Ozu’s rare take on ‘Tokyo Twilight’


A Yasujiro Ozu film is instantly exhilarating because of the tension between his rigorously economic style, with its profoundly evocative images, and his warm compassion for the Japanese. It lifts his films, the bulk of which were made in the 1930s and ‘50s, to a level far above the ordinary.

On Saturday, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is presenting a 50th anniversary screening of “Tokyo Twilight,” one of the most important yet most atypical of Ozu’s films. Long ago, Donald Richie, the pioneering American film historian of Japanese cinema, observed that the world of Ozu’s film is that of the family. Ozu was preoccupied with the separation of parent and child, but here it takes its most drastic form and in doing so may well be Ozu’s timeliest work.

Chishu Ryu, Ozu’s archetypal dignified patriarch, plays a middle-aged Tokyo banker, a single father whose married daughter (Setsuko Hara) has returned home with her baby daughter, fleeing marriage to a hard-drinking, thin-skinned professor. Her younger sister (Ineko Arima), a student, has become disastrously involved with a shallow, immature youth -- just as her mother (Isuzu Yamada), who deserted the family, has resurfaced in the neighborhood with her current husband.


Ozu is not concerned with why the mother left the family but rather the devastating consequences her departure had upon her younger daughter, who was but 3 years old.

“Tokyo Twilight” resurfaces at a time when the lasting effects of a family’s breakup upon children are being addressed more forthrightly than ever before. Ozu cherishes tradition but accepts the inevitability of loss and change, and is as all-embracing as Jean Renoir. His people may judge and not forgive, often understandably, but as one of the greatest filmmakers he does not do so. He even has faith that children have the capacity to learn from their parents’ mistakes and not repeat them.

-- Kevin Thomas

“Tokyo Twilight,” LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. 7:30 p.m. Saturday. $9. (323) 857-6000,