Bakushû (1951)


(director/writer: Yasujiro Ozu; screenwriter: Kôgo Noda; cinematographer: Yuharu Atsuta; editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura; music: Senji Itô; cast: Setsuko Hara (Noriko Mamiya), Chishu Ryu (Koichi Mamiya), Chikage Awashima (Aya Tamura), Kuniko Miyake (Fumiko Mamiya), Ichirô Sugai (Shukichi), Chieko Higashiyama (Shige), Haruko Sugimura (Tami Yabe), Ryukan Nimoto (Kenkichi Yabe), Zen Murase (Minoru Mamiya), Isao Shirosawa (Isamu Mamiya), Shuji Sano (Sotaro Satake); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Takeshi Yamamoto; New Yorker Films; 1951-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

“The usual Yasujiro Ozu masterpiece about the clash in family life over traditional and modern values in postwar Japan.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The usual Yasujiro Ozu masterpiece about the clash in family life over traditional and modern values in postwar Japan.

The economically struggling Mamiya family consists of three generations living together in Tokyo for the last sixteen years. The father Shukichi (Ichirô Sugai) and the mother Shige (Chieko Higashiyama) want to keep the family together and put off retiring to their birthplace in Yamato and live in the serene countryside with Shukichi’s brother until their 28-year-old independent-minded daughter Noriko (Setsuko Hara) is married. Noriko’s stable, workaholic older brother Koichi (Chishu Ryu) is a doctor in the hospital and is married to Fumiko (Kuniko Miyake) and they have two young spoiled boys-the older one Minoru (Zen Murase) is given to temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way and the younger one, Isamu (Isao Shirosawa), is mischievous but cute. When one adds all the friends, co-workers and neighbors introduced, the cast of characters amounts to nineteen. The characters merge together as the simple plot revolves around the Uncle’s visit, searching for a husband for Noriko and the family’s unhappy reaction to her marriage plans. The film is basically about how Noriko handles the family pressure. Ozu seems more preoccupied with the changing family attitudes in bustling postwar Japan and the strong Western influence that is speeding up the inevitable change, whereas women now have the freedom to choose their own mate and the population is consumer driven. It imaginatively mixes in Ozu’s formal style with gentle comedy (how the kids can’t be controlled anymore by their parents in this New Order). The film’s main theme can be summed up by the way the youngsters’ grandparents react with quiet despair for the kid whose lost balloon is floating past them in the sky. The balloon symbolizes loss, resignation and acceptance. In this spare film, it’s a virtue to not to want too much (something one of the characters says in her happiest hour, still not believing her good fortune, and her reaction clearly echoes the sentiments of the stalwart Ozu).

Noriko’s office boss, Mr. Satake (Shuji Sano), has a good prospect for her to marry, a successful 40-year-old fellow business director and avid golfer named Mr. Manabe. Satake gives her photos of him to show her family, and her older brother volunteers to check out the prospect–which pleases him and all the other family members when he’s approved. When Koichi’s boys run away because they wanted more tracks for their model train set as a present and instead received a loaf of bread, Noriko goes looking for them with her brother’s assistant Kenkichi Yabe (Ryukan Nimoto), who just received a promotion from Koichi and accepted a transfer to a hospital post in far away rural Akita. After retrieving the tykes at the train station (where else!), Noriko talks alone with Kenkichi’s mother (Haruko Sugimura), who can’t resist blurting out that she always hoped she would marry her son. In a rash moment, Noriko agrees to the marriage of the boy next door without Kenkichi’s knowledge (Noriko tells her sassy unmarried friend Aya (Chikage Awashima) that she suddenly realized she felt safe and happy when she was with Kenkichi, someone she has known since childhood). Kenkichi’s mother is walking on air that her son will marry the ideal mate, who is pretty, sweet, affectionate, personable and dependable. When mother tells Kenkichi the news he doesn’t seem as happy but agrees to the marriage. But Noriko’s family objects that the widower has a child and that his economic prospects are trying while Mr. Manabe, whom we never meet, would have provided a much richer lifestyle (Westernized appliances and conveniences). Noriko despite the pressure sticks to her decision, and just before she’s to leave for Akita, after a family photography-portrait session, it finally gets to Noriko that this means the family will no longer have her financial contributions to the household and will now be scattered. She excuses herself, as she breaks down in tears. The last scene shows Noriko’s parents content to be in her Uncle’s place and hoping that the family can reunite in the near future.