Friday, September 24, 2010

Ozu at IFC: Tokyo Twilight

Marrying off daughters is a tricky business. Shukichi Sugiyama largely botched the job with his eldest daughter Takako, whereas he might have waited too long with his youngest, Akiko. However, it is mother issues that plague the young women in Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Twilight, which screens this Friday at the IFC Center as part of their continuing Ozu weekend series.

Old man Sugiyama enjoys the company of his daughters, but their domestic lives are out of equilibrium. Takako has left her husband, moving back into her father’s house with her young daughter. Akiko never left, but she is clearly restless. Having fallen in with a fast crowd, she is desperately seeking her no-account boyfriend, which obviously portends bad news. Instead, she finds a mahjong parlor proprietress of roughly the same age as her long deserted mother, who seems to know an awful lot about the family.

Kisako Soma is indeed the girls’ mother. Clearly regretting their separation, she is eager for reconciliation, but her daughters will have none of it. We get the distinct impression there is more to her story of abandonment than meets the eye, but viewers will not get to hear it, since Takako and Akiko are not listening.

Though certainly restrained, Twilight is rather unapologetically melodramatic by Ozu’s standards. Yet, many of his frequent themes reappear in spades. In fact, the closing scene between Takako and her father surprisingly parallels that of Late Spring and Early Summer, though it reaches that point via a more tragic route. Ozu regular Setsuko Hara again personifies filial duty, but she projects an uncharacteristically severe presence as Takako. By contrast, Ineko Arima is hauntingly frail as Akiko, but the film’s real pathos comes from Isuzu Yamada’s moving performance as the prodigal mother Soma. All too aware of her terrible mistakes, she cuts a heartbreaking figure.

Twilight displays all the hallmarks of Ozu’s style, but at a relatively expansive 140 minute running time, there are a few extraneous distractions along the way. Still, when Ozu lowers the emotional boom, it is definitely heavy. As usual, Yuuhara Atsuta’s black and white cinematography has a warm, soothing quality, while also capturing a tactile sense of post-war Japanese daily life. Though Hara again demonstrates a movie star command of the screen, it is Yamada’s devastating work that really distinguishes Twilight. A worthy representative of the auteur’s body of work, Twilight screens this weekend (9/24-9/26) at the IFC Center.