Thursday, August 04, 2005

The other man in Ozu's world: Shin Saburi (Thursday Great Actor Blogging)

The critical work on Ozu has usually focused on the characters played by Chishu Ryu. Understandably, since Ryu played a central role throughout Ozu's career. Ryu's first role was in Ozu's first movie, Dreams of Youth (now lost) through to Ozu's last, An Autumn Afternoon.

However, Ryu's impact on Ozu has obscured the fact that Ryu signified a particular personality type within Ozu's world, and that other actors within the Ozu universe signified other character types. Takeshi Sakamoto signified a jolly, well-meaning, kindly character, especially in Passing Fancy, What Did the Lady Forget?, and Record of a Tenement Gentleman (though he plays a different character in the silent version of A Story of Floating Weeds). Tatsuo Saito in Ozu's early career generally plays a sophisticated, bemused upper-class character (usually a physician, professor or upper-level executive).

Shin Saburi plays an unusual role within the Ozu universe. Ryu's character usually is a passive, acted-upon character. Saburi, on the other hand, particularly in Ozu's middle period, embodies a different type of character than usually seen within Ozu. Saburi physically is a much larger and more masculine looking actor than Ryu (or indeed, the vast majority of Ozu's actors). Saburi's characters are active and able to solve problems - unusually in Ozu's cinema. Saburi physically is often in motion, while Ryu remains much more inactive.

Further, Saburi plays most of the most admirable male characters within Ozu's universe, as opposed to Ryu. It is Saburi's Shojiro who financially saves the matriarch and daughter in Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family. In Equinox Flower, Shaburi plays a wise (and rather bemused) matchmaker. His finest role with Ozu was in The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice, which personally I find the most underrated of Ozu's movies.


Blogger surlyh said...

Hey, Alex. Just wanted to say hello to my fellow Film Centergoer.

Saburi is indeed a marvelous presence in Ozu. One of the charms of the Ozu series was watching him and the other actor's in multiple roles over the course of many years.

I share your appreciation of Robert Ryan.

9:14 AM  

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