October 22, 2013

Filmmaking Tips From Famed Director Yasujirō Ozu

yasujiro-ozuYasujirō 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.

Tokyo Story

Observe

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 OdysseyVertigo, 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!

Link: 6 Filmmaking Tips from Yasujirō Ozu -- Film School Rejects

Your Comment

15 Comments

Why do I get the feeling half the world cinema directors that are posted on here, the writer doesn't know anything about them. Just a bit of cut&paste.

But, lets keep this positive - some of Ozu's work is lovely - one of those directors that just doesn't have a peer, he does his own thing.

These posts highlighting masters of the past are great for motivating people into learning more about them, and thus discovering more about cinema itself.

October 22, 2013 at 9:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fresno Bob

How about you keep your mouth shut for one director post Bob. You whine about everything. Nofilmschool authors, Sam Raimi, David Fincher, and just guest directors are the ones you have to slam their work. I have a good feeling you are the guy who calls himself a director and does one stupid short film every 2 years. Makes excuses and says the next one will be better. In the meantime you read about "real" directors and people actually going out to shoot and you get jealous. So keep whining on the keyboard, just know that no one takes any of your whining to heart. Do something with your pathetic life. I'm done here.

October 22, 2013 at 11:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Julian

Nice one pal.

October 22, 2013 at 11:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fresno Bob

I think that was little harsh... You seemed to assume alot just from one sentence.

The criticism for the article is fair. In your logic Roger Ebert shouldnt have reviewed movie because he himself does not make movies... He was "clearly jealous." This type of thinking is silly of course and I see it way too often in the indie community.

October 22, 2013 at 11:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Xiong

Ha, funny little formatting inconsistency when the article gets to that bit. In any event, happy to see Claire Denis' name on this website. Beau travail and The Intruder are huge in my book. Just about all of her films, for that matter. Can't wait to see Bastards.

October 22, 2013 at 11:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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brent

+1 for Beau Travail.

Still need to catch up with White Material. Think it is on Netflix

October 22, 2013 at 11:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fresno Bob

The formatting was an error I made in the html code. Justin knows his stuff.

October 22, 2013 at 9:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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avatar
V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

Was pretty disappointed with Bastards. Thought that the images were beautiful and the mood appropriate, but overall the story was lacking... a bit nihilistic. I still love Trouble Every Day.

October 23, 2013 at 6:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Kevin

If you like Ozu you might like "Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema" by David Bordwell, which is (legally) available online at https://www.cjspubs.lsa.umich.edu/electronic/facultyseries/list/series/o...

One thing he discusses is the whole low viewpoint thing, and how the common explanations don't make much sense :)

October 22, 2013 at 11:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Asdf

Was just about to suggest the same thing. That book completely changed the way I think about cinema. This is a good article so I didn't want to moan about the whole viewpoint thing. Donald Richie's book on Ozu is great too.
I've never really thought of Ozu as a minimalist director. He did begin to strip away a lot of techniques from his later films but the techniques he kept were exploited to the maximum. His editing schema is positively bizarre.

October 22, 2013 at 12:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

His ideas on editing are not bizarre, just different then the norm just like his view on camera framing -which is very similar to 6x4 or 6x6 still cameras and probably were he got his idea to shoot that way as those cameras were the primary format in Japan for many years.

October 22, 2013 at 3:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Angus

I'm sorry but his editing is very strange; both the way the scenes are covered and the way he transitions between scenes. Don't get me wrong... I can't personally think of a filmmaker whose body of work has offered me more than Ozu but his style is idiosyncratic to say the least.
Ozu was actually a still photographer too. He would enter national still life photography competitions and do quite well (he may have even won a few). It definitely seems to have influenced his style.

October 22, 2013 at 8:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

Then his editing choices make even more sense if he was a serious still photographer. Things like wipes and dissolves probably didn't interesting him that much as they don't exist in photography. Infact, thinking about other directors like Kubrick and Tarkowsky who started off in still photography, they didn't use too many editing effects in their films either.

October 22, 2013 at 11:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Angus

Tokyo ga! Wim Wenders on Ozu

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0_iThToEzk

October 24, 2013 at 7:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dan

Even though the word "artifice" was used in the content, I appreciate the post. Ozu has had a huge influence on cinema.

October 28, 2013 at 12:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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