Japanese screenwriter Kōgo Noda (1893-1968) and film writer-director Yasujirō Ozu (1903-1963) began their collaboration when Noda supplied the script for director Ozu’s first feature, Sword of Penitence (1927). It led to such post-War masterpieces as Tokyo Story (1953) and Floating Weeds (1959).
Ozu's films featured more varied female roles than had been seen in the past. Not surprising, then, was his skill in portraying age. Marriage and family, especially the relationships between the generations, concerned him. When the sixty-eight year old Tokyo Story mother is referred to as “old,” keep in mind that this tale [Monogatari] takes place in post-War Japan.
In The Noriko Trilogy— Banshun (Late Spring), 1949; Bakushu (Early Summer), 1951; and Tokyo Story in 1953 — his female characters are relatively independent and assertive, unlike traditional Japanese views of women. A main character is Noriko, played by Setsuko Hara (1920- ). Late Spring begins with a group of women dressed in kimono and performing tea ceremony, seated on the floor. Noriko is part of a traditional home and is close to her widowed father. A visitor does not hesitate to question why she is not married. The first signs of a changing culture and thus of changing roles for women confront Noriko. Should she remain unmarried and look after her father? She considers applying for a job as a typist, and she sometimes wears Western clothes.
Two years later, Ozu’s Early Summer does not exactly pick up the story line. Not exactly. The actor who played Noriko's father (Chishu Ryu) is now her brother, and their parents are alive. The house is full of people. Twenty-eight year old Noriko is again confronted, “Shouldn't you be getting married?” This is not a continuation of the first film but, rather, a reconfiguration. Noriko already has an office job. All the familiar camera angles in her home are reversed or altered, so that, like the characters, the setting is the same but different. Now she struggles for independence, and that includes choosing her husband. But not, of course, choosing not to marry.
The third film, Tokyo Story, is about the Hirayamas, an aged couple from the provincial seaside town of Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture in southwest Japan. Of their six children, only their youngest, schoolteacher Kyoko, their unmarried daughter, lives with them. The couple travels to post-War Tokyo to visit their other children. It is a long (pre-Shinkansen bullet train) wearisome journey. And it is going to be a let-down for them.
Now Noriko is the daughter-in-law of the actor who was her father in the first film and her brother in the second. Her parents-in-law come to Tokyo to visit their children, but their children's lives have no space for them, contrasted with Noriko’s love and hospitality. Again, her age and (re)marriage are central to the film.
Their pediatrician son promises to take them sightseeing in Tokyo, but is called away on an emergency. Their daughter promises to take them to the theater, but will not leave her beauty salon. Only Noriko, their War-widowed daughter-in-law, seems genuinely pleased to see them. She requests a day off from work to show them around Tokyo. The siblings dump them in a noisy, all-nighter spa. This is the turning point.
The elderly couple returns from the spa early, only to be sent away for the evening when their unexpected arrival interferes with a club meeting. Mrs. Hirayama spends a final evening alone with Noriko in her tiny dwelling – a not-unrealistic picture, even today. Mr. Hirayama gets drunk with the guys.
The couple’s response to indifference, ingratitude and selfishness is not outrage. At the train station the following day, Mrs. Hirayama offers her children some words of reassurance and the couple leave. From here on, the two seemingly powerless elders are facing their mortality. The mother, exhausted by the trip, is going to die. More than a half century later, can Tokyo Story tell us anything about senior power… or powerlessness?
True to form, the adult children depart immediately after the funeral for their work in Osaka and Tokyo. Noriko keeps their father company. After they leave, Kyoko complains to Noriko that they are selfish and inconsiderate, but Noriko explains that everyone has their own lives to lead and that the drift between parents and children is inevitable.
Noriko must return to work that afternoon. Her father-in-law tells her that she has treated them best despite not being related by blood. He credits her protests to humility, gives her a watch that belonged to the deceased son, and advises her to remarry. Kyoko and her father are now alone. As the train carrying Noriko chugs back to Tokyo, we see her fondle the watch.
