In Yasujirô Ozu’s Words: The Change of Seasons

I tried to show the collapse of the Japanese family system through showing children growing up.

Yasujirô Ozu

Ozu’s post-war work, during the time when he made his most memorable films, is characterized by the same theme which is presented over and over. In his own words, he presents the “collapse of the Japanese family system”, mainly portraying the tension and conflict (most notably in Equinox Flower) between the older generation, which was socialized before the Pacific War (it is not entirely accurate to speak of WWII when it comes to Japan, since the nation practically did not participate in the war on the European soil or in Africa, they were engaged in a war in China, the Sino-Japanese conflict etc.) and the younger generation, which was socialized after the war.

The younger generation plays baseball, it is influenced by American culture in general, it is imbued with the values of freedom of choice and the pursuit of individual happiness. The older generation, on the other hand, values traditional mores, arranged marriages and distinctly Japanese culture. We cannot say that there are no strong filial bonds between them, nevertheless, radically different ethical paradigms are characteristic for each generation. Arranged marriages – of consensual nature, are the most characteristic source of conflict in Ozu’s films, but the younger generation, women to be more precise, have a Confucian moral stance toward the care after their parents in their old age, and are reluctant to marry.

These tensions are overcome in the end, but by observing their conflicts we can acquire great knowledge and understanding of the unique clash between the young and the old, and their differing moral paradigms; they grew up in different political systems; the old were raised by the moral code shared by practically all members of the nation. Alasdair MacIntyre, in his book After Virtue, speaks of the failure of the Jacobin clubs “and their downfall to reinvent morality on the scale of the nation when the very idiom of morality which you seek to re-invent is alien in one way to the vast mass of ordinary people…”. The older generations were trying to instil the values of arranged marriage to the younger, while on the other hand, as MacIntyre says, the very idiom of morality they seek to instil is alien to the vast mass of younger people.

This conflict between different moral idioms is shown in different ways, but the theme is the same. In his Tokyo Twillight, we can observe the life of a young woman whose mother left her when she was young. We see her struggles in life and the struggles of her father as well, shown in the ambient permuted by dark shadows and opaque setting, which portrays the doom of traditional values. In Tokyo Story, Ozu’s most famous film, we can observe the neglect which old mother and father experience by their children in the great city of Tokyo. Examples can be numerous, and Ozu’s vision is authentic and thrutful as it can be; it can give great insight about Western societies.

While we observe the radical shift which ocurred during the lifespan of one generation in Japan, we can see the transformation which happened centuries ago in Europe. Ozu’s films are often named after seasons and the particular time which characterizes that season; for example Late Spring or The End of Summer. Film titles often have a symbolic message, and we can induce that they imply the fact that Ozu considered this change in social mores to be a natural thing. Old mores are fading, the new are emerging, the next season will come, new struggles will begin. We cannot escape the sense of nostalgia when we watch these films, but when it comes to Ozu, he does not imply a cataclysm, but a gradual and natural change which brings new dangers, but also new joys and happiness.  


5 responses to “In Yasujirô Ozu’s Words: The Change of Seasons”

  1. I’m not as familiar with Ozu as I should be, but that was a great essay. I could definitely see that argument looking at older Japanese films compared to the more recent works from that country (live action and animated). You see more of a Western influence even to the point of using English loanwords or phrases in everyday Japanese speech. There’s even more sports that have been represented including an actual NFL Japan branch that actually consulted the American Football anime series Eyeshield 21. Not only are arranged marriages considered passe, but you don’t see as many marriages or families compared to generations ago as Japan has adopted more of a career-culture compared to a family-culture (that’s something you REALLY see here in America). That and you have many people living single even into their 30s and 40s either because of their career priorities, but also because of a slight cultural shift in not wanting to be married.


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