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6 Essential Films by Yasujirō Ozu For Beginners

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6 Essential Films by Yasujirō Ozu For Beginners

One of the greatest filmmakers to ever live, Yasujirō Ozu, built a storied career on making deceptively simple but profound films that reach far beyond their modest package. Inductees into the Ozu fan club will tell you that no other director has expressed so much with so little, that the Japanese master’s influence is utterly inescapable. Filmmaker and theorist Paul Schrader—who focused a lengthy section of his book Transcendentalism in Film on Ozu’s work—has championed Ozu as one of the world’s greatest cinematic artists. Even Wes Anderson’s signature picture-perfect aesthetic can be traced back to Ozu’s obsessively-neat framing, as seen in filmmaker Kogonada’s visual essays comparing the two. Given his influence, and given the utter timelessness and beauty of his work, Ozu remains one of the most crucial directors of all. Not just film-buffs, but anybody who enjoys movies should at some point reach Ozu.

Perhaps due to his large body of work, as well as his notoriously slow-paced style, Ozu’s work can admittedly be difficult to get into. Many of his mid-career films feature variations of seasonally-inspired titles, and from a distance, it can be easy to get them confused. Although his surviving body of work is nearly faultless, there are a few that can serve as an ideal entryway to this endlessly rewarding treasure trove of cinema. So let’s take a look at six of his most crucial works, and don’t forget to bring your tissues.

RELATED: The Best Charlie Chaplin Movies for Classic Film Beginners

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Late Spring

In 1949, after breaking through to sound films a decade before, Ozu released Late Spring, one of his most acclaimed and notable works. His first in a number of seasonally-titled films, and also his first with his long-time muse and leading lady Setsuko Hara, the film establishes many of the signature techniques and narrative themes that the director would continue to study for the rest of his illustrious career. The premise, as typical with Ozu, is simple. Unmarried Noriko (Hara) is the only daughter of widower Shuchiki (Chishū Ryū). The two live peacefully together, Noriko taking care of her father’s needs until societal pressure for the young woman to marry begins to creep in.

While Late Spring is only one of many Ozu films that examine the Japanese transition to a postwar setting, it remains one of his most succinct studies of the topic. Widowers and divorcees, defiant to transition, remarry. Signs advertising Coca-Cola protrude from the otherwise unmarked roadside. Noriko is the quintessential modern woman, perfectly comfortable in her independent life and seeing little reason to marry simply for marriage’s sake. Ozu tells this all with his trademark simplicity, a deceptively straightforward style that hides layers of significance under subtle dialogue and deeply metaphorical images. When Late Spring culminates in two of the most beautiful expressions of human emotion ever committed to film, it’s likely to tear up even the driest eye.

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Tokyo Story

What can be said about Tokyo Story that hasn’t already been screamed from the rooftops by cinephiles around the world? There’s a reason why the film is even still frequently topping lists of the greatest films ever made by critics and filmmakers alike: it really is that good. Though the director still had eight more movies to churn out in his lifetime, Tokyo Story could very justifiably serve as the perfect summation for his whole body of work. Set around three generations of the Hirayama family, the film takes a contemplative survey of the cultural and moral conflicts that occur between parents and their children and keeps them at an uncrossable distance. Shukichi (Chisyū Ryū) and Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama) are an aging, retired couple whose several children have long since moved to Tokyo. When they decide to take a trip to visit with their children, they’re quickly awoken to the unaccommodating speed of modern life.

Ozu studied the concept of Japan’s Westernization and its consequences on the traditional family unit for most of his career, but here his statements are at their most powerful. Each of the three generations struggles to understand the others. The children, most of whom have grown up to establish lives of their own, have little time for their parents. The family’s grandchildren seem almost unaware of their grandparents’ existence and are in a perpetual state of frustration at being under their own parents’ rule. Through it all, though, Ozu performs a masterstroke of avoiding melodrama. Much of the story happens between scenes. The emotions felt are real, never manipulated or contrived. For a film so bluntly melancholic (“isn’t life disappointing?” one of the daughters asks), it never succumbs to misery. Even for Ozu, whose filmography is nearly spotless, the film is a staggering accomplishment of minimalist storytelling as emotionally potent as anything else you’ll find in the history of cinema.