Tokyo Story has been included in several “greatest films” lists. Ozu’s distinctive technical style was developed during the silent era. He invented the "tatami shot," in which the camera is placed low, at the eye level of a person kneeling on a tatami mat, much as Mrs. and Mr. Hirayama appear at the beginning and he at the end of the film. Two other Tokyo Story touches are the next-door neighbor bidding the Hirayamas bon voyage as they prepare for their trip and later wishes Mr. H. well following their return and the funeral… and the smoke-belching trains that come and go, in both directions— Onomichi > Tokyo.
Ozu was born in the Fukagawa district of Tokyo. Educated at a boarding school, he spent much of his time in the local cinema. He worked as a teacher before returning to Tokyo in 1923 to join the Shochiku Film Company. Known for his drinking, Kogo Noda and Ozu measured progress on their scripts by the number of emptied sake bottles. He remained single and childless, living with his mother who died less than two years before his own death, of cancer, on his 60th birthday. Setsuko Hara suddenly quit acting in 1963, the same year as his death, and has since led a secluded life in Kamakura.
His grave at Engaku-ji in Kamakura bears no name—just the character mu— "nothingness." I don’t know what led to his being buried in Kamakura. When I visited Japan in 1984, a Japanese friend informed me that we were going for a day trip to Kamakura. Towards the end of the day of sightseeing that included the giant bronze Great Buddha (Kamakura Daibutsu), he asked whether I would mind if we visited his parents.
They had made it through the War in the Pacific. My friend said that his father, a veterinarian, had been involved in increasing milk production. Now his parents resided together in a first-floor, double room in a nursing home by the sea. When we arrived, they were in their wheelchairs having afternoon snacks in the dining room, accompanied by a real live nurse (in white, with cap and pin). His father was drinking milk. With a twinkle in her eyes, his mother asked through her son “Do you dye your hair?” I saw my friend slip his father a handful of bills as we were preparing to leave.
Using the name James Maki, Ozu occasionally wrote screenplays, for example, Floating Weeds (1959), his only film in color. It has been called “visually splendid,” a late-career triumph. It is mostly about Kihachi, the leader of an itinerant acting troupe. “Floating weeds" is the Japanese name for such groups.
Kihachi returns to the provincial town where years before he had abandoned the mother of his son, now a strapping young man whom she bore and has raised alone. To avoid angering his mistress, who is a member of the troupe, and to protect himself, he pretends that he is his son’s uncle. She persuades one of the company's ingénues to seduce the boy, hoping to hurt him and his father. The plan backfires when the two fall in love. Kihachi finally acknowledges that he must move on. The troupe is forced to disband. He returns to his mistress, again deserting the mother of his son.
The same rhythmic music repeated behind the action throughout is very effective although hardly noticeable the first time you view Floating Weeds.
German film director, playwright, photographer and producer Ernst Wilhelm "Wim" Wenders (1945- ) explores Ozu’s world in Tokyo-Ga (1985) documentary. (Ga is a nominative indicator.) It features Chishu Ryu (1904-1993), a major Japanese film player and a favorite of director Ozu. Ryu appeared in 52 of his 54 films, including Tokyo Story as Mr. Hirayama, the father. He was prominent in the other Noriko Trilogy films as well. Ryu later became familiar to a new generation as the Buddhist priest in the Tora-san movie series.
These treats are in store for you in libraries and at Amazon. And on Saturday, May 26 at 4 P.M. , Japanese Storytime will be held at the Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Avenue. Stories in Japanese are told, Japanese picture books are read, and Japanese songs are sung. This is a program for children, but I’m told that adults attend too. For more information, email email@example.com.
