The strain beneath the surface
December 11, 2013 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Re-examining Yasujiro Ozu on film. On the 50th anniversary of Yasujiro Ozu's death, Mark Schilling examines the iconic director's own thoughts on the filmmaking process. Donald Richie's review of ‘Ukigusa (Floating Weeds),’ Nov. 26, 1959. Ebert on Ozu. Criterion on Ozu.
posted by KokuRyu (6 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, I've been meaning to watch some of his movies and this post will push me to actually do that. Incidentally, a ton of his films are on Hulu Plus.
posted by octothorpe at 10:04 AM on December 11, 2013

If you like Ozu, you may also like Kore'eda Hirokazu, notably "Maborosi (a trick of the light)" and Aruitemo, Aruitemo (Still Walking). In fact, Kore'eda employs a lot of Ozu's techniques and tropes (shooting interiors from floor level, family dynamics).
posted by KokuRyu at 10:33 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a huge, huge fan of Ozu.

Here's an excerpt from a short paper I wrote about Tokyo Story several years ago. My premise was that Ozu's films share commonalities with absurdist theatre.
The simplicity of Ozu communicates a complexity of concept. The camera does not move. Whenever a person speaks, the camera shows that person. Off-screen dialogue does not exist. We see everything from the vantage point of a person sitting on the floor. Like a metronome the happenings occur, plainly shown, one after another. This precision adds up to a deeply moving experience. Tokyo Story doesn’t look like life, and it is the difference that underlines the points Ozu makes.
full paper here
posted by nedpwolf at 10:33 AM on December 11, 2013

You know, you can analyze film, like any art, in endless ways. We can talk for hours about how Ozu used the camera, how music functioned in his films, how he used his actors, staging, composition, lighting, how he explored this or that.

All of these approaches to analyzing art are valuable and add something to our understanding of the work.

But after decades of being exposed to art, I've come to the conclusion that we don't have - as yet - tools which are sophisticated enough to get at the heart of what makes us respond to some work much more than other, on a very fundamental level. One day we may have such tools - and in fact, it's certain we will - but for now, we are reduced to addressing this reality in very inadequate words and concepts: this artist has it. I've seen thousands of movies, and when I worked at a talent agency, I was obliged to watch endless numbers of features and short films from aspiring filmmakers as well as established ones, attended festivals, competitions and exhibitions. And if you had to explain why a certain film arrested your attention, and another one was completely blah, you would be hard pressed to put it down to exact differences in the usual measures used in art criticism or film criticism specifically. Frequently, such analyzes would even be opposite in effect - the lighting, composition, and various elements could even be superior in the blah film, and yet the formally "inferior" film was head and shoulders above - it was an immediate grabber.

You can see that even in very, very short films - lasting not much more than a minute or two. Back in the late 80's I had an opportunity to visit the Lodz Film School, where I was shown a bunch of student work from a variety of prominent filmmakers on the large screen. It was astounding to me how extremely clearly Roman Polanski's work stood out from the others, who after all, were no slouches. All the work I was shown, was at a very high technical level, but yet these shorts stood out. It was not something you could put down to camera angles, lighting etc., you were reduced to much more vague terms, which were still inadequate.

Some artists have a knack for *connecting* with you, on an aesthetic level - they're able to hit that nerve. It is not something you can teach, I don't believe - you may be able to guide someone who has that innate ability, and you can develop it further, but you can't make it appear through teaching if it's not there in the first place.

And that is the case with Ozu. When I first saw his films, they had that quality - they were compelling from the very first frames. Before you even knew what the film was about, you were drawn in. That is a sign of a great artist. And Ozu was a talent like that. I have a collection of Ozu DVDs, and from time to time, I sit down and just watch and allow myself to be carried along on an aesthetic journey, guided expertly by a master.
posted by VikingSword at 11:18 AM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

Ozu Easter Egg: Look for a scene in Tokyo Monogatari where there is a futon with a big urine spot in the middle, hanging to dry on a clothesline. If you look closely, the pattern on the futon resembles an American Flag.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:53 PM on December 11, 2013

Am I the only one who things that Early Summer is way better than Tokyo Story? Like totally way better.
posted by victory_laser at 1:33 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

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