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Ysujiro Ozu’s Biography: Japanese Director Life and Career


Yasuhiro Ozu was born on 12 December 1903 in the Fukagawa district of Tokyo where his parents were residing. His father provided for the family by selling fertilizer, and he was forced to send his children to his rural home in Matsusaka because the urban life was very expensive. Ozu attended Meiji Nursery and primary schools and later joined Ujiyamada High School at the age of 13 years. His favorite sport was judo, and when he was admitted to be a border at the school, he spends most of his time practicing it.

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He was on the wrong side of the school administration because of skipping classes to watch films in the nearby urban center (Richie 19). His favorite movie was The Last Days of Pompei, and he could not miss a session whenever it was showing in the local cinema halls. The lack of stringent rules that ensured children were not allowed to enter cinema halls enabled him to visit many local showrooms, watch movies at the expense of his education, and work at home.

Critics believe that his interest in film production cropped from the many instances he had encountered regarding movies and how they were produced (Standish 11). They claim that he was surprised that most movies, including local and foreign, had western themes, and their presentations lacked variation.

Therefore, he started thinking of the possibilities of having a movie that would depict Japanese practices and would be produced without the fanfare screen presentations that falsify themes, characters, and styles (Schrader and Richie 31). Unconfirmed sources claim that he had homosexual tendencies, and that is why he never married, and there is no instance in his life where he was involved in an intimate affair with a lady.

In addition, others argue that he was expelled from boarding at the age of 17 years because of expressing interest in having an intimate relationship with a boy in a lower class. This expulsion forced him to commute to school by train every day and thus offered him opportunities to watch movies during weekends and after school hours (Richie 37).

He applied for admission at Kobe University to study economics, but his application was declined on two occasions. In 1922 he applied for admission into a teacher training college but did not get the minimum entry grade. However, he did not give up and pursued his dream of becoming a teacher by applying to teach at a school in Mie area.

His interest in movies did not die despite the remoteness of this region, and he traveled from the school to nearby centers to watch movies during weekends. His death is among the most controversial because it occurred on a similar date as his birthday. Some people argue that he committed suicide even though most records show that he died after struggling with cancer for a long time.

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Other critics believe that his closeness to his mother may have contributed to his early death after she died (Schrader and Richie 38). They argue that he was very close to her, and her death troubled him very much. A minor percentage of critics claim that he may have committed suicide because he was unable to tame the western film ideology that was gaining popularity in Japan.

Film Career

Ozu’s film career started by default and the presence of his uncle in the Shochiku Film Company enabled him to get a job in this organization as an assistant in the cinematography sector (Stringer and Phillips 28). His father was against this idea and wanted him to be a teacher because he had not seen any successful Japanese producer. In addition, acting and singing were not professional careers according to his father, and that is why he was determined to ensure Ozu became a teacher or military officer.

He rose in ranks after attending a military academy, and by 1926 he was a third assistant director in the company and continued to build his screenwriting skills during his free time. He was summoned by the studio’s director to explain why he had physically abused another employee, but this offered him an opportunity to present his writing prowess to the highest office in the company (Richie 59). This followed promotions, including becoming the director of the period film department in 1927.

This office gave him adequate time to sharpen his writing skills and concentrate on producing his first film called Sword of Penitence. This opportunity enabled him to meet and interact with Kogo Noda. They agreed that he would dramatize Ozu’s story and later Kogo became his college.

The year 1928 was a fruitful and turning point for his career when the head of his studio (Shiro Kido) recommended that the company should focus on making short comedy films without any star actors to attract the local and international market that was tired of common stage names (Standish 33). Ozu seized this opportunity and made a series of these films without knowing that this was going to mark a turning point in his life and the cinema industry.

This explains why most critics argue that Ozu did not have a plan regarding his film production because most things happened just by coincidences that favored his side. He started developing such distinctive characteristic of his movies as a low camera position in 1928 when he made his first movie called Body Beautiful (released on 1 December 1929). This followed a series of films that did not feature any stars (Stringer and Phillips 59).

