This is Ozu's first film produced outside Shochiku. That might the reason why the story is rather unconventional for an Ozu's film, too melodramatic and romantic (rather sickly is Mariko's insistence on marrying Hiroshi and asking her sister to divorce her husband). Also, never before or after generational differences have been so overtly exposed as well as there are too many, for an Ozu film, references to the war. Ryu , playing the sister's father, acts as a mediator (Ozu's alter-ego?) between the two, and tries to be just, even though his preferences are for old Japan. Whoever believes that Ozu's films philosophy isn't essentially Buddhist should pay more attention to Ryu's words of accepting different ways of life and Tanaka final's refusal to marry Uehara (sign of transcending the material world and personal desires or just pure old fashion?) and the ultimate death of Yamamura right after he gets his long sought job (Karma in action). Takamine Hideko ( a Naruse's regular) ,playing the role of Munekata Mariko, is extremely funny at some points. Her outrageous (specially when she visits Hiroshi 's girlfriend Yoriko or her habit of sticking out her tongue, bodily ticks are essential elements of the characterisation of Ozu's film actors) behaviour reminded me of my shock when I first saw I Was Born But Nevertheless her character gets a bit boring with her parody of some sort of Noh narrator (the joke just goes for too long). Also Setsuko Munekata might not be a suitable role for Tanaka Kinuyo, in particular when she's got to keep smiling (something typical in actresses working with Ozu) while telling her sister that she decided not to marry Hiroshi. Technically is what you'd expect from Ozu, interesting matching cuts, even though I have to say that some shots were very predictable (cut on action shots) and not as perfect as for example the ones in Tokyo Story (technically an almost perfect film). Quite unusual for Ozu's work, at least during this period, are some tracking shots of Hiroshi and Setsuko walking down the street ending in a beautiful long shot of her disappearing around a corner. Specially weird is an unmotivated tracking shot to the right, moving away from the sisters at the entrance of a Kyoto temple that essentially goes nowhere and then stops suddenly, the image framed by two trees . What I found really amusing was(probably an Ozu's trick to confuse audiences) the way in which the film begins with news of the sisters' father (played by Chisu Ryu) diagnosed with cancer. Given only 6 months of life, nevertheless he remains alive and kicking throughout the whole film with no signs of departing this world. Funnily enough is somebody else who dies first. Also the way in which ends, when everybody was hoping for a final reunion between Uherara and Tanaka she decides to dump him, and so breaking any expectations. I thought it was brilliant (a bit reactionary though).
The Munekata Sisters might not be the very best of Ozu but I found it intriguing and funny enough to watch again.
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Setsuko is unhappily married to Mimura, an engineer with no job and a drinking habit. She's always been in love with Hiroshi, but he left for France years ago without proposing. Now he is back and Mariko (Setsuko's sister) tries to reunite them, although secretly she loves him too.
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a nice little film
The Munekata Sisters (1950)
I'm so lucky to be living close to a cinema that is showing an Ozu Retrospective for the entire month, especially one with many free screenings. This was one of the free ones and I'm quite glad about that as it is certainly one of Ozu's lesser works. The Munekata Sisters is based on a novel that was very big at the time. The whole production was big, being the biggest budgeted Japanese film at the time. It even managed to pull Ozu from his usual studio. As such, there seems to be more pressure on Ozu to do something different, which just isn't Ozu. There's obviously a lot of familiar ground here. With marriage and family being the key focus. However, it is overly dramatic. Not so much into the realms of laughable melodrama, but the fight between the old fashioned Setsuko and the "new fashion" Mariko. I never felt the bond of sisterhood that strongly. It seemed more like a mother daughter relationship. Hiroshi is also just a very flat character. He is simply a lure from Setsuko's husband. He is perfect, kind, rich, funny, patient, etc. But only because we rarely see him. One interesting facet is Mariko's attempt to procure Hiroshi for herself, because if he can't be with her sister, Mariko doesn't want him with anyone. Mariko is really the star, and should have been the main focus. He tomboyish nature manifests in cute moments, as she enacts her version of Hiroshi's dates, and constantly sticks out her tongue. Ryu is underused in this film, but serves as a great metaphor for the unpredictable nature of life. Don't allow this to be your introduction to Ozu, but visit it after you are familiar with his films. September 17,
It might be one of Ozu's least known films, and quite different from his other ones too, but his techniques and masterful skills are still there.
I've had the privilege to watch his films chronologically, from "The Only Son" to the last film he made, so I can notice that there was a big change from his (in that time) previous film "Late Spring" to his subsequent one "Munekata Sisters" and practically different from his other previous ones in general. Although the subject matter in this film is more romantic and dramatic in comparison to his previous films, as I just mentioned, his filmmaking style remains the same, the static camera and his beautiful close-ups are still there. Also another interesting thing to say is that this film resembles Mizoguchi's themes, he could have easily done this one of his films if he'd had the chance.
I might get the readers bored for repeating myself, but you can rest assured this is another essential film from Ozu you surely should get your hands on if possible.
Also this may be the last time I review one of Ozu's films, not because I don't like his other films, but because you simply can't go wrong with him, you either get his filmmaking or not. If you get it, then you'll probably love most of his films; therefore, you should really watch all you can get from him.
My score: 9.2/10