Ozu, Yasujiro, the Japanese film director, started his career in the 1920s.
Let me guess!
You’re imagining a black + white movie and you’re already losing interest, right?
Okay — this post isn’t about animé or a bright Tokyo-esque story. But if you read on, I’ll tell you about this man and perhaps you might see trails of his influence in films nowadays.
I myself am no black + white movie buff. During the pandemic, my movie-buddy suggested we watch an Ozu film – Banshun (Late Spring) (1949). Until then, I’d never seen one of his films.
Late Spring, part of a trilogy, is about an unmarried woman named Noriko. The same actress appears in the entire trilogy, playing a character called ‘Noriko’. But each Noriko is a different person in all three films — only the name is the same.
Noriko doesn’t want to get married though her father wants her to. Late Spring seems like an early feminist push-back on traditional beliefs. To me, Ozu sides with Noriko.
A sense of calm persists throughout the film. Ozu put me in a corner of Noriko and her father’s home and I was happy watching their life go by.
Next came, Early Summer (1951), then Tokyo Story (1953). After each film, I was left with the same sense of being held — being comforted. The plot didn’t drive these emotions. It was a strange feeling which I didn’t quite understand.
My movie-buddy explained that Ozu invented a camera angle known as the “tatami shot”. In most western films, the camera is often kept at the actor’s height, whether they’re sitting or standing. The camera is usually kept in the middle of the scene.
On the other hand, Ozu places the camera close to the ground, taking a similar position to someone kneeling on a tatami mat. Sometimes, the camera sits even lower than that regardless of whether the actor is standing, sitting or kneeling eliciting strong sense of intimacy.
As humans we are deeply connected to the earth and being close to the ground brings about a sense of security in most of us.
Ozu makes us believe we’re right there with the actors. More than that — because the view is so low, you can’t help but feel you’re being wrapped up and held.
What I was experiencing was an effect of the visuals! I loved it.
I am by no means an expert on Yasujiro Ozu. However, from the few films I’ve seen, geometrically organized shots, limited camera panning, the “pillow-shot”, as well as the “tatami shot” are but a few elements of his legacy.
(pillow shot is a somewhat static visual (photographic in its composition) that is essentially not part of the plot of the story. One of my favourites is his shot of laundry hanging out to dry but barely moving.)
The gentle, quiet quality of his films leaves a beautiful aftertaste. Many frames have a photographic quality.
(Note: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) does this amazingly well!)
I think a lot about Ozu’s oeuvre. I wondered what it would be like to create a series of paintings, playing with Ozu’s notion of the ‘tatami view’ — shifting the perspective.
This painting is the first in the series. I attempt to shift the perspective in more ways than one.
- How you feel when you look at this painting?
- How does the low-to-the-ground perspective impact you?
- Do the colours affect you in any way?
- Does the subject’s gender matter?
- Would your feeling change if the subject were walking towards you, rather than away?
- Which perspective would put you more at ease? Ask yourself why?
Then, if you have some time, give Ozu a try!
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