Yasujiro Ozu

Ozu depicts how Japan surrendered to militarism and after defeat in WW2, to a feverish industrialization and modernization, put its citizens in both these situations in a near impossible psychological turbulence. People had to forget themselves and start acting like cheerful robots. Leaving today with permanent wars and with financial collapses (created by our American financial elite) and austerity as a result, we as viewers of Ozu’s film find ourselves in similar circumstances as the Japanese people in the middle of 20th century and feel that by describing the simultaneous presence of maniacal and depressive drives in Japanese life Ozu is talking to us Americans of 21st century.

The main character of the film Sugiyama, a banker and the father of two grown-up daughters is a person whose wife abandoned him and their children long ago. Her sudden appearance in the plot is telling of mute appeal on her part – not for forgiveness but for contact, communication and confession. But buried feelings between x-spouses and them and their adult children are enveloped by an almost solemn silence. This existential silence is helped by Zen-Buddhist legacy with its meditative and anti-existential accent.

Ryu Chishu playing Sugiyama acts not only the part of a concrete person with a particular destiny but impersonates Japanese sensibility under the regime of a despotic industrialization/technologization (treating people as its slaves and servants instead of serving their interests). The “Zen”-silence about personal matters and problems resonates with political silence about social problems.

Special achievement of this film is the acting of Tetsuko Hara (famous for her work in Kurosawa’s early films) with her ability to interiorize and contain emotions of grief. Her silent torment about her family situation is colored by compassion of co-suffering with the world abandoned by the emotional care. But Tetsuko Hara is also critical about the character she plays for her inability to talk about the tormenting emotional truths, for the timidity of her smile of compassion.

The film addresses the problem that external, factual Japan is abandoned by the internal, psychological one and is going to future blindly, without spiritual guidance.

The main character of the film Sugiyama looks at the world around him, as if without recognizing it as his own

Sugiyama’s two daughters adapt to reality with two opposite psychological strategies – in the elder the compassion for people hurts her ability to understand life, and the younger is desperately trying to impose herself on indifferent circumstances.

Tokyo Twilightreview4
The mother, abandoned her family long ago recently reappeared, though without any plans to rejoin her husband and her daughters. What is the psychological and spiritual calamity behind all these withdrawals from life?

Posted on Oct 9 2011 – Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Twilight” (1957) – Zen-Buddhism, Depression and Conformism in Private and Public Life by Acting-Out Politics