Equinox Flower (1958, Yasujiro Ozu)

This came right in between the two other Ozu films I’ve seen, around the same time as The Hidden Fortress, Underworld Beauty and Giants & Toys.

Ozu’s first color film (in a very nice looking print at Emory) and the handout told us to watch for the red teapot but didn’t say why. The teapot was often anchored in the corner of the shot, a helpful indicator of which way the camera is oriented in the room. Not too familiar with Japanese traditional housing so it confused me that there was a giant opening on both sides of the living room until I noticed the teapot. That probably wasn’t the intention.

Music is nice for the most part, but turns into an icky music-box score sometimes in the home scenes. Reading what I wrote about Tokyo Story, it says Ozu’s signature line is “it’s a beautiful day”… I remember it in this movie, though I don’t know if it was during the family outing at the lake or another time, because I wasn’t listening for it.

Stars Shin Saburi (from a few other Ozu films) as Hirayama, a man to whom everyone turns for family advice. He claims that happiness for the children is the most important thing, but when it comes to his own oldest daughter (Ineko Arima from Tokyo Twilight, The Human Condition and Late Chrysanthemums) he backs down and refuses to let her marry who she wants. Hirayama’s wife (Kinuyo Tanaka, star of Life of Oharu, Flowing, The Crucified Woman, Sansho the Bailiff) patiently waits it out as he wrestles with his daughter’s decision to marry without his consent, agrees to attend her wedding at the last minute, and finally goes to visit her new home in Hiroshima to make up for having never smiled at the wedding (final shot is his train leaving).

Hirayama’s younger daughter was Miyuki Kuwano, only 16 when this came out, starred in Oshima’s Naked Youth two years later. The family’s giant-mouthed friend from Osaka with health problems, Cheiko Naniwa, appeared in Mizoguchi’s The Crucified Woman. Hirayama’s good friend (whose daughter leaves home and marries against his will, working at a bar which Hirayama visits) is the great Yoshiko Kuga, main guy from Tokyo Story and everything else, appearing in 180 films, 32 of them by Ozu.

Everything works out in the end. Hirayama is on the train, his friend is seeing his own daughter again, and the big-mouthed woman’s daughter is thinking of marrying. All the men have lots of daughters in this film – there’s a theory presented for that, but I think it was just meant for laughs. The scenes at the bar with Hirayama and his employee are pretty funny, too – I’d forgotten that Ozu was sometimes a humorist. Ozu had a co-writer, and it’s based on a novel – not trying to credit the director with every line of dialogue, but he embraced it at least.

Senses of Cinema explains the style: “There are no long takes or are there any very brief shots in his films. Each character’s contribution to a dialogue is delivered in a single shot. This technique is not however, to be confused with television dialogue where one actor looks left to the other actor looking right. Ozu’s performers are centrally placed, looking at the listener, and, at the audience. Between each dialogue scene, there is an establishing shot. These are held longer than establishing shots are in other filmmaker’s works, and they contain very little movement, or if movement is present, it occurs in the distance, often at the junction in a long corridor framed either side by the walls.”

And: “Ultimately Ozu’s films are observational. The Osaka woman may be the most annoying and irritating individual in Equinox Flower, yet she is not judged by the film. Hirayama, in his stubbornness towards his daughter and in excusing himself to escape another conversation with the Osaka woman demonstrates his human fallibility. Ozu easily identifies his characters faults, but he readily understands and forgives their foibles. Along with Renoir, he is one of the great humanists of the cinema.”

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