Indulge in Ozu’s ‘haiku’ film styleAlong with masters of Japanese cinema Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi, Ozu Yasujiro ranks as one of the country’s most revered moviemakers of all time.
“Ozu is our consciousness,” said Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a contemporary Japanese director. The French movie critic and theorist Andre Bazin said, “A person who likes [Akira] Kurosawa and dislikes Ozu is blind. If you like Ozu and turn down Kurosawa, it’s like you have one eye.”
For the first time, cinephiles or just the mere curious have an opportunity to watch up to 15 of Mr. Ozu’s 54-movie repertoire. Organizers of “An Homage to Yasujiro Ozu,” a retrospective that began last week and runs through June 10 at Hypertheque Nada in Daehangno, north Seoul, say his films have never screened publicly in Korea. All the films are subtitled in both English and Korean.
Born in 1903 to a fertilizer wholesaler, Mr. Ozu entered the movie scene at age 20, and stayed in it until his death in 1963.
Starting with history epic dramas, he went on to pursue comedy after being wrapped up in American comedies during his teenage years. From “I Was Born But...” (1932) forward, however, Mr. Ozu started to present his own style of minimalism, which later influenced other filmmakers such as Wim Wenders and Hsiao-hsien Hou.
In “I Was Born But...,” he used the camera to contemplate the life of a commoner family. Through the story of a little boy who complained that his father always cringes before his superiors at work, Mr. Ozu conveyed the life of a peasant with a warmhearted attitude.
Mr. Ozu would set his camera at a low angle, showing extreme temperance in camera movement. His static style, what was later dubbed a “tatami shot,” often was likened to haiku.
Characters as well as camera in Mr. Ozu’s films would just sit there, hardly moving. The tatami shot is said to describe the Japanese way of observing things, from the vantage of a tatami floor. The filmmaker stood firm in not using unnecessary camera movements like panning or techniques such as fade-ins and fade-outs.
Another element of Mr. Ozu’s typical style was to abruptly insert scenes that depict objects other than characters. The charm of these scenes was in how they managed to show much more through their static atmosphere than a busy camera.
One of Mr. Ozu’s most acclaimed works, “Tokyo Story,” is also on the Hypertheque list. It has been on almost every top-10 list of movies the world over. Of “Tokyo Story,” Mr. Ozu said: “I wanted to honestly describe the Japanese family life, where the family is losing meaning amidst the fall of the family-centered community.”
Here he attained the zenith of his style, using only minimal movements of character as well as camera. Though folks tamed by Hollywood blockbusters may find it difficult sitting still through this 135-minute film, the whole effort will be worthwhile as the tears begin rolling down your face.
Other films include “Tokyo Twilight,” Mr. Ozu’s least acclaimed, yet most popular, romance film, and his series of films with a wedding theme, such as “Equinox Flower” and “Early Spring.”
by Chun Su-jin
Tickets are 7,000 won ($5). Hypertheque Nada in Daehangno, northern Seoul, can be reached by taking subway line No. 4 to Hyehwa Station, exit 1. For more information, call (02) 766-3390 or visit www.seoulselection.com/events_read .html?cid=1851 to see the schedule.