Yasujiro Ozu


Director
Yasujiro Ozu

About

Birth Place
Japan
Born
December 12, 1903
Died
December 11, 1963
Cause of Death
Cancer

Biography

Few filmmakers outside the avant-garde have developed a personal style as rigorous as Yasujiro Ozu. While his films are in a sense experimental, he worked exclusively in the mainstream Japanese film industry, making extraordinary movies about quite ordinary events. His early films include a ghost story, a thriller, and a period piece, but Ozu is best known and admired for his portraits o...

Bibliography

"Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer"
Paul Schrader

Biography

Few filmmakers outside the avant-garde have developed a personal style as rigorous as Yasujiro Ozu. While his films are in a sense experimental, he worked exclusively in the mainstream Japanese film industry, making extraordinary movies about quite ordinary events. His early films include a ghost story, a thriller, and a period piece, but Ozu is best known and admired for his portraits of everyday family life shot in what one critic has called a most "unreasonable style."

Ozu's early fascination with cinema soon turned into an obsession; as a student he reportedly went to great lengths to skip school and watch movies, usually Hollywood fare. His own filmmaking career began with his entry in 1923 into the newly formed Shochiku Studios, where he worked as an assistant cameraman and an assistant director. He directed his first film in 1927, and over the next four years directed twenty-one more.

The years 1931 to 1940 saw some of his greatest films, and he received the Best Film award from KINEMA JUMPO three consecutive times, for "I Was Born, But..." (1932), "Passing Fancy" (1933) and "A Story of Floating Weeds" (1934). During the war, he directed two relatively successful films before being sent to Singapore to make propaganda pictures. There, he had the opportunity to screen captured prints of American films; later he would comment: "Watching "Fantasia" made me suspect that we were going to lose the war. These guys look like trouble, I thought."

Upon his return to Japan, he directed several unexceptional films before returning to form with "Late Spring" (1949). From this point onward, Ozu scaled down his output to about one film a year, while maintaining the high standards he had set during the thirties.

The most distinctive aspect of Ozu cinema is its self-imposed restraint. The elements of his unique style were in place by the mid-1930s and are deceptively easy to list. They represent a range of "unreasonable" choices, which the director continually refined (or reduced) throughout his career. Ozu's signature feature is his camera placement, which is usually (but not always) close to the ground. Its position is actually proportional: the height can change, as long as it stays lower than the object being shot.

Ozu also developed a curious form of transition, which various critics have labeled "pillow shots" or "curtain shots." Between scenes, he would always place carefully framed shots of the surroundings to signal changes in setting, as well as for less obvious reasons. Basically a hybrid of the cutaway and placing shots, these transitions were considered unusual for extended length; they sometimes seem motivated more by graphic composition and pacing than by the demands of the narrative.

Ozu's most radical departure from classical style was his use of 360-degree space. By convention, Hollywood style dictates that the camera should stay within a 180-degree space to one side of the action. This is to provide proper "screen direction" and a sense of homogenous space. Ozu's camera, on the other hand, orbits around the characters. Furthermore, this 360-degree space is broken down into multiples of 45 degrees, into which the camera angles generally fall. This produces a number of unusual effects, but Ozu's stories are so engrossing that they don't disrupt the story.

One effect of jumping over the 180-degree stage line is that actors facing each other seem to look off in the same direction. Ozu's response to this was to place characters in identical positions between (as well as within) shots. He favored a sitting position with the actor's body "torqued" to face the camera. Frustrated actors found their bodies treated as objects to be carefully manipulated within the frame, their lines to be delivered with a minimum of emotion and movement.

Ozu pushed this "graphic matching" between shots to notorious extremes: it is not unusual to see props such as beer bottles moved across tables or closer to the camera to preserve their size and screen position from shot to shot. Any effects that interfered with composition were cast away; Ozu never used a zoom and only one dissolve (in "Life of an Office Worker," 1929). He also subordinated camera movement to composition; he never used pans because they disturbed his framing. The few Ozu tracking shots were designed to maintain a static composition (by moving along a road with a character, for example). When Ozu began shooting in color (with "Higanbana," 1958), he did away with camera movement altogether.

While Ozu's films are not flashy, they are exceedingly complex. An essay this brief cannot begin to suggest the extent to which all these stylistic features are systematically choreographed. The permutations of form and variation become so minute they are visible only on close, multiple viewings.

