The UW-Madison campus film society, Cinematheque, began its retrospective of the films of Yasujiro Ozu last Friday. All paths seem to converge at the Lunchroom, and so it was with this. I'd been reading Jonathon Delacour's appreciations of Ozu's work from time to time over the past year, and then I learned last week that the films were coming to Madison by reading about it on Althouse. The festival screened Tokyo Story as its first film. Is it the greatest Japanese film ever made? Is it the greatest film ever made? I'll leave it to the cineastes to duke it out...but I loved it. It took a simple human story (elderly parents from a country village visiting their grown children in the city) and made it profound, without pretension. It was beautiful—every single frame could have served as its own work of art—but it wasn't just "look at me" beautiful (*cough* Days of Heaven *cough*). The imagery is careful to draw your attention to the movie's themes: family members seated side by side, but not shoulder to shoulder, with side-blinkered gazes (we're all alone); hallways framed by a succession of portals (life's a journey); and white line-drying laundry (I'll go out on a limb here and call this a symbol of death). This movie has reverberated with me, like a song that won't get out of my head, for the past few days. I must have raved about it enough to have driven my dear patient husband to pick up the Criterion Collection DVD for me the very next day after seeing it.
I really wanted my husband to come see the movie too last Friday, but it would have been a late night for him, an early bird. (Me, I burn the candle at both ends, mainly with the able assistance of My Best Friend the Coffee Bean.) Seeing a Japanese movie together would have been, well, kind of special, because we met in a Japanese-language class sixteen years ago. I'd taken a year of Japanese during law school as a diversion, and was looking for something that would expand my social circle beyond the first-year-law-firm-associate workplace; he'd been stationed in Japan as a Marine for several years, and was winding down his military career at Alameda Naval Air Station. And so it was that we found ourselves in the same Japanese class, but we've ended up with startlingly different recollections (you might even say Rashomon-like divergences in perspective) as to the invitation that led to our first date.
As I remember it: (The Marine's talking to me in Japanese, but he's hardly looking at me. And he's mumbling.) I'm sorry, but I didn't understand what you said. Could you say it again, please?
As he remembers it: [In perfectly clear, articulate Japanese, he says:] Would you like to have dinner next Saturday evening? [The reply he hears:] You're mumbling! You're going to have to speak up if you're going to talk to me!
(Now, honestly. Me speaking sternly to a Marine? And don't go feeling all sorry for him, because obviously things worked out.)
(The permission to blog these pretty personal memories is gratefully acknowledged.)