I don’t know how to get on his wavelength. I blindbought the Late Ozu Eclipse, and it was very hard for me to get into. Early Spring and Tokyo Twilight were my favorites but I’ve forgotten about them, and I feel completely blind and insensitive to them.
What do you look for? I liked most of the performances, especially Chisu Ryu’s, Setsuko Hara’s, the girl in Tokyo Twilight, and the couple in Early Spring. I know nothing of these family troubles. I’m guessing that’s why all youse like him; you respond and relate to these things. I don’t know why I don’t. The friggin’ plots! You can’t be interested in Equinox Flower for its plot, it’s respected for something I can’t see. Why? How?
Even though his style is unobtrusive I felt removed from the films; that I couldn’t touch the people or objects. Especially during those short montage transitions of buildings and teapots. I noticed his camera because it was static. And his use of music was very alienating especially during Tokyo Twilight. What I do?
Also: I felt so stifled by these that I started reading about the Oshima Eclipse and Imamura collection! Maybe I’m not a family man (boy)…
Don’t worry. You’re not the only one who prefers Oshima and Imamura to Ozu.
There’s not much you can do…you can’t make yourself respond to or like a film maker. I’ve only seen two Ozu films…Tokyo Story and Floating Weeds (and the silent version of Floating Weeds). I really liked those films…but they aren’t for everyone..they are quiet films….
Don’t beat yourself up about it too much….and don’t try to force what isn’t there for you.
I feel this way about Tarkovsky. Even though I can understand why he is seen as such a cinematic genius and can appreciate his films I still don’t find myself as enthralled with him as pretty much every other cinephile.
I think being able to appreciate a director and their influence is more important than forcing yourself to like their work.
I agree with Grimes that you shouldn’t “beat yourself up” for not liking Ozu (or any filmmaker), but that’s not the way I read your OP. It just seems like you don’t get Ozu, and you won’t those who do to help you; the idea is that maybe you’re missing something—something that fans of Ozu understand, and if they share this with you, you might appreciate his films, too—or at the very least, you might understand why people really admire and love his films. If so, I like these type of threads, as I think an internet forum should be able to effectively respond to this need.
I really like Ozu, so I feel a desire to respond to this. Off the top of my head, here are some thoughts:
>One of the things that makes Ozu so special and unique is the acting in his films. When I think about acting that is naturalistic and real, the performances in his films are at the top of the list (especially the child actors). Unfortunately, I’m not sure how I can make a case for this; a part of me feels like this is subjective—something you appreciate or you don’t—and if you don’t, I’m not sure if anything will help you see things differently. But that seems like throwing in the towel too early, so I don’t want to give up just yet. (But I’ll need time to think about this.)
>Perhaps related to the acting is the attitude of Ozu towards his characters. Imo, there is an unconditional, non-judgmental attitude towards the characters—almost as if the filmmaker (or the camera) is a god that is a loving parent of all the characters—one who sees and exposes the flaws, but in a way that is matter-of-fact. (I think I got this particular feeling mostly from Tokyo Story, but some of his other films might have this quality as well.) If his films don’t have this quality, most of the films convey the feeling that the filmmaker has a keen artistic sensibility towards the characters and scenes and this leads to subtly, nuance and poignancy. (Now, we should have some specific examples, but I can’t think of any right now. :(
Here’s what I mean by his artistic sensibility. His films are dramatic, but don’t cross over into soap opera. From what I remember, they’re not overly sentimental, either—although maybe I just don’t mind the sentimentality. (I’m curious to hear if others agree with this or not.) I think this takes formidable skill as a director.
>I think he has the ability to make the mundane interesting and poignant. I think writers like Chekhov and Munro—the realism and poignancy in the mundane. (Again, this probably isn’t helpful, but hopefully I can get to something more substantive. Actually, I’m pretty sure there will be others who can provide more substantial help.)
>I forgot. There’s probably a treasure trove of meaning if you analyze the mise-en-scene in his films. I’m pretty sure others can speak more informatively about this, and I actually look forward to reading some commentary about this.
Have you seen Late Spring, Mathew? I’m not keen on all his late films (much prefer Tokyo Twilight to Equinox Flower for instance), but Late Spring is lovely
How old are you? I wonder if it’s an age thing, though of course many younger people like Ozu and many older cinephiles don’t. You like Tarkovsky, so it isn’t necessarily about pace, rapid plot development. Maybe the Ozu visuals aren’t as spell-binding. You like Rohmer, who is a delicate portrayer of relationships, but his characters and outlook may feel younger (even when Rohmer was old).
