Yasujirō Ozuu, a name synonymous with the golden era of Japanese cinema, has inspired filmmakers and cinephiles across generations. His approach to storytelling, framing, and character development offers a treasure trove of lessons for aspiring directors.

In this post, we delve into ten of his most influential techniques.

Let's get started.

1. The Importance of "Ma" (Negative Space)

Ozu’s use of "ma," or negative space, in his compositions teaches us about the power of what is not shown. His frames often feature empty spaces that speak volumes, encouraging viewers to engage more deeply with the scene.

2. Low and High Camera Angles  

Ozu's signature low camera angles, often at the eye level of a seated person, create an intimate perspective. This approach invites the audience into the world of the characters, making the experience more immersive.

His high camera angles of buildings, bird's eye views, and static scenery shots emphasize a world that changes before our eyes.

3. Minimal Camera Movement

In stark contrast to contemporary filmmaking, Ozu often used a static camera. This technique forces the viewer to focus on the subtleties of the performance and the composition of each frame.

4. The Pillow Shot

Ozu frequently inserted "pillow shots," short, transitional scenes of nature, everyday objects, or settings, to create a contemplative pause in the narrative. This technique allows for a moment of reflection and emphasizes the environment's role in the story.

5. Restrained Editing 

Ozu’s editing style is marked by its restraint. He often avoided conventional editing techniques like cross-cutting, instead opting for straight cuts that offer a more straightforward, contemplative flow.

6. Finding The Profound in the Everyday

Ozu's films often revolve around everyday life and simple stories, yet they touch on profound themes like family dynamics, the passage of time, and the clash of tradition and modernity.

7. Subtle Performances 

Ozu directed his actors to deliver understated performances, believing that subtlety could convey deep emotions more effectively than overt drama.

8. Set Design

Ozu's meticulous set designs were integral to his storytelling. He carefully arranged every object in the frame to reflect the characters' inner lives and the film’s broader themes.

9. The Beauty of Simplicity

Ozu teaches us the beauty of simplicity in both storytelling and visual composition. His films, devoid of complex plot twists or elaborate cinematography, capture the essence of the narrative through simple yet powerful means.

10. Respect the Audience

Ozu respected his audience's intelligence, never over-explaining or spoon-feeding the story. He believed in the viewer’s ability to piece together the narrative and find personal meaning in it.

Yasujirō Ozu’s filmmaking philosophy transcends time and cultural boundaries, offering universal lessons for directors. His emphasis on simplicity, subtlety, and the profound in the everyday makes his work a continuous source of inspiration and learning.

It's amazing to have art like his to study and breakdown as we emotionally connect with its storytelling.

Now go watch his films and take these lessons into your own work.