10 Essential Yasujiro Ozu Films You Need To Watch

6. Tokyo Story (1953)

Tokyo Story (1953)

The aging Shukishi Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) and his wife, Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama), visit their children in Tokyo. Their son, Koichi (So Yamamura), finds his parents to be burdensome, so he sends them to his sister, Shige (Sugimura Haruko), who sends her parents to a hot spring spa. Noriko (Setsuko Hara), the wife of their missing son, is the only one who will accept them. Upon their return home to Onomichi, Tomi discovers she is critically ill and dies. The children return to pay their respects to their mother.

Tokyo Story revolves around the simple story of parents visiting their busy/uncaring children. Ozu delicately explores themes of conflicting morals, conflicting generations, and selfishness. He gives attention to time and space, using his signature “pillow shots” to create a lyrical study of frail human bonds. His honest and powerful storytelling makes Tokyo Story a timeless masterpiece that is still watched to this day.

“Greatest Films of All Time” lists are often considered incomplete if they don’t feature this marvelous masterpiece.


7. Floating Weeds (1959)

floating weeds

An acting troupe returns to the coastal town where its leader, Komajuro Arashi (Ganjiro Nakamura), fathered a son, Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), with Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura). The troupe disbands due to lack of attendance, leaving Komajuro to grow closer to his former lover. As his current lover, Sumiko (Machiko Kyo), grows jealous, Komajuro must endure a series of events that will lead to the revelation of his paternity.

Floating Weeds is a remake of Ozu’s 1929 film, A Story of Floating Weeds. The film masterfully depicts Komajuro’s attempt to make up lost time with his lover and to recognize Kiyoshi as his son. As in any Ozu film, no choice is without its consequences. Floating Weeds is a superbly imagined film that takes characters and stories out of everyday life.


8. Late Autumn (1960)

Late Autumn (1960)

Mamiya (Shin Saburi), Taguchi (Nobuo Nakamura), and Hirayama (Ryuji Kita) look for a husband for the daughter of their late friend, Miwa. When the daughter, Ayako (Yoko Tsukasa), says that she prefers to take care of her mother, Akiko (Setsuko Hara), instead of marrying, the three men hatch a plan to marry one of themselves off to Akiko.

Late Autumn is, in some ways, a continuation of Late Spring. Ozu continues to depict the disintegration of familial bonds, especially those between parents and children. It is a refreshing story tinged with subtle humor, which in itself masks other emotions. The film closes with a powerful image of Akiko alone, again referring to inevitable separations that we encounter in life.


9. The End of Summer (1961)

The End of Summer (1961)

Kohayagawa Manbei (Ganjiro Nakamura) runs a failing sake business in Kansai. While his youngest daughter, Noriko (Yoko Tsukasa), and his widowed daughter-in-law, Akiko (Setsuko Hara), are getting married, Manbei secretly visits his mistress, Tsune (Chieko Naniwa), and his illegitimate daughter, Yuriko (Reiko Dan). Manbei’s death leads to revelations of family secrets, which force the younger generations to make tough decisions about their lives.

The End of Summer is Ozu’s penultimate film, examining Ozu’s signature themes of family, devotion, and marriage (albeit through a darker and more complex lens). The film follows three generations of people who struggle to adapt to social and emotional changes. The film also features shots of graveyards and “New Japan” in neon lights, alluding to the passage of time (Manbei’s death is even marked by a shot of crows perched on his headstone).


10. An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

Shuhei Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) is an aging widower with a married son, Koichi (Keiji Sada), and two unmarried children, Michiko (Shima Iwashita) and Kazuo (Shinichiro Mikami). Hirayama and his five friends frequently visit a restaurant (owned by one of the friends). During one of their outings, they meet an old teacher whose daughter (after years of caring for her father) is past her prime an unable to marry. Startled by this story, Hirayama sets out to find a husband for Michiko.

An Autumn Afternoon is Ozu’s visually captivating swan song. It combines all of Ozu’s signature themes and techniques, showing traditions and familial bonds that are trying to survive in a modern Japan. Throughout his career, Ozu has never abandoned the techniques and themes that have made his films so powerful. To examine and analyze Ozu’s body of work is to realize that he is one of the greatest filmmakers who understood the changing states of human life.

Author Bio: Nuwantha is an IT grad student from Sri Lanka with a passion for Arthouse and Indie cinema from all around the globe.