Tracing the unhurried history of iconic director Yasujiro Ozu

by Mark Schilling

Special To The Japan Times

Dec. 12, 1903: Yasujiro Ozu is born in Tokyo’s Fukagawa district, the second of five siblings. His father is a prosperous fertilizer wholesaler from Matsusaka, Mie Prefecture. Ozu lives in Matsusaka with his brothers and sisters from 1913 to 1924.

Aug. 2, 1923: After failing university exams and working as a substitute teacher in Mie Prefecture, Ozu enters the Shochiku studio as an assistant cameraman.

September 1927: Ozu is promoted to director and makes his first film, the now-lost period drama “Zange no Yaiba (Sword of Penitence).”

1936: Ozu directs his first sound film, “Hitori Musuko (The Only Son),” nearly five years after the cinematic release of the country’s first talkie, “Madam to Nyobo (The Neighbor’s Wife and Mine).”

Sept. 9, 1937: Ozu is conscripted into the army. He serves until July 16, 1939, which includes tours on the China front.

1943: Ozu is drafted again, but spends much of his time in Singapore, watching foreign films and working on a never-completed movie with Indian revolutionary Chandra Bose. He finally returns to Japan in February 1946.

1947: Ozu’s first postwar film, “Nagaya Shinshiroku (The Record of a Tenement Gentleman),” is released.

November 1953: “Tokyo Monogatari (Tokyo Story),” Ozu’s masterpiece, is released in Japan. It is ranked at No. 2 in the Kinema Junpo top 10 poll for the year.

1958: Ozu’s first color film, “Higanbana (Equinox Flower),” is released in Japan. Ozu shot it on Agfa film stock from Germany because he liked its reds.

1962: Ozu’s last film, the family drama “Sanma no Aji (An Autumn Afternoon),” is released in Japan. Among his longtime collaborators on this project are scriptwriter Kogo Noda, cameraman Yuharu Atsuta and actor Chishu Ryu. Setsuko Hara, the star of many Ozu classics, including “Banshun (Late Spring)” and “Tokyo Story,” made her last Ozu film appearance in the 1961 “Kohayagawa-ke no Aki (The End of Summer).”

Dec. 12, 1963: Ozu dies of throat cancer on his 60th birthday. A film Ozu and Noda were working on at the time of his death, “Daikon to Ninjin (The Radish and the Carrot),” is later directed by former Ozu assistant director Minoru Shibuya and released in 1965.