best film:  Twenty-one (20) of Chishû Ryû’s twenty-five (25) archiveable films are with Yasujirō Ozu so plainly, one has to start with Ozu – and when starting with Ozu, one starts with Tokyo Story. Tokyo Story is known as Yasujirō Ozu’s masterpiece and righty so – but Ozu’s work was so consistent (and consistently brilliant) that he is a body of work auteur – not an auteur whose stature is built his masterpieces (like say Ridley Scott). Basically, this just means that while Tokyo Story is Ozu’s best (and Ryû’s by proxy) – Late Spring, Early Summer, Floating Weeds, The End of Summer, and a half dozen others are right there. As if the Ozu collaborations were not enough, Ryû is in Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (1960) and Mishima (1985) from Paul Schrader. These are smaller roles, it would be hard to argue for them as “Ryû’s best” even if they were superior to Tokyo Story. So, it is fitting that Tokyo Story wins out here – because Ryû has a big part in it.


from the 1953 masterpiece Tokyo Story – a major triumph for Ryû. Ryû gives a stunning performance – his unspoken frustration at the loud music at the spa is just fine acting.


best performanceLate Spring and There Was a Father are the two top candidates here. There Was a Father is gut wrenchingly painful film and Ryû is ever so good. In Late Spring, Ryu is paired up Setsuko Hara – meaning this is the greatest of all Ozu female actors paired with the greatest of all Ozu male actors in Ryû. Their relationship is incredibly complex — the characters are so rich.


from There Was a Father (1942) – this is Ozu’s best narrative to date in 1942. Ryû’s enduringly stoic father is also the best performance in an Ozu film at this point in time. This is one of the three (3) times that Ryû gives one of the best performances of the year (1942, 1949, 1953).


stylistic innovations/traits: In typical Ozu fashion, Ryû is known for having the tremendous gift of subtlety. In countless scenes in great films throughout the Ozu oeuvre, Ryû is hit with tough news, emotional situations, death, and tragedy – and he sublimely underplays it all. This is exemplary acting that has aged so well. Ryû worked with Ozu in almost all of his films. In a fair amount of these films, Ryû is an extra or just shows up for a scene (A Story of Floating Weeds, Equinox Flower) but in others, he is an essential part of the ensemble (Tokyo Story) and still further in others he is the lead or co-lead (Late Spring, There Was a Father). In The End of Summer (1961) Ryû does not show up until the closing scene with the river fishing, crows and crematorium. This is a gorgeous sequence – and Ryû’s prescience adds a layer – a weight to it. He could sing. He could play a man of eighty (80) one year and then play a man of forty (40) the next year (in one occasion he is Hara’s father and in another he is an older brother). Ryû has nearly 300 credits total – not too unusual for Japanese actors of the time (similar to Takashi Shimura – and the parallels do not end there with Shiumra and Ryû). Shimura and Ryû were born just one year apart (1904 for Ryû) and both worked with that single auteur (Kurosawa and Ozu) for most of their archiveable films. All in all, Ryû worked in fifty-two (52) of Ozu’s fifty-four (54) films between 1929 and 1962.


from Late Spring – Ryu’s trademark grunts and vocalizations. The apple peeling is tragically sad and another example of his skill as an actor.


directors worked with:  Yasujirō Ozu (20), Akira Kurosawa (3), Paul Schrader (1)


top five performances:

  1. There Was a Father
  2. Late Spring
  3. Tokyo Story
  4. The Only Son
  5. An Autumn Afternoon


archiveable films

1931- Tokyo Chorus
1932- I Was Born, But…
1934- A Story of Floating Weeds
1936- The Only Son
1941- The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family
1942- There Was a Father
1947- Record of a Tenement Gentleman
1948- A Hen in the Wind
1949- Late Spring
1951- Early Summer
1952- Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice
1953- Tokyo Story
1956- Early Spring
1957- Tokyo Twilight
1958- Equinox Flower
1958- Rickshaw Man
1959- Floating Weeds
1959- Good Morning
1960 – The Bad Sleep Well
1960- Late Autumn
1961- The End of Summer
1962- An Autumn Afternoon
1965- Red Beard
1985- Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
1990- Dreams