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Thursday, 30 June 2016

A Young Cinephile's Diary - Shaun Heenan discovers more Ozu and joins the queue around the block for INDEPENDENCE DAY

This week’s Fandor/Criterion selection was a large collection of Yazujiro Ozu’s dramas about family life. The films featured included the silent I was Born, But... (1932), which I have already written about on this website, as well as the beloved classics Tokyo Story (1953) and Late Spring (1949), both of which I’d already seen elsewhere. I used the opportunity to watch two more of his most widely-loved films, filling in more of the most obvious gaps in my cinema knowledge. I also made it to the cinema this week, for the first time in at least a month, though I needn’t have bothered. More on that below.

Early Summer (Yasujiro Ozu, Japan, 1951) and An Autumn Afternoon (Yasujiro Ozu, Japan, 1962) are quite similar stories about post-war Japanese families. Both films deal with the relationship between retired parents and their adult children, and both families have unmarried daughters in their twenties. The girls’ unmarried status is of great concern to the fathers in both films, and becomes the main point of discussion throughout them, involving frequent use of the phrase ‘marry her off’. The films differ greatly, though, in their treatment of this idea.

In Early Summer, the idea that the daughter, Noriko, will marry soon is assumed, in line with Japanese culture at that time. The family is concerned with her happiness, and want her to choose someone who will give her a good life. The process is largely seen from Noriko’s point of view. The later film (Ozu’s last before his death), An Autumn Afternoon, instead focuses mainly on the father, lonely since his wife’s death and desperately afraid of losing the companionship of his daughter. Here, the marriage itself, the daughter’s feelings and even the identity of the groom are barely seen as relevant. This film is about her father choosing to die alone, by setting her free. I watched An Autumn Afternoon first, and was bothered the focus on his sacrifice until I watched Early Summer. The later film only works if we have both viewpoints, and so, through complete coincidence on my part, these two functioned as a perfect pair, improving one another.

Ozu’s films from this era are quiet and measured, staying away from any high drama as the characters sadly philosophise, instead of shouting, when their worldviews are challenged. They’re subtle dramas, intensely focused on the way people actually live and feel, and their slow pace often masks their cumulative emotional impact until the final moments.

The aforementioned cinema trip was to the action-packed, decades-late sequel Independence Day: Resurgence (Roland Emmerich, USA, 2016), which my nine-year-old nephew enjoyed more than I did. I was around his age when I saw the 1996 original, and I loved it at the time. He’s lucky to have been young enough to love both, but even he admits the first film is better. The film is set twenty years after the original, in a world drawn together in peace and harmony by the realisation that there are scarier things in the universe than people with different skin colours. The aliens humanity defeated last time around come back in greater numbers, and they continue destroying the planet with frightening efficiency. I’m told that at one point the alien ship lifts up a whole continent and drops it on another, but those specifics were lost on me amongst all of the explosions and incomprehensible editing.

The first film benefited greatly from the inclusion of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, who spouted wisecracks non-stop in their own inimitable styles. Goldblum returns in a diminished capacity, but Smith does not, and most of the personality has been lost along the way. I suppose the main characters here are supposed to be the new generation of fighter pilots, but they barely even register as human, let alone entertaining. There are hints that the plot will move in some interesting directions in the already-announced third film, but we’ll deal with that once it gets here. Real actress Charlotte Gainsbourg makes an appearance as a scientist for some reason, and I guess it’s nice to see her making money.

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