Friday, October 01, 2010

Ozu at IFC: Equinox Flower

As great as so many of Yasujiro Ozu’s films were, most would have been nearly impossible to remake in an American context. Though their settings were contemporary, the sociological details, such as the frequent drama arising from attempts to arrange marriages, would have been nearly impossible to transpose to 1950’s America. Yet, because and despite of their quintessential Japaneseness, Ozu’s film are justly recognized as masterworks of world cinema. Marriage arrangements again play a central role in Equinox Flower, Ozu’s first color film, which screens today at the IFC Center as part of their ongoing Ozu weekend series.

The prosperous Wataru Hirayama is widely respected as a pillar of his community. As a result, his old classmate Mikami trusts him to check up on his daughter Fumiko, who has left home to pursue a relationship he did not sanction. She has fallen for a musician—no further explanation needed there. He also counsels Yukiko, a young friend of the family, who resents her mother’s constant attempts to arrange her marriage. In both cases, he largely sides with the young women, agreeing they should follow their hearts. Of course, that advice is for other people. When his daughter Setsuko chooses her own prospective husband without the benefit of his guidance, he takes it rather badly.

Perhaps no filmmaker made black-and-white film feel as warm and intimate as Ozu. Conversely, in Flower’s early scenes, Ozu’s use of color looks rather pedestrian. However, as the film progresses, the master filmmaker makes evocative use of the bright neon lights of the Ginza district and the lush greens of the golf course (Hirayama’s sanctuary).

Again, the themes might be familiar Ozu territory, but he nimbly navigates the variations, even in color. Perhaps what most distinguishes Flower is the vaguely flirtatious but never inappropriate friendship that develops between Hirayama and Yukiko. It is the kind of sweetly chaste relationship that is so rarely found in film. As Yukiko, Fujiko Yamamoto is indeed a vivacious screen presence, infusing charm and energy in all her scenes. Whereas Sin Saburi is nearly pitch perfect as the grouchy father torn between progress and tradition. It is a deeply humane portrait—the sort of stuff Ozu’s films are made of.

A transitional movie for Ozu (switching to color) about social transition, Flower has an elegant power that transcends cultural boundaries. A masterful film, Flower is an excellent example of Ozu’s sensitive artistry. Warmly recommended, it screens this weekend (10/1-10/3) at the IFC Center.