FILMADRID & MUBI: The Video Essay—"永遠の処女 - The Eternal Virgin"

A video essay that finds actress Setsuko Hara in the films of Yasujiro Ozu a woman-actress-character-myth constantly alone in the shot.

The Video Essay is a joint project of MUBI and FILMADRID Festival Internacional de Cine. Film analysis and criticism found a completely new and innovative path with the arrival of the video essay, a relatively recent form that already has its own masters and is becoming increasingly popular. The limits of this discipline are constantly expanding; new essayists are finding innovative ways to study the history of cinema working with images. With this non-competitive section of the festival both MUBI and FILMADRID will offer the platform and visibility the video essay deserves. The seven selected works will be shown during the dates of FILMADRID (June 8 - 17, 2017) on MUBI’s cinema publication, the Notebook. Also there will be a free public screening of the selected works during the festival. The selection was made by the programmers of MUBI and FILMADRID.

永遠の処女 · The Eternal Virgin

Video essay by Jorge Suárez-Quiñones Rivas

The understanding of domestic, cyclic time-space in Ozu Yasjirō’s cinema takes material form in Hara Setsuko, “The Eternal Virgin”, woman-actress-character-myth constantly alone in the shot, fluctuating between figure and background, representation and presentation, fiction and documentary, omote (the public face) and ura (the private face), black & white and color... in an attack against the classical understanding of raccord.


A cinematographic, experimental approach through the practice of found footage to Ozu Yasujirō’s understanding of the relationship between space and time —and also figure and background, omote (the public face) and ura (the private face), representation and presentation, fiction and documentary...— explored by him in terms of mis-en-scène and composition in framing, materialized in this specific work by the sole presence of Hara Setsuko and her cyclic, lonely day- to-day parcours inside Japanese domestic architecture.

“The Eternal Virgin” has been edited using exactly the 71 shots from Ozu Yasujirō's films where the actress Hara Setsuko is absolutely alone in an indoor space during the complete length of the shot —which implies no visual, behavioural or oral interaction with any other character, even if they are offscreen—, excluding as well those shots in which any voice or sound from a different character is registered, since voice and sound can create a link between different spaces and therefore precluding the main principle of absolute loneliness. Nevertheless, those shots that originally are part of a sequence of shots in which other characters take part are likely to be chosen as long as Hara Setsuko appears framed absolutely alone, with no interaction of any kind with other characters —therefore, being absolutely impossible to deduce any human presence around her by watching the isolated frame—. As the structural, conceptual and semantic unit of this piece is the shot itself, every shots is taken in consideration as an independent unit, regardless what happens in the sequence that shot belongs to. As a result, what is obtained applying this premise are 71 shots from 6 different films with a total length of 13 minutes and 40 seconds where Hara Setsuko is seen absolutely alone in her daily routine: walking through corridors, opening and closing doors, preparing and having dinner, tidying up a room... An ode to the aesthetic power of banality enclosed in the Deleuzian Time-Image.

Each shot has been taken as a whole from Ozu Yasujiro’s films*: they have been cut out of the film precisely in order to keep their first and last frame, just the way Ozu Yasujirō included them in his films, following as well Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub principle of the “bioscopic shot”, respecting the original relationship between sound and image of the original shots, considering each of them as a solide, unalterable brick of condensed present.

Once the exhaustive and accurate selection of the shots has been accomplished in the most rational manner according to the above-explained premise, the editing of these shots has been carried out following a cinematographic impulse, focusing on rhythm and momentum in the search of a fluent flux of images and sounds whose energy, once it has started, becomes unstoppable. Motion and emotion are considered above —and against— the logic of classical raccord. The power of movement and feelings is stronger than the idea of verisimilitude traditionally associated to the rules of continuity and match-cut, allowing Hara Setsuko to travel, just in the space between two shots, from a 1949 film to a 1961 one, from color to black and white, from kimono to western clothes, from winter to summer, from 29 years old to 41.

Ozu’s formal rigor together with his absolute coherence throughout his career and his mastery in composition and understanding of traditional Japanese architectural and spacial philosophy and concepts enable that such a variety of shots coming from different films match together in a new film (in the form of a video-essay), forgetting where they come from in order to focus on what they create now, in this new relative position, where they are, as Robert Bresson would write in his “Notes on the Cinematographer”, “transformed by contact with other images”. Therefore, this film intends to be, as Bresson himself proposed, a “cinematographer’s film where the images, like the words in a dictionary, have no power and value except through their position and relation”. The chosen shots, all of them showing Hara Setsuko in the plainest and purest —and most beautiful— expression of the banality of everyday life —with no words but physical actions, with no psychology but presence— are available to be transformed on contact with other images, since they “involve no interpretation”, just showing what they are and avoiding any symbolic meaning.

Applying Bresson’s understanding of the work with the people he filmed, Hara Setsuko, in each one of the selected shots, would not be “seeming” but “being”, hence generating a “movement from the interior to the exterior”. She is six characters and at the same time none of them, which allows us to see her beyond her roles, letting us apprehend a little bit of her eternal essence. On the other hand, regarded from the present, the meta-cinematographical profile of Hara Setsuko shown in this film —a woman lost in a never-ending loop of cinematographic fictions from which she is not able to escape— may recall Laura Dern in David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE, both of them going through corridors over and over, opening doors that communicate with parallel universes, entering eternity through a cyclic understanding of space and time in which the boundary between the actress, the character, the myth and the real woman embodied in the single presence of Hara Setsuko becomes ambiguous and inapprehensible.

*Complete shots from:

 Late Spring (晩春 • Banshun, 1949)

 Early Summer (麦秋 • Bakushū, 1951)

 Tokyo Story (東京物語 • Tōkyō monogatari, 1953)

 Tokyo Twilight (東京暮色 • Tōkyō boshoku, 1957)

 Late Autumn (秋日和 • Akibiyori, 1960)

 The End of Summer (小早川家の秋 • Kohayagawa-ke no aki, 1961) 

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