Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

Discuss DVDs released in the Eclipse and Essential Art House lines and the films on them.
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movielocke
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#226 Post by movielocke » Thu Jul 17, 2008 7:57 pm

I think the low angle of Ozu mythology has gotten far too overdetermined.

He's working in small spaces=restricted movement, the low camera height can give the illusion that the spaces are larger, it also means that we almost always see the actor's whole bodies, not just closeups of their faces (this is especially important in silent cinema, imo, where subtle body language cues carry greater weight).

In other words I think there are probably technical explanations just as good as film-theory explanations. The reality is probably somewhere in between.

Of course it could just be as simple as Ozu liked the look of things from that height.

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Matt
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#227 Post by Matt » Thu Jul 17, 2008 9:36 pm

Rufus T. Firefly wrote:I recall somebody somewhere stating that it was a way of reminding the audience that they were watching a film...
I always think this is a specious argument. Unless you are watching a filmed play in real time with a bolted-down camera at eye level, when are you ever "unaware" that you are watching a film? You're reminded of it, no matter how subtly, with every cut, with every close-up, with every camera movement, and with every instance of non-diegetic sound and music. Even if it were true, I don't think Japanese cinema would have been that self-reflexive in 1930. Cinema had only just recently tackled Modernism at that point, they had a long way to go toward Post-Modernism.
movielocke wrote:Of course it could just be as simple as Ozu liked the look of things from that height.
Which, I think, is Bordwell's argument (thought I have surely represented it poorly).
Last edited by Matt on Thu Jul 17, 2008 9:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Rufus T. Firefly
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#228 Post by Rufus T. Firefly » Thu Jul 17, 2008 10:35 pm

Matt wrote:I always think this is a specious argument. Unless you are watching a filmed play in real time with a bolted-down camera at eye level, when are you ever "unaware" that you are watching a film?
I did not express the idea adequately. It is possible to achieve a degree of immersion in the narrative of a movie to the extent that you feel that you are participating in the action, emotionally if not physically. The idea that I was referring to was that Ozu's technique was designed to remind the viewer that they are not participants by using camera angles that make it difficult to maintain that illusion.

I think the source of this was a book by Noel Burch called To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Film. As David Bordwell notes in the introduction to his book on Ozu,
Burch argued that Ozu created a stylistic system that was firmly opposed to the Western mode of cinematic representation. Ozu flaunted his characteristic visual devices in a manner recalling Bertolt Brecht’s “alienation effect” and premises of classic Japanese art. While Richie situated Ozu within a broad, pan-historical Japaneseness, Burch tied him to specific but distant artistic practices, like kabuki theatre and renga verse. Thus for Burch, Ozu’s shots of isolated objects at the beginnings and ends of scenes were like the “pillow words” packing out a poetic line.
The text of Bordwell's book (and Burch's for that matter) is available on the linked site.

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Michael Kerpan
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#229 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jul 17, 2008 10:48 pm

I put it to you that Burch, brilliant as he might be, did not know squat about the broader world of early Japanese cinema. He looked at a relative handful of films in isolation -- with not a clue as to the historical and aesthetic (cinematic) context. He would appear to have been almost totally unaware of the fact that Hollywood film style and practices constituted the foundation of Shochiku's film output (including Ozu's works).

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whaleallright
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#230 Post by whaleallright » Thu Jul 17, 2008 10:50 pm

Burch's whole book takes up the argument that classical Japanese cinema was less invested in the "illusion of reality" than Hollywood cinema--an argument he's made elsewhere about early cinema, modernist cinema, and more recently German cinema of the 1930s.

His arguments are more sophisticated than most, but nevertheless he misses the essentially playful quality of Ozu's experimentation.

The low camera height permitted a range of compositional effects that Ozu liked. They didn't necessarily create a greater impression of depth than a more conventional height would have, but shifted the way that depth is represented. Rather than steep diagonals or receding surfaces, you get conspicuously overlapping planes more or less perpendicular to the camera axis. Bordwell's book goes into all this in great detail, at one point surveying similar shots--taken from the back of a classroom--from Ozu's 1930s films and noting how the camera gradually gets lower and lower.