An eagle-eyed Roger Ebert noticed that there’s only a single camera movement in Tokyo Story. It’s true. By this point in his career, Ozu rarely, if ever, used them. He didn’t need them. Instead, he set his camera up to capture something — an emotion upon an actor’s face, a sky, an empty street — and presents it to the viewer plainly. It’s pure visual lyricism, and Tokyo Story is chock-full of it.

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Floating Weeds

Revisiting an old story from his silent career, Ozu made Floating Weeds, a story of a traveling troupe of actors who return to perform in a seaside town for the first time in over a decade. After a lengthy career of making richly-composed pictures in black-and-white, the filmmaker made what seems like an effortless transition into color and shot one of his most visually striking works. The rich colors of the sky, or an actor’s clothing, or a tinted piece of glass, are captured in a deep saturation.

Floating Weeds is also one of Ozu’s most atmospheric films, with the penetrating heat of the seaside summer captured with frequent shots of the characters’ incessant fanning of themselves. It’s an environment captured so completely it’s almost felt, as if the port town itself is just another character. As with most of his works, the film is an exercise in simplicity. There are flairs of drama when characters inevitably clash, but Ozu has the restraint to pull back and avoid excess. Everything we need is right here. With themes of jealousy, alienation, and the complexities of parenthood, the film serves as another fascinating chapter in the director’s lifelong observation of life and all that it entails.

Good Morning

This 1959 film, one of Ozu’s rare attempts at making a true comedy, stands out as being one of his most gleeful and lighthearted works. When two young boys (Shitara Koji and Masahiko Shimazu) ask their parents for a television set to watch their favorite sumo-wrestling program, their request is quickly shot down. In retort, they take a silence strike against all adults. Even though Ozu’s movies often featured children characters, Good Morning is one of the infrequent instances in which the kids take front and center. There are subplots, too, mostly about missing dues at a local woman’s club, an infectiously spreading bit of neighborhood gossip, and a parasitic door-to-door salesman, but the film has the narrative strength to sew these threads together into thematic consistency.

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It’s a sincerely hilarious film, but it also offers the director’s trademark depth. Buried beneath the surface lies an indictment of formal social mores, a sort of raspberry blown at the politeness of adulthood. With juvenile antics, a wonderfully playful score, and fart humor aplenty, Good Morning is an infectiously joyous film unlike any other in Ozu’s catalog.

Early Summer

Another entry in Ozu’s seasonally-titled films, Early Summer is a sort of wine flight that samples the many styles and themes that exist throughout the director’s career. There’s the multigenerational character roster, the focus on an unmarried late-twenty-something woman who stands defiantly against the concept of a rushed marriage, and the unhealed wounds of a child lost during the war. It’s an immersive film that pays close attention to each member of the family that it creates, never seeming to misstep in its observation of them.

With its numerous plotlines invested in its many characters, Early Summer is one of the director’s most ambitious films, and in the hands of a lesser artist, it would surely have become entirely too unfocused and muddled. Ozu and his long-time screenwriting partner, Kogo Noda, juggle each character with ease, though, and the result is a sentimental snapshot, a family portrait bringing everybody together, if only briefly.

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I Was Born, But…

This entry from Ozu’s career in silent film, an inspiration for his own Good Morning, follows two mischievous young boys who grapple with truancy, a schoolyard bully, and their father’s humble financial status. Don’t let the lack of polish (and sound) fool you: I Was Born, But… is quintessential Ozu, an example of his early mastery of telling emotionally rich stories through detailed images, framing, and sharp characterization. This comic film easily weaves its slapstick humor with its surprisingly weighty themes of economic inequality and the inescapable nature of social hierarchies. Once the boys have a startling realization about their father, there is a scene of heartbreaking disappointment that will not easily be forgotten. A fanfare for the workingman, I Was Born, But… is also an ode to fathers, and a lesson about the sacrifices one must make in dire times.


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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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