Ozu’s compositions, rhythm and editing are interesting- don’t forget his camera is not static, it’s just that we don’t experience the actual movement. And his use of colour (matches from one scene to another) is subtle. The “pillow shots” are partly about rhythm but also quietly giving wider physical context, pause for thought, a sense of “off-screen” space and how characters fit in the overall space. I suppose part of the appeal of Ozu might be called metaphysical, its observational calm, some say mono no aware. I agree with Jazz about the fine acting, Naruse is another who’s superb with actors. Ozu builds gradually through small details towards an accumulation of emotional power and often a wistful sense of transience. Although Ozu may feel repetitive, the pleasure often comes in the variations that through different perspectives over a career give quite a balanced picture of society.
Mark Cousins rates him highest of all, and for that balance as well as his unique approach that he came to naturally rather than a means to draw attention to himself. But Oshima and Imamura are more exciting! We certainly need such radicals too.
Before you totally give up on Ozu, you may want to give his silent comedies a try. Passing Fancy, The Lady and the Beard and particularly I was Born, But… (One of the best films about children growing up) are all worth seeing. His style is noticeably very different from his famous work of the 50s. Close-ups, oaccasional montage, and some suprisingly intricate camera movement and tracking.
I like both styles, but it’s worth checking out both.
What do you look for?
This might help in compare and contrast manner:Ozu vs Boetticher
I’m 21. I feel like his films are a world away from anything I know. I’ll say that digging into this set was a very disturbing experience.
I can watch Tarkovsky’s slow moving films because they move around more. I feel stifled by Ozu’s table conversations. They’re dialogue heavy films, but so are Rohmer’s. But Rohmer’s also move around more. With Ozu, the focus is mainly on dialogue and character, so the world seems to disappear (to me). Not so with the others.
I remember watching the colour but I didn’t recognise any patterns or anything. Except maybe the younger sister’s bright pink sweater in Equinox Flower which seemed to express her outward rebellion (if that’s the word) toward the blueprint her dad’s drawn up for her future. I was oblivious to his compositions, editing, and rhythm.
Peabody, “The narrative of a film doesn’t matter as much to me as the way in which the medium is used.” I probably lean in that direction, but I couldn’t see what Ozu does, and was left utterly marmalised.
No one can’t force something, everyone has a different sensibility and people who don’t connect with Ozu sensitivity should not feel guilty. I had the same feelings for Ozu movies and i am watching Naruse, a director which i connect with better.
I like the thing you said about judge the characters, Jazz, that’s what makes Cassavetes so great imo.
Hey, I’m not feeling guilty. It’s not as simple as liking Ozu, I want to understand him. I might hate him afterward, but I’ll know a thingertoo about him. Now, I’m just plain oblivious.
I think art is about feel or not feel. But i understand. And of course, the question you are asking to Ozu fans is interesting and i also want to hear about it, as i’m in the same position.
Watch ‘I was born but,’ and /or Ohayo. They are just as much ‘Ozu’ as the the others, and both very funny and irreverent. To add to Jazz’s comment, Ozu ‘got’ children – they are always very real in his films.
Or watch Tokyo Story – even at the grand old age of 21, Mathew, I’m sure you’ll recognise a lot of the family dynamics going on in that film.
Ozu created an extraordinary visual world in which he placed utterly ordinary people doing ordinary things: which include quarrelling, getting drunk, eating, bitching about each other, being unfaithful, trying to live up what they think they should be in other people’s eyes and realising they can’t, being happy, sad, and indulging in fart jokes. Oh yes, and getting married and leaving home. I don’t think the human dynamics at play are really difficult to understand, despite the differences of culture and time since the films were made. They might just not float your boat – whereas Oshima and Imamura do.
If you’re interested in his technique then David Bordwell’s book on Ozu available for free via his website gives an in depth analysis of it, as well as going through Ozu’s filmography. But you can know everything about a filmmaker and still not care tuppence for their films. Thems the breaks.
Ozu is about the simplest, and consequently most easily misunderstood thing on earth; nothing (his grave famously contains the character Mu, or nothingness). There is no overarching plot because there is no overarching reality or message, just a depiction. There is no sympathetic music because there is no sympathetic tone, just a flat realization. There is no fluidity in camera because there is no fluid aesthetic, just an ever watchful eye.
The father in Late Spring and An Autumn Afternoon are around the same age, with similar problems, played by the same actor, with the same kind of overly accepting, somewhat distant kindness. But the characters are almost polar opposites of each other. In Late Spring the quiet building tragedy is in the fact that life leads one away from those they are truly connected to and love. In An Autumn Afternoon the slowly building tragedy is that one never got close enough (probably because of all that sake one drank) to be led away from them.
