Brothers And Sisters Of The Toda Family (1941)

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Fourth time with Ozu after Tokyo StoryLate Spring, and Floating Weeds. This was a freebie on the BFI TS DVD (badly in need of some restoration).

Definitely in the mould of TS, with the sliding and shuffling negotiations between levels of family – parents to offspring, brothers to sisters. Almost Ozu-in-reverse as the death of a cherished but obviously slightly distant patriarch precipitates these readjustments, with the relocation of his widow (and her youngest daughter Setsuko) seemingly the central task.

Some delicately sketched characters: Setsuko is hemmed in by a brother (Shojiro) who insists she mustn’t marry and a sister (Chizuko) who insists she mustn’t work at least in part because she will be marrying soon. She sticks with her permissive mother, who is wrong-footed by a hyperactive grandchild to the annoyance of his disciplinarian mother Chiz – who herself has an unsettling preoccupation with clothing and appearance (taking distasteful pride in selecting an outfit to wear to attend to her dying father at short notice). Shojiro indulges a centrifugal ambition (by moving to China) partly motivated by guilt over his own misbehaviour and tendency to inconvenience his late father (our sympathies with him are perhaps the film’s most complex: he appears rightly ruffled by the vulturous materialism when his father’s assets are auctioned off to pay his secret debts, but he slowly emerges as a somewhat hypocritical stickler for filial duty).

The focus is spread fairly evenly across these illustrated figures, with the effect that BASOTTF feels quite decentralised, more structurally freeform than TS or LS (the strange ending is a point at which this is particularly, uncomfortably evident). This also lacks the chorographic roaming of FW and the big-money shots in TS and LS, honing in, instead, on Ozu’s characteristically reticent but evocative detail. Sho professes his lack of remorse upon receiving the news of his father’s death but the emotion comes to him through the memories embedded in the objects and arrangements of a favourite restaurant. A picture of the grandfather hangs above a doorway in one of the houses, and we get the sense that his gaze is cast over every surface in the film, imbuing each scene with restless melancholy. A year swings round and after all the rearrangement, something has slipped through the cracks.

Another elegant and naturalistic portrait, pretty low-key but with some creative structuring, and some historical interest for tracing the development of Ozu’s key themes. It’s going to be hard to find a bad one.

7

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