It is O-bon season in Japan, the time of year for families to
pay their respects to their ancestors at grave sites in cemeteries
often located in temple grounds. My wife Minako and I
brought a bouquet of flowers to her grandparents' grave
at one such temple yesterday here in Kita-Kamakura called
Engaku-ji, a well-known Zen center located not far from
The Engaku-ji temple grounds are vast and multi-terraced,
with 1000-year old temples, meditation halls, archery
venues, turtle ponds, and old cemeteries tucked away on
wooded terraces high in the hills. Off to one side, in a quiet
corner of the grounds, is the cemetery we visited in order
to wash my wife's family tombstone, place flowers, and
say prayers. As we were leaving, we remembered that
Yasujiro Ozu, the great Eastern god of movies, has his
final resting place in Engaku-ji as well, so we went to
make some inquiries.
Many years and a lifetime ago, years before I would
meet Minako, and years before I would move to Japan,
I discovered Ozu's quiet and moving films in New York
City's cinema art houses. Among other favorite films
at that time were such classics as Midnight Cowboy,
Zorba the Greek, King of Hearts, A Man and a Woman,
Sundays with Cybele, and Hiroshima Mon Amour.
Ozu's films were of an entirely different ilk, slow-moving
domestic family dramas with subtle humor and deep
pathos, offering a glimpse into a distant island
nation I knew little about. His films are especially
insightful on Japan's post-war development and its
personal toll on the then rising generation. Stars like
Ryu Chishu and Setusko Hara (see blog post dated
5/8/11) regularly appeared in his films, including
Tokyo Story (Tokyo Monogatari) by which Ozu is
most well known. To call this film a masterpiece in
cinema is an understatement; it simply must be seen
by anyone with a love of movies.
Anyway, there we were yesterday searching for Ozu's
unmarked grave, recognizable only by the word "Mu"
(nothingness/emptiness) famously engraved on the tomb.
It turns out, to our surprise, his tomb is located in the
same small cemetery where my wife's grandparents'
tomb is located. So back we went, only to a higher
terrace where my wife, a Kamakura native, had never
been before. We climbed the steep path and found Ozu's
resting place, leaving a bouquet of flowers nearby several
bottles of sake. I half-expected the tomb to be bathed in
shadow, like his films. But his tomb lay under the hot sun
overlooking the Engaku-ji temple grounds far below.
I said a prayer of thanks before descending the path
with my wife.
|lanterns for bon-odori (dance with the dead)|
|Ozu Yasujiro's tomb|
|Ozu Yasujiro's tomb|