en-scene, both Passing Fancy and Tokyo Chorus, as what Bordwell refers to as partially contemporary life dramas, make consistent use of traditional Japanese interiors. These interiors serve a dual purpose. First, they allow Ozu to frame his shots using screens and walls that direct our attention to the characters. Second, they allow us to contrast the life of the home with the external, sometimes brutal life of Depression society. The repeated use of the restaurant is another motif that runs through the film. This motif also appeared in Tokyo chorus. The restaurant serves both social and biological (as a means of sustenance) functions in the film and becomes a spatial center for the narrative.

    I also noted Ozu’s continued use of hyperbole in Passing Fancy. When 50 sen worth of sweet’s sends Kihachi’s son to his deathbed, we encounter yet another incidence of Ozu’s debt to Chaplin and the conventions (which he makes his own) of early twentieth century American comedy. Kihachi’s almost superhuman capacity for sake (as in the scene when he, surrounded by dozens of empty bottles, is mourning the “loss” of Harue) is another example of Ozu resorting to hyperbole to achieve comic effect.

    As others have noted, all the characteristkc Ozu cinematographic and editing elements appear in Passing Fancy. The low camera angle is perhaps the most salient. I noticed that in Passing Fancy these angles allow viewers more complete access to the ground which serves so often as a sitting surface for the characters. Moreover, there were several shots in the film where we glimpse only the feet of the characters, such as when Kihachi’s son reaches to get his hat. The angles also facilitate our view of Kihachi’s son and his “friends” in the film. Their height precludes the use of higher angles and Ozu indeed uses the camera to give a more realistic perspective of the juveniles in the film. In both films, children play a central role and the camera angles certainly speak to this.
    Overall, Ozu’s films present a socio-historical picture of the problems of Depression-era Japan in a way that is both lighthearted (perhaps to lend some levity to the situation) and serious (and therefore realistic). The problems of his characters, wrestling with unemployment, sickness, and the problems of domestic life, represent the very real problems of Ozu’s historical moment.


  7. In Yasujiro Ozu’s Passing Fancy (1933), the use of staging, blocking, and framing devices reflect his particular style and concern with depth and spacing within the frame itself and prompt the audience to question such stylistic aspects particular to more normative Hollywood and Western cinemas. Though Bordwell suggests that many of Ozu’s films tend to break from the notion of traditional “Japaneseness,” Ozu’s manipulation of those ideals inherent in Japanese culture do lend a distinct Japanese quality to the work – particularly, Ozu’s use of aperture framing in Passing Fancy. As Bordwell suggests, aperture framing “may self-consciously recall similar tactics in prints and paintings” (355) unique to Japanese culture.
    The scenes inside Otome’s restaurant in the film illustrate Ozu’s adept use of such framing techniques. We frequently see characters delineated distinctly from each other and, for that matter, from the mise-en-scene through Ozu’s creation of a sort of scene-within-a-scene. Not only does such stylistic framing distinguish character and characterization, but it also creates a sense of depth within the frame itself. Much of Ozu’s stylistic choices throughout Passing Fancy prompt the viewer to focus upon particular characters while simultaneously scanning the entire frame which seems to extend deep beyond what we may be used to.
    Further unconventional uses of framing are revealed in Ozu’s use of blocking and emphasis upon “shots and their combination” (Bordwell 359) rather than the presentation of unifying continuity in the scene. These two stylistic trends are seemingly related in that both blocking and, what Bordwell terms, “piecemeal decoupage” act as ways to focus the viewer’s gaze and accentuate the “emotional flow of the drama” (359). In Passing Fancy we can see Ozu’s use of blocking in the scene in which Kihachi, Jiro, Otome, and Harue are conversing in Otome’s restaurant. Kihachi’s son is sitting in the background during the conversation but we are aware of his presence. When Kihachi becomes more engaged in their conversation, he steps to the side and blocks his son from view; this is significant in the fact that it reinforces the theme throughout that Kihachi’s son is an afterthought to him and his presence in Kihachi’s life is taken for granted throughout much of the film. We can see, then, that the stylistic choices Ozu makes are not necessarily for stylistic purposes only but also reveal and reinforce thematic and narrative concerns as well.



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