Tuesday, October 29, 2013
October's Auteur - Yasujiro Ozu
It is time for October's Director of the Month - and the end of my little countdown of favorite Japanese filmmakers. We have reached the top - Yasujiro Ozu. For most of these, I have written up an essay - but the truth is, I've written so much about Ozu here, it might be easier just to point. Particularly to this one, summing up my love of Ozu - I can't really add much to that. He is, I say, the greatest filmmaker of all - an almost endless source of awe and beauty.
Maybe in place of a top 10 films I could list the top 10 reasons he is the best - or my favorite:
1. His formal brilliance
2. His Humanism
3. Space - the way he slices it up and recombines it
4. Every screen is impeccable
5. His editing - which is where his formal brilliance lies, I think - no one puts a film together like he did. The cuts on motion, the matches, on motion, on actions, or just on the images, the graphic match. And his disregard for the usual rules of editing - or more properly, his disruption of the normal rules of editing - he quite deliberately disorients the viewer, while teaching us to put an Ozu film together.
6. His range - I mean, to extend on those remarks about editing - the fact that all the things Ozu does, formally, can be done for emotional resonance, for a pure formal effect - or (and this happens a lot) as a gag.
7. His humor - the way his comic skills (of all kinds, physical humor, verbal jokes, character humor, formal gags with cuts and set design and what have you) are always there, worked into the fabric of the film, even when it's not a comedy. Though most of them are, at least partially, comedies. And some of them - Good Morning maybe most of all - are absolute comic masterpieces. The old lady and the knife gag....
8. His subtle, but unmistakeable and unmissable once you notice it, attention to economic and social issues. Really - attention to how people live, and how people live within their specific economic circumstances, is everywhere in his films.
9. Death - I have read that people don't usually die in Ozu films - but that is not right. His films are full of death. Seldom on screen (though there are a few - you can find just about anything in an Ozu film somewhere) but it is always there, offscreen - people are haunted in film after film by the people who have died - sons in the war; mothers, wives, children, young and old - there is no getting around it.
10. The way he runs changes on situations - the way he explores a theme, by circling it in a series of films. Take the obvious question of marriage in Japan - and all the different possibilities - arranged marriages, love marriages, sad marriages, happy marriages... Or running through parent child relationships: mother and son, father and son, father and daughter, mother and daughter....
And I could probably add this - that I can almost follow the dialogue in a lot of them.
So - that is that. As for the films - up to now, I've stuck to top 10s, but for Ozu, I am going whole hog - all the complete features I have seen, in order. That leaves out A Mother Should be Loved - I have seen it, but it is missing at least the first and last reels. It would come in near the bottom - it's a nice enough film, but a bit of an over the top tear-jerker. Still - there's nothing here that isn't a very well made piece of work...
1. Early Summer
2. Late Spring
3. Tokyo Story
4. I Was Born But...
5. The Only Son
6. Good Morning
7. Passing Fancy
8. An Inn in Tokyo
9. Tokyo Chorus
10. Autumn Afternoon
11. What did the Lady Forget?
12. Early Spring
13. Story of Floating Weeds
14. Woman of Tokyo
15. Tokyo Twilight
16. That Night's Wife
17. Floating Weeds
18. Record of a Tenement Gentleman
19. Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice
20. There Was A Father
21. Equinox Flower
22. Days of Youth
23. Brother and Sisters of the Today Clan
24. Late Autumn
25. Where Now are the Dreams of Youth
26. Hen in the Wind
27. Walk Cheerfully
28. Dragnet Girl
29. I Flunked But...
30. The Lady and the Beard
31. End of Summer
32. Munekata Sisters