Ozu and Noda remind me of another theatrical team – Merchant and Ivory. Merchant Ivory Productions was founded in 1961 by producer Ismail Merchant (1936-2005) and director James Ivory (1928- ). Of course, they had Ruth Prawer Jhabvala writing for them…
MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Be sure to confirm. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events and deadlines that may interest boomers, seniors and elders. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perfect Fifth, Mark Sumner, director, is an a cappella choir in UC Choral Ensembles specializing in medieval and Renaissance music—sacred and secular, as well as contemporary art music. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 510-642-4864.
Wednesday, May 2. 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours.
Also June 6, July 11, August 1, Sept. 5, Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5.
Wednesday, May 2. 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM Poetry Writing Workshop with Christina Hutchins, Albany poet and author of The Stranger Dissolves, facilitates this writing workshop. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. No registration required. Drop in and work on your poetry with a group of supportive writers. Contact: Dan Hess, 510- 526-3720 x17. Also June 6, August 1, Sept. 5, Oct. 3 and Nov. 7.
Thursday, May 3. 9 A.M. – 1 P.M. 6th Annual Senior Health and Wellness Resource Fair. Kenneth C. Aitken Senior and Community Center, 17800 Redwood Road, Castro Valley. 510-881-6738.
Thursday, May 3. 1:30 P.M. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Cherisse Baptiste from non-profit ECHO Housing will introduce Alameda County Library system audiences to the workings of the reverse mortgage, which is a loan against accumulated home equity that provides cash advances to certain homeowners at least 62 years of age. This free program is for older adults. 510-526-3720. For dates of this presentation at libraries throughout the system, call Patricia Ruscher, Older Adult Services, 510-745-1491
Saturday, May 5. 10 A. M. – 1 P.M. General meeting of the Ohlone/Eat Bay OWL. Older Women’s League. 2220 Sacramento St., Berkeley CoHousing Community room. Speaker: Owen Li, Lead Organizer of the Books Not Bars program. Contact: POB 9536, Berkeley 94709. Email: eastbay OWL@gmail.com.
Saturday, May 5. 1 P.M. Ribbon cutting ceremony. Music, Refreshments. Claremont Library Branch Library Reopening. 2940 Benvenue Ave. Library services resume at 2 P.M. Free. 510-981-6100.
Monday, May 7. 6:30 P.M. Castoffs knitting group. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. An evening of knitting, show and tell, and yarn exchange. All levels are welcome and help will be provided. Free. 510-524-3043.
Tuesday, May 8. 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM Second Tuesdays Poetry Night: Derek Mong & Annie O. Fisher. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Stanford University poet, Derek Mong, reads. He is joined by translator, Annie O. Fisher. Both writers have translated works by the Russian poet, Maxim Amelin. Featured poets followed by open mic. Contact: Dan Hess. 510- 526-3720 x17
Wednesday, May 9. 12:00 noon - 1:00 PM One-on-One Computer Tutoring: Reservation Required. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Sign up at Reference Desk. 510-526-3720. Also May 23.
Thursday, May 10. 7-8:45 P.M. Cafe Literario at West Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University Ave. Facilitated Spanish language book discussion. May title: La Casa de Dostoievsky by Jorge Edwards. Free. 510-981-6270.
Thursday, May 10. Annual Spring Luncheon & Fashion Show. The Annual Thrift Shop Fashion and Spring Luncheon, Good Ship Lollipop. Tickets went on sale Friday, April 13, at 8:30 A.M. in the Mastick Senior Center Office, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Cost of the luncheon is $16 per person. This event guarantees good food, fashion, and fun! All proceeds support Mastick Senior Center. 510-747-7510.
Friday, May 11. 8:30 A.M. – 2:30 P.M. The African American Caregiving and Wellness Forum V: The End of Alzheimer’s Starts With Me. West Oakland senior Center, 1724 Adeline Street. Registration required by April 27. 1-800-272-3900.
Sunday, May 13. 12-4:30 P.M., 1:30 - 2:45 P.M. Hertz Concert Hall. Concert and Commencement Ceremony. Sponsor: Department of Music. Concert featuring award winners in the performing arts. Open to all audiences. Event Contact: email@example.com, 510-642-4864.
