This 1959 film follows a down on its luck troupe of actors as they visit a small Japanese seaside village in the late 1950’s to perform popular plays on a small community stage. What emerges over time is that the head of the troupe has a history in this village and spends much of his free time with his former lover, now middle aged. She has a son, a bright young man who, while working in the local post office, entertains thoughts of going to college.
Over the course of the movie a variety of emotional lines intertwine and, due to the great and humane skill of director Ozu (Tokyo Story, Good Morning), they never veer into melodrama. Instead, we see real people and real human emotions. It’s a very “Japanese” film, yet these people and their hopes and fears are immediately recognizable.
It’s not a fast moving film. The story and the character unfold gradually. We get to know them almost on a leisurely basis. Younger folks or those who prefer fast cuts and lots of action may be turned off.
But this film is rewarding. We see reflected here real people and real hopes, dreams, and disappointments.
The most interesting extra on this Criterion DVD is the running commentary provided by Roger Ebert. He admits outright that he is not an “expert” on director Ozu and names those he does consider to be experts.
Still, his commentary is enlightening as he points out the special qualities of Ozu’s direction. He notes, for example, how Ozu goes counter to common directorial practice in setting up how characters onscreen talk and look (or don’t look) at each other from scene to scene. He also points out Ozu doesn’t use “fancy” techniques or effects, preferring instead to focus very sparely on the story and the characters. Basic elements such as color and set arrangement make some frames appear almost like art prints, even though what is being depicted is mundane and natural.
Never overly technical, Ebert expresses great admiration and affection for Ozu’s film, all of which is well deserved.
Copyright (c) 2005 by Dennis D. McDonald