The motives for Ozu's style have been the subject of rigorous debate. Because he was thought "too Japanese" for foreigners to accept or understand, for many years his films were not exported. When critics in the West finally discovered his work, his "unreasonable style" was usually explained in thematic, anthropomorphic and even religious terms. His low camera, for example, was described as the point of view of a child, a dog, a god or a person sitting Japanese style. Some critics attempted to explain the Ozu style through questionable comparisons to Zen Buddhism. Marxist critic Noel Burch, on the other hand, felt Ozu exemplified a rejection of Hollywood style and its ideological baggage. To date, the most convincing explanation has been offered by Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, who suggest that in Ozu's cinema questions of style may be detached from theme and narrative. Ozu's films feature a playful, overt narration in which stylistic features do not have to mean anything and can be appreciated for their own sake.

Despite their restraint, Ozu's films, with their families in the throes of marriage and death, are among the most touching of melodramas. As important and influential as Ozu was, no other filmmaker has ever adopted his style, leaving his 53 films quite unique in the history of cinema. Ironically, the influence of Ozu's visual style may be more readily noticeable in a number of non-Japanese filmmakers, including Wayne Wang, Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders, who called Ozu's films "a sacred treasure of the cinema."

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Floating Weeds (1970)
Director
Tea and Rice (1964)
Director
Early Autumn (1962)
Director
An Autumn Afternoon (1962)
Director
Late Autumn (1960)
Director
Ohayo (1959)
Director
Floating Weeds (1959)
Director
Equinox Flower (1958)
Director
Tokyo Twilight (1957)
Director
Early Spring (1956)
Director
Tokyo Story (1953)
Director
The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952)
Director
Bakushu (1951)
Director
Munekata kyoudai (1950)
Director
Late Spring (1949)
Director
A Hen in the Wind (1948)
Director
Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947)
Director
Chichi ariki (1942)
Director
Shukujo wa nani o wasureta ka (1937)
Director
The Only Son (1936)
Director
A Story of Floating Weeds (1934)
Director
Dekigokoro (1933)
Director
Tokyo no onna (1933)
Director
Umarete Wa Mita Keredo (1932)
Director
Tokyo no Korasu (1931)
Director
Hogoraka ni ayume (1930)
Director
A Straightforward Boy (1929)
Director

Writer (Feature Film)

Floating Weeds (1970)
Story
Floating Weeds (1970)
Screenwriter
Twilight Path (1965)
Original Story
Tea and Rice (1964)
Screenwriter
Early Autumn (1962)
Screenwriter
An Autumn Afternoon (1962)
Screenwriter
Late Autumn (1960)
Screenwriter
Ohayo (1959)
Screenwriter
Floating Weeds (1959)
Screenwriter
Floating Weeds (1959)
From Story
Equinox Flower (1958)
Screenwriter
Tokyo Twilight (1957)
Screenwriter
Early Spring (1956)
Screenwriter
Tokyo Story (1953)
Screenplay
The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952)
Screenplay
Late Spring (1949)
Screenplay
A Hen in the Wind (1948)
Writer
Chichi ariki (1942)
Screenplay
A Story of Floating Weeds (1934)
Story By
Dekigokoro (1933)
Writer
Umarete Wa Mita Keredo (1932)
Screenplay

Life Events

1924

Joined Shochiku company as assistant cameraman

1926

Hired as assistant director to Tadamoto Okubo

1927

Film directing debut with "Zange no Yaiba/The Sword of Penitence" (based on US film "Kick-In;" first collobaration with screenwriter Kogo Noda)

1936

First sound film as director "Hitori musuko/The Only Son"

1937

Served as infantry corporal in China during Sino-Japanese War

1943

Sent to Singapore to make propaganda films (never made any)

1958

Color-film directing debut with "Higanbana/Equinox Flower"

1962

Last film as director "Samma no aji/An Autumn Afternoon"

