Ozu (2021) review [OAFF 2021]

Introduction

With Ozu (2021), Zon Pilone delivers his third Yasujiro Ozu-inspired film. Yet, in contrast to Sadao (2018) and Setsuko (2020) Zon Pilone’s does not concern the fictional triangle between Yasujiro Ozu, Setsuko Hara, and the forgotten master Sadao Yamanaka, but re-asses, in a meta-textual manner, various plot-elements and characters from Ozu’s work (e.g. the dark Tokyo Twilight (1957) and A Hen in the Wind (1948)) in a modern setting.

Review

One night, Akiko (Yuki Morishima) asks Hiroshi (-) why he never confessed his love for her older sister Noriko (Ai Nakamura). Suddenly, much to his surprise, she throws herself at him and urges him to marry her. He refuses. Not that much later, Akiko, who has realized she is pregnant, meets the supposed father of the child, Kenji (Shinomiya Masaru), to discuss their future. Noriko, for that matter, is struggling with her moody husband, Ryosuke (Shinya Yoshinaga). One day, he surprises her by asking her if a divorce would not be better for them.

While Zon Pilone’s Ozu uses certain plot-elements from Tokyo Twilight and A Hen In The Wind, the narrative that results from this mix is entirely his. The elements that Zon Pilone extracts from Tokyo Twilight concerns the familial structure – two daughters and their father – and the state the daughters finds themselves in – the youngest becomes pregnant, the eldest daughter struggles with her unhappy marriage. The meeting between Noriko’s husband and the prostitute, who prostitutes herself out of desperation, is modelled on a similar meeting A Hen In The Wind.

Ozu (2021) by Zon Pilone

Why does Zon Pilone revisits some of these plot-elements from Ozu’s past? One can, in our view, understand his choice in two ways. Either it is to underline the continued relevance of certain themes of Ozu’s work for contemporary Japan or a way to confront the spectator with the fact that certain dynamics of the past are still functional in so-called modernized Japan.

One thematic element that Zon Pilone, just like Ozu, explores in his narrative is male patriarchy. He does not only touch upon the exploitation of the female subject for male pleasure, but he also lays bare that many problematic dynamics are function of the structurally unsure status of the phallus. Let us note that the conflicts between Noriko and Ryosuke are always function of a certain threat to his phallic status. The reason why gets angry when Noriko mentions she borrowed money from Hiroshi, is because the reality of the meeting of his wife with Hiroshi puts his fantasmatical phallic position into question.  

But one can also formulate their marital dynamic in a different and more precise manner: is it precisely because his lack – i.e. his castration – is (too) sensible for him that he needs his wife in a submissive position, because her submission allows him to hold on to the phallic fantasy. The mistreatment of Noriko by her husband is, in other words, function of a conflict between the lack that he does not want and the phallus that he cannot hold on to.

Ozu (2021) by Zon Pilone

The bond between Ryuosuke and Fusako (Ayano Kawabata), the 21 years sex-worker, for that matter, reveals that some male subjects need a support in the social field to satisfy, albeit temporally, their phallic fantasy, their need to feel their potency. But at another level, Zon Pilone underlines that, even today, certain female subjects feel forced to enter the field of prostitution. While these female subjects choose to become a prostitute, these women only choose this field of work because, from their perspective, it was the only way to escape a certain problematic social constellation – it was, in other words, a choice that was forced upon them.  

Another element that Zon Pilone touches upon concerns the reality of pregnancies happening outside wedlock. He confronts us with the fact that, even in contemporary Japan, female subjects are reluctant to reveal their accidental pregnancy with the parental other and that this perceived inability to talk about their pregnancy often leads to disastrous consequences for both mother and child.  

The composition of Ozu stands out due to its simplicity – a simplicity vaguely reminiscent of Ozu’s compositional work. Zon Pilone frames his narrative with a concatenation of static shots that is, in some rare instances, broken by a slow spatial shot or a following shot (Cine-note 1). This reliance on cinematographical fixity allows Zon Pilone to craft some truly beautiful visual moments. These visually pleasing moments are not only function of an artful play with architectural geometry or the effective framing of beautiful sights of nature, but also by the geometrical play that the movement of the characters create on the screen. That the play with on-screen movement can visually please the spectator is, in our view, due to the subtle theatricality that marks the performances (Music-note 1). Near the end, Zon Pilone adds some subtle formal experiments to his composition, but sadly the added value of these formal experiments for the unfolding of the narrative is not always clear.  

Ozu (2021) by Zon Pilone

Ozu is a finely composed narrative that succeeds in revealing that various themes of Ozu’s narrative have not yet lost their relevance for the contemporary spectator – the phallic fantasy that animates the patriarchal dynamic, the forced choice to become a sex-worker, and the perceived impossibility to share one’s pregnancy with the familial other. Yet, despite being inspired by some of Ozu’s finest narratives, Zon Pilone’s aesthetically pleasing Ozu cannot compete with the refined work of the master.

Notes

Cine-note 1: The credits sequence is, contrary to the composition of the narrative, framed with more dynamism.

Music-note 1: This theatricality is, in a few instances, emphasized by the lyrical classical music accompaniment.

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