Yasujirō Ozu was a singular figure in Japanese (and world) cinema. In a career that spanned five decades, he turned out 54 films, bridging the history of cinema from silent films, to comedies, and the style he is best known for, Japanese family dramas. His long takes and camera angles were unique for being low to the ground, mimicking the visual perceptions of his characters. He died young in the early 1960s, but his reputation has continued to grow and he is now considered one of the most influential directors of all time. Click below to learn what this master of cinema had to say about the art of filmmaking!
Film School Rejects posted an article that compiles Yasujirō Ozu's sensibilities into a list of tips for filmmakers. You can check out a few selections below, but first -- a little history. Ozu got his start in the film business as a third A.D. in 1926, but quickly moved on, directing several short comedies for the Shochiku studio. His reputation grew quickly, and in 1932 he had directed I Was Born, But..., a poignant comedy that brought him to the attention of film critics, and was widely considered as one of the first films to use social criticism in Japanese film.
After the war, in which he was conscripted, and forced to make propaganda films for the Japanese government, he returned to Japan, where his films from the late 40s until his death in 1963 (on his birthday) were acclaimed, but not widely shown outside of Japan. His reputation has only grown posthumously, and directors such as Wim Wenders, Claire Denis and Paul Schrader, to name just a few, have spoken of his influence.
Ozu rarely spoke about his craft, but when he did, it was with intelligence and insight, and by examining his films we can come to understanding of the technique of this master of unique, quiet and insightful cinema.
The Cut Is King
Ozu was wary of fades and dissolves, saying:
I consciously did away with fade-ins and replaced them with the cut. Henceforth, I never used such editing techniques again. In fact, neither dissolve, fade-in nor fade-out can be regarded as ‘the grammar of film,’ they are no more than characteristics of the camera.
Ozu let the cut do the work, narratively, suspicious of what he saw as "tricks." While the fade and dissolve can be used temporally, that is, to show the passage of time within a scene or sequence, or simply as an aesthetic effect, Ozu's cinema, which was quiet and focused on Japanese home-life, eschewed these techniques. He let the performances, his idiosyncratic angles (frequently near ground level, to mimic the viewpoint of someone sitting on the ground around a low table, as was the custom in traditional Japanese households), and the cut do his work for him.
Silence Speak Volumes
Ozu's background in silent film is evident in many of his sound films; even though the characters are taking, he doesn't make use of too much 'excessive' sound design, and his dialogue scenes are mostly quiet, with characters saying no more than is necessary to get the point of the scene across. Even in the 1930s, when "talkies" were all the rage, Ozu still made silent films, feeling, as many directors have, that film is primarily a visual medium.
Ozu's films are realist in the way they capture the quiet moments of life, with as little artifice as possible. He aimed to capture Japanese society with as much fidelity as possible, and one way to do this, he found, was by observing as much as he could. Speaking of his films in a metaphorical way, Ozu said, "I just want to make a good plate of tofu. If people want something else, they should go to the restaurants and shops." Ozu's "tofu" has placed him among the rarefied directors in cinematic history, and his Tokyo Story beat 2001: A Space Odyssey, Vertigo, and 8½ on Sight & Sound’s 2012 Best-Of List by directors, which speaks to the cinematic power of this master filmmaker.
For the full list, check out Film School Reject's article here.
What do you think? Has Ozu influenced any of your films? What do you think his 'less is more' philosophy of filmmaking has to teach an indie filmmaker? Let us know in the comments!