There’s a reason most critics see Tokyo Twilight as a rather harsh condemnation of the youth generation, but Ozu saw it as sympathizing with them and criticizing their parents. For where are they…
There’s a reason most critics see Equinox Flower as a rather harsh condemnation of the hypocrisy of the elder generation, but the film barely allows ten words from anyone other than the father in the film.
Ozu builds upon one truism for his career; the older one gets, the more they sense the coming of nothing and the more they push away from it. Or in other words…
There’s a reason Eijiro Tono is always sitting a bar, drunk, screaming about how his life was wasted on a career, family, friends and material goods. And now, what is left but… Mu…
“I remember watching the colour but I didn’t recognise any patterns or anything.”
Oh man that red kettle…
If you can appreciate that red kettle, you can appreciate Ozu. I remember being captivated by those orange sodas too.
Wu’s post is perfect. That. There you go.
Thanks for the red kettle, Wu.
This Bud’s for you.
P.S. – Please let’s stop comparing Ozu to Tarkovsky. Or Dreyer. Or Bresson. Please. I love Shrader, and I love Tarkovsky, Dreyer and Bresson, but…
Ozu’s cinema originated in the works of Lubitsch. And both were genre filmmakers their entire lives. If there is anyone he should be compared to…
Eh, there was only a comparison of pace. And I admit… I don’t understand the use of colour or see anything in the images. I remember the orange sodas, but I don’t understand.
Ozu’s cinema originated in the works of Lubitsch.
A brilliant observation, and one of only two or three ideas I had about cinema that I though were unique. Lubitsch’s treatment of space between characters is every bit as formalized and controlled as Ozu’s. Someone opens a door or window like clockwork every 60 seconds in the early Lubitsch talkies in an attempt to escape. They try to escape just as frequently in Ozu, though by different means.
I think the images are interesting, but apropos of what Mathew said, I’d be interested in hearing some commentary about them—e.g., the meaning of the tea kettle, the significance and meaning of the colors, etc.
and i thought it was just that they both had a wonderful sense of humour.
someone needs to go on a screenshot frenzy
“A brilliant observation, and one of only two or three ideas I had about cinema that I though were unique. "
I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that Mr. Johnson was one of the ones that first showed me the similarities between the two filmmakers.
“Lubitsch’s treatment of space between characters is every bit as formalized and controlled as Ozu’s.”
Exactly. Ozu was one of cinema’s first cinephile filmmakers, and one his favorite films was Lubitsch’s The Marriage Circle, though I believe Japan on the whole has always appreciated Lubitsch quite a bit more than westerners.
Other than the obvious borrowing of themes and visual gags from the comedies of Lloyd, Keaton and Chaplin (probably in that order), Ozu’s early student comedies showed constant homage to Lubitsch’s piecemeal style of editing, and placement of objects in the frame. A couple examples from Days of Youth:That old tea kettle… popped up early, huh?
Now what’s striking about these images is they were 20 years before Ozu began developing his recognized late-period style, but out of context he seems to have already created it.
Here’s the context of the scene, though:
The difference here is that this wasn’t a ‘pillow’ shot. It was a POV shot, something Lubitsch enjoyed, but was pretty prevalent in a lot of silent cinema.
He shakes his head at the ugliness of this industrialized slum (he’d left a squatter’s paradise earlier in the film so the landlord could rent it to a pretty girl). He looks elsewhere.
Apparently nothing to call home about…
He looks over to his sleeping roommates.
This is related to Lubitsch more than any other filmmaker because it was used, not for laughs, not for drama, not for any plot movement at all, but merely as a breathing point, as it were. A place to quickly study one character and then move the film towards its conclusion (or middle point, or beginning).
What Ozu truly developed in his later career was the deletion of the middle-man. It became totally focused on composition and study of character. That is why some call his genre work transcendent, but it is still genre work.
“I don’t understand the use of colour or see anything in the images. I remember the orange sodas, but I don’t understand.”
Well, I was responding to the idea that was no pattern…
Study those compositions and you’ll see sloping patterns, bifurcations down the middle of the frame, horizontally and vertically, continued usage of singular items, continued usage of singular framings, etc.. Ozu controlled his image more than maybe any other filmmaker in history.