All actors were given equal roles, and those that had more responsibilities were not made to appear superior to others. In 1929 (September) he made his first film with stars called I Graduated but… with Kinuyo Tanaka and Minoru Takada as the main actors. This won the confidence of the director and the company and thus enabled him to be endowed with the An Introduction to Marriage top star Sumiko Kurishima in 1930 (Schrader and Richie 43).

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The director had no choice but to invite him on a trip to a hot spring to recognize, appreciate and encourage him to continue making astounding productions that improved the image of the company and generated reasonable returns. He developed and used the name James Maki as a pen name for his career as a screenwriter.

His film Young Miss won him admiration from the international scene, and it was evident that he had become a big name in the film making the industry. He appeared in the film magazine Kinema Jumpo’s for the first time after producing this film, and that is when his works caught the attention of international film producers.

Another unique aspect that distinguished his works was the 1932 film I Was Born, But… that got the attention of social critics who ridiculed him for using serious overtones on youths. This caused a heated debate in the Japanese movie industry because social critics believed that the movie was inappropriate for adolescents because it promoted the use of vulgar language and promoted pornographic activities among them.

However, these debates did more good than harm to his reputation because they enabled him to focus on issues that generate national interests and get the attention of Japanese and other nationals. The criticism he received in 1932 made him famous, and that is why he was contacted by the Ministry of Education to make a short documentary featuring Kokiguro VI (Stringer and Phillips 71).

He used the soundtrack, Kagami Shishi. It was a title of Kabuki dance that was carried out by Kokiguro VI. He was very reluctant to switch to the production of these types of movies even though most of the other filmmakers had already started embracing the new technique. However, he reluctantly started making talk films by producing The Only Son in 1936. It is not known why he did not achieve box-office success even though he had received countless praises, awards, and criticism from the public and film producers.

Ozu’s film career was marked by interruptions when he joined the military, and most people predicted his long absence from this industry. However, he had a unique way of bouncing back and hitting harder when his absence started germinating. Most people thought that the Second Sino-Japanese War would dump his spirit and discourage him from continuing with music production, but it seems the war rejuvenated his spirit and gave him opportunities to widen his perception about the film industry (Standish 51).

He always came with new ideas and techniques that transformed the film industry, and this means that the war offered him opportunities to mediate on his career and identify what he had to do to improve it. It is not easy for a producer to focus on two unrelated issues and at the same time keep mind stable.

Most people that join the military abandon their past careers and focus on issues about wars, weapons, battlefields, and enemies; however, Ozu was different, and his performance after the war was better than previous ones (Schrader and Richie 51).

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It is easy to conclude that he decided not to get married to ensure he was able to concentrate on his family and visit his sick mother without disturbance. In addition, film production kept him very busy, and that is why his life had no known instances of a woman who influenced him. The public expects him to have a string of scandals that are common in the film industry, but Ozu’s life is plain and has no question marks when it comes to social issues (Richie 66).

It is necessary to explain that the development of the modern film industry has not had a significant impact on the legacy that Ozu left, and thus Japan continues to celebrate him for his astounding achievements. His film production skills focus on important issues that the producer wants to present to the public.

He avoided scenes that create unnecessary emotions and concentrated on the major themes that motivated authors to write their works. He is known for making masterpieces like Late Spring, The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice and Tokyo Story in 1949, 1952 and 1953 respectively. Most foreign countries did not recognize or appreciate his works until the 1960s when Japan could no longer hold his prowess.

Works Cited

Richie, Donald. Ozu: His Life and Films. California: University of California Press, 1977. Print.

Schrader, Paul and Donald Richie. A Hundred Years of Japanese Film: A Concise History, with a Selective Guide to DVDs and Videos. New York: Kodansha, 2012. Print.

Standish, Isolde. A New History of Japanese Cinema: A Century of Narrative Film. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2006. Print.

Stringer, Julian and Alistair Phillips. Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.

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