Videos

Movie Clip

Autumn Afternoon, An (1962) - Imagine That Poor Child Growing Up Like You Relatively quick pace from director Yasujiro Ozu in his final film, bringing businessman and widower Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) home where we meet daughter Michiko (Shima Ishiwata), and younger son Koichi (Keiji Sada), then first son Kazuo (Shin-ichiro Mikami) and sparky wife (Mariko Okada), in An Autumn Afternoon, 1962.
Autumn Afternoon, An (1962) - She Looked Just Like Your Mother From director Yasujiro Ozu, another evening at home with the Hirayamas, with news from the sentimental widowed father (Chishu Ryu) for daughter Michiko (Shima Ishiwata), younger Koichi (Keiji Sada) and elder son Kazuo (Shin-ichiro Mikami), who needs an assist due to consumer demands from his wife, in An Autumn Afternoon, 1962.
Autumn Afternoon, An (1962) - He Browbeat You With Chinese Classics First gathering of old school pals Hirayama (Chishu Ryu), Kawai (Noburu Nakamura) and Horie (Ryuji Kita), prefaced with what looks like a real clip of a ballgame between the Hanshin Tigers and Taiyo Whales, at their favorite Tokyo restaurant, talking of their old teacher and married life, in Yasujiro Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon, 1962.
rAutumn Afternoon, An (1962) - Marry Her Off Director Yasujiro opens what would be his final film, unmistakable style and milieu except for a tilt toward colorful, industrial landscapes, introducing Chishu Ryu as executive and widowed dad Hirayama and Noburo Nakamura his visiting pal Kawai, the secretary not credited, in An Autumn Afternoon, 1962.
Autumn Afternoon, An (1962) - I Can Pay Later At home with angered Akiko (Mariko Okada) and husband Kazuo (Shin-ichiro Mikami) whom we learn, with unexpected duplicity, has hit up his father for more money than they needed for a refrigerator, to buy nice golf clubs, though he has a terrific swing, chatting with a pal (Teruo Yoshida), in Yasujiro Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon, 1962.
Autumn Afternoon, An (1962) - He's Rather Tipsy Tokyo businessmen and old school pals HIrayama and Kawai (Chishu Ryu, Noburo Nakamura) bring their impoverished intoxicated old teacher “the Gourd” (Eijiro Tono) home from a tribute they’ve just held for him, meeting his embarrassed daughter (Michiyo Tamaki), in Yasujiro Ozu’s last feature, An Autumn Afternoon, 1962.
Late Autumn (1960) - Monks Went A Little Overboard In ceremonies marking the anniversary of the death of their father, husband and friend, young Ayako (Yoko Tsukasa), mother Akiko (Setsuko Hara) and pals Mamiya, Taguchi and Hirayama (Shin Saburi, Nobuo Nakamura, Ryuji Kita) find humor and common interests, early in Yasujiro Ozu's Late Autumn, 1960.
Late Autumn (1960) - Please Decline The Offer Director Yasujiro Ozu is only beginning to confirm that the story will revolve around widow Akiko (Setsuko Hara) and daughter Ayako (Yoko Tsukasa), here discussing the latest inquiry into the latter's marital status, early in Late Autumn, 1960.
Late Spring (a.k.a. Banshun) 1949 - Forgive The Delay Opening sequence, low angles, no camera movement and little inside the frame, Noriko (Setsuko Hara) at a tea ceremony with her aunt (Haruko Sugimura), in the first film in Yasujiro Ozu's acclaimed "Noriko" trilogy, Late Spring (a.k.a. Banshun), 1949.
Late Spring (a.k.a. Banshun) 1949 - Solo Violin Recital Unemployed and single Noriko (Setsuko Hara) with her otherwise-betrothed friend Hattori (Kuniko Miyake), giggling over her professor father (Chishu Ryu), his boss, having tried to set them up, early in Yasujiro Ozu's Late Spring (a.k.a. Banshun) 1949.
Early Spring (1956) - The Garbage Man Never Comes Opening with static shots of grim scenes of modern industrial Japan, we meet Masako (Chikage Awashima) and husband Shoji (Ryo Ikebe), then briefly their neighbors the Aokis (Teiji Takahashi, Takako Fujino), before the work day begins, in Yasujiro Ozu's Early Spring, 1956.
Early Spring (1956) - Everyone's Dissatisfied Our hero, Tokyo office worker Shoji (Ryo Ikebe) and his quasi-mentor Onodera (Chishu Ryu), in town though he's long been farmed out to the boondocks, visit ex-colleague Kawai (So Yamamura), who opened his own coffee shop, in Yasujiro Ozu's Early Spring, 1956.

Bibliography

"Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer"
Paul Schrader