When his crew had finished building the set (to Ozu’s specs, which were written into every script before he’d even left his co-scriptwriter’s summer home) the art director would take all the items Ozu had told him to get for the set and lay it down in a pile in the middle of it. Ozu would then, by himself, arrange every single item. Everything in his compositions are built around patterns (but oddly enough, not matching them).
Understanding the images is simple. Enjoy their compositional perfection and how they heighten or even denude the emotional resonance of the scene. The linked “matching them” comment would show the latter (in that Ozu subtly confuses one with the scene’s compositional impossibility). Here’s one of the former:
This is from Ozu’s most famous film (well, maybe his second most famous) so I’ll be brief in summing up. Essentially the question of marriage has come up, specifically Hara’s father’s remarriage (which is what is being reacted to here):
Ozu cuts across the 180 degree plane.
Look at what Hara does with her finger. She is physically saying that she would have no problem with her father marrying. But she concentrates on wrapping this thread around her finger. A minor act, but expressive in any number of enormously devastating ways.
Look at the difference in expression. Look at the vastness in disparity between relation in family. This is the genial closeness of Ozu’s families?
To capitalize on Mr. Johnson’s use of the phrase “escape.” Is her subtle use of this thread around this finger an attempt to escape the question being posed her, the situation life is taking her?
“…the meaning of the tea kettle, the significance and meaning of the colors, etc.”
Come on, Jazz… My first sentence was about how Ozu’s films are about nothing…
Excellent Wu, I think that’s one of my favourite posts in Mubi history. You’ve inspired me to watch some Ozu right now!
I don’t like Ozu. Out of the handful of films I have seen, most of them I found boring, impossible to relate to any of the characters and they also all seem the same. I can’t even remember which one was which. To be honest, I couldn’t care less about boring Japanese people having very minor problems in their lives and absolutely nothing interesting coming out of any of it.
Everyone says he is a “gentle” and “subtle” filmmaker but seriously:Look at what Hara does with her finger. She is physically saying that she would have no problem with her father marrying. But she concentrates on wrapping this thread around her finger. A minor act, but expressive in any number of enormously devastating ways.
A film where the most interesting thing happening is a character playing with a piece of thread? I’ll pass. Also Setsuko Hara’s endless smiling, no matter what the characters are talking about, is incredibly annoying.
I have to admit though, Tokyo Story is a fantastic film. It drags a lot but Ozu pulls it off. The emotions feel genuine enough and I can actually distinguish it from his other films.
“…I couldn’t care less about boring Japanese people having very minor problems in their lives and absolutely nothing interesting coming out of any of it.”
Neither could I.
That’s why I watch the films of Ozu.
“You’ve inspired me to watch some Ozu right now!”
This thread made me want to watch his films, too… But I’m in the middle of watching Out 1, which is going to take me all week so it’ll have to wait.
“If you can appreciate that red kettle, you can appreciate Ozu”
hahaha, love that one Jack!! it’s so true! I love Ozu’s use of colour! In fact, i wish he started using colour earlier many he created most of his masterpieces.
An Autumn Afternoon is probably my favourite from an aesthetic P.O.V though. it’s just lovely, and that final montage is haunting in a way that’s difficult to articulate. But that is Ozu’s power, as Wu mentioned above. he doesn’t make simple statements and crowbar trite messages into his films. Part of the affect of Ozu’s work is the way he treats events and consequences as inevitable and transient without robbing them of their immediate significance. So at the end of Autumn Afternoon, we do feel something for the father, because he took his daughter for granted, but we also understand that their separation was inevitable, for a variety of different reasons.
“Setsuko Hara’s endless smiling, no matter what the characters are talking about, is incredibly annoying.”
It depends on the film. Sometimes her acting is a bit one note, but in films like Late Spring, for example, her ‘smiles’ become more devastating and meaningful as the film progresses. There is an incredible amount of sadness and pain behind the smiley facade that Hara taps into brilliantly without even trying.
I dunno… the smiling all seemed the same to me.
“I dunno… the smiling all seemed the same to me.”
She was the daughter in Late Srping. She was the parent in Late Autumn. That, in-and-of-itself, means any smile she gives has a patently different meaning.
The use of Hara’s smile in Late Spring alone is book worthy.
Let alone Hara’s demure affect in Kurosawa’s work, her pure smile in Ozu and her tainted smile in Naruse. And not all of that can be laid in the hands of the filmmakers, Hara herself deserves large credit for being able to pull out the correct performance for the correct filmmaker. Kurosawa, Ozu and Naruse was notoriously brusk and unforgiving with actors. They made them find their role themselves and chastised them when they did it wrong.
But I actually prefer Takamine’s eyes to Hara’s smile…