Monday, May 14. 12:30 - 1:30 PM. Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker's Forum: SFMOMA's Peter Samis, associate curator of interpretation, discusses the topic: EXPERIENCING THE WORLD OF MODERN ART THROUGH NEW TECHNOLOGIES. The forum is co-sponsored by the Albany YMCA and the Albany Library, 1237 Marin Av. Contact: Ronnie Davis(510) 526-3720 x16
Monday, May 14. 7:00 P.M. Identity Theft Program. Barbara Jue, a Legal Shield associate, will offer information and advice on how to prevent identity theft and how to cope should it happen. She will also talk about children and computer use and cyber bullying. Q&A follows. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. Free. 510-524-3043.
Tuesday, May 15. 6 – 8 P.M. Free Legal Workshop: Alternatives to Foreclosure. Steven Mehlman, a local attorney, will offer an informational session to explain the pros and cons of each financial decision to help you make the right choice for your situation. Sponsored by the Contra Costa County Bar Association. El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Avenue. 510-526-7512.
Wednesday, May 16. 7-8 P.M. Evening Book Group. Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Moderated by Rosalie Gonzales. 510-526-3720.
Saturday and Sunday, May 19 and 20. 10 A.M. – 4 P.M. Friends of the Albany Library BOOK SALE. 1247 Marin Ave. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 510-526-3720. Please do not bring donations during the two weeks prior to the sale.
Monday May 21. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club: Color of the Sea by John Hamamura. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. Free. 61 Arlington Av. 510-524-3043.
Tuesday, May 22. 3 – 4 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. Tea and Cookies at the Library. A free monthly book club for people who want to share the books they have read. 510-981-6100.
Wednesday, May 23. 12:00 noon - 1:00 PM One-on-One Computer Tutoring: Reservation Required. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Sign up at Reference Desk. 510-526-3720.
Wednesday, May 23. 1:30 - 2:30 PM Great Books Discussion Group: Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Group meets on the fourth Wednesday of the month. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. Contact: Ronnie Davis(510) 526-3720 x16
Sunday, May 27. 130-4:30 P.M. Book Into Film: Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn at Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Read the book at home. Watch the movie together. Discuss the book, film and adaptation as a group. Registration required- call 510-981-6236 to sign up.
Wednesday, May 30. 12 Noon-1 P.M. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Public Library.
2090 Kittredge. Meets weekly to read aloud from great plays, changing parts frequently. Intended for adult participants. 510-981-6100.
Monday, June 4. 6:30 P.M. "Castoffs" - Knitting Group. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. An evening of knitting, show and tell, and yarn exchange. All levels are welcome and help will be provided. Free. 510-524-3043.
Wednesday, June 6. 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. Also August 1, Sept. 5, Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5.
Monday, June 18. 7 P.M. Art historian Michael Stehr will discuss Gian Lorenz Bernini, who was the Michelangelo of the Baroque. He will also present a slide show. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. Free. 510-524-3043.
Monday June 25. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club: The Chosen by Chaim Potok. 61 Arlington Av. Free. 510-524-3043.
Wednesday, June 27. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. July’s People by Nadine Gordimer. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720.
Sunday, July 8. 1 – 4:30 P.M. The 2012 Berkeley Rent Board Convention will be held in the main meeting room of the downtown, central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge, corner of Shattuck. A slate of candidates for the November 2012 election will be chosen. Contact: www.berkeleyrentboard.org 510-981-6100.
Wednesday, July 11 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. Also August 1, Sept. 5, Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5.
Wednesday, August 22. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. Selections from The Bhagavad Gita. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720.
Wednesday, Sept. 26. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720.
Wednesday, October 24. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. Troth, by Gregor von Rezzon. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720.
Wednesday, November 28. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. Sunday Morning, by Wallace Stevens. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720.