Thursday, 3 November 2011

Sets, Scenes and Environments: Yasujiro Ozu

Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) is one of the world's great filmmakers.

Ozu was a master of composition.  His films, particularly his postwar films, are renowned for shots which linger on 'empty spaces' for a while, in between the action - so-called 'pillow shots' - they mark time, but also allow the viewer to savour a reflective moment.  These shots are stunning compositions of balance and harmony, and here are a few:

The great historian and critic of Japense film Donald Richie called Ozu a modernist:

"There's this idea of cutting down, of restriction, of making things coherent by making them less, an avoidance of any redundancy and this great ability to make the continuity without all the links, leaving the audience the option, or the necessity to do this. In most Ozu pictures, for example, the wedding is left out. This idea of leaving out these links and testing your audience to make the links with you, or build the bridge halfway to you, these are all attributes of modernism as a literary form. And so, for these reasons, plus a tremendous influence of European photography, that is still photography, or art photography, on Ozu who would use these still lives to make something like he'd already seen in photographic magazines, all of this gives a modernist tinge to everything he did. So there are two things; he's a traditional artist and a traditional aesthetician, because he knew Japanese aesthetics. At the same time he was a real modernist.'

You can read the rest of this interview in Midnight Eye, an interesting online journal about Japanese film, here.

In his excellent current TV series 'The Story of Film', Mark Cousins calls Ozu 'perhaps the greatest director to ever have lived', and I'm inclined to agree.  Here's a great 11-minute introduction to Ozu from the 'The Story of Film':

And a clip (the final scene) from Ozu's last film, 'An Autmun Afternoon' (1962), in which a drunk, upset father realises his own loneliness.  It's a beautiful, melancholy four minutes, with some great 'pillow shots':

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