Japanese auteur Yasujiro Ozu’s delicate, wry comedy of manners takes a sympathetic but not uncritical look at life and etiquette in a small 1950s Japanese village community.
The architecture is traditional, but one home now has television, and life will never be the same. The adults wear traditional dress, but the children go to school in sweatshirts and jeans and study English at home.
The story loosely revolves around a vow of silence taken by two boys in protest of their parents’ refusal to buy a television — a key instance of the film’s theme of communication, of what we say, how we say it, and what it all means.
Formality and courtesy attend adult interactions, but beneath the surface lurk petty misunderstandings, resentments, suspicions. A boy complains that adult conversation is bloated with meaningless, empty pleasantries, while his friends prefer to engage each other with an amusement that appears to be an Asian equivalent of “Pull my finger.” (One forlorn youth is disastrously bad at the game, and his parents have no idea why he regularly soils his pants.)
Ultimately, Ozu wisely highlights both the necessity of trivial social chatter as profoundly necessary to personal interaction, and also the potential danger of allowing inconsequential filler to spare us having to say what really matters.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.