The canard about the camera position being equivalent to a person sitting on a tatami mat is really persistent; even though it's been disproven, and much better explanations of Ozu's stylistic decisions have been offered, it turns up again and again in newspaper articles accompanying Ozu retrospectives, even in major papers.
Last edited by whaleallright on Fri Jul 18, 2008 11:55 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Michael Kerpan
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#231 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jul 17, 2008 11:03 pm

Bordwell's book is now 20 or so years old -- and Hasumi's book (which makes some similar points) is around 16 years old (I think). And yet the points they made have only barely make their way into non-academic film writing.

Granted Hasumi's book was initially available only in Japanese -- and is now only also available in French (except for a truncated and somewhat misleading excerpt available in English). But Bordwell's book should have been accessible (except for the period after it went out of print -- and before it appeared online).

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movielocke
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#232 Post by movielocke » Fri Jul 18, 2008 2:23 am

if we're talking bad readings of Ozu, there's always Marc Holtholf. This was actually assigned to me at one point and I was furious with the essay. skimming it now, it's not quite as bad as I remember.

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The Fanciful Norwegian
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#233 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Fri Jul 18, 2008 3:11 am

And on the subject of Jump Cut, they published a good critique of the Burch book (and certain aspects of formalist practice in general) back in the early '80s, which does an excellent job of highlighting some of his more, shall we say, creative circumlocutions, in regard to Ozu and in other areas. It touches briefly on the so-called "tatami shots" and Burch's interpretation of the same. I would never wholly dismiss Burch -- my own copy of To the Distant Observer is rather well-thumbed, actually -- but even sympathetic observers like Rosenbaum readily say that he's a bit too willing to subordinate everything (including what's in the actual films) to preconceived notions, which is basically the opposite of what he purports to do.

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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#234 Post by movielocke » Thu Jul 30, 2009 1:49 pm

I just watched King Vidor's the Crowd for the first time and was more than a little surprised to discover that I felt like I'd seen it all before, in Tokyo Chorus. By the end of the film, I concluded that Tokyo Chorus is as much a remake of (or heavily inspired by) The Crowd as Tokyo Story is from Make Way for Tomorrow. This intrigues me to no end, do any of Ozu's other films share a close relationship to a specific hollywood film, as these two do?

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reno dakota
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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#235 Post by reno dakota » Thu Jul 30, 2009 2:47 pm

movielocke wrote:I just watched King Vidor's the Crowd for the first time and was more than a little surprised to discover that I felt like I'd seen it all before, in Tokyo Chorus. By the end of the film, I concluded that Tokyo Chorus is as much a remake of (or heavily inspired by) The Crowd as Tokyo Story is from Make Way for Tomorrow. This intrigues me to no end, do any of Ozu's other films share a close relationship to a specific hollywood film, as these two do?
Honestly, I have always found these comparisons a bit curious. It is probably fair to say that the Ozu films borrow some themes from the earlier films, but they are very general themes. Particularly in the case of Tokyo Story/Make Way for Tomorrow. There is the theme of parents being a burden to their children in both, but narratively they bear very little resemblance to one another. In fact, I see more narrative resemblance between Make Way for Tomorow and Ozu's Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (i.e., a parent without a home, being grudgingly housed by one of her children).

movielocke, could you expand on why you see the Ozu films as remakes of, or heavily inspired by, the earlier films (here and/or in the Tokyo Story thread)?

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#236 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Jul 30, 2009 4:22 pm

I would agree that the tone of Toda Family is certain closer to that of Make Way for Tomorrow that that of Tokyo Story.

Many of Ozu's early films had specific sources of Hollywood inspiration. For instance, Story of Floating Weeds was patterned on The Barker (which had come out several years earlier). Fighting Friends Japanese Style was inspired by the Beery-Hatton buddy films. Other films also have Hollywood sources, but I don't recollect the particulars offhand.

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Matango
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Re:

#237 Post by Matango » Fri Sep 11, 2009 3:11 am

movielocke wrote:I think the low angle of Ozu mythology has gotten far too overdetermined.

He's working in small spaces=restricted movement, the low camera height can give the illusion that the spaces are larger, it also means that we almost always see the actor's whole bodies, not just closeups of their faces (this is especially important in silent cinema, imo, where subtle body language cues carry greater weight).

In other words I think there are probably technical explanations just as good as film-theory explanations. The reality is probably somewhere in between.

Of course it could just be as simple as Ozu liked the look of things from that height.
A few years back I wrote a full-page feature for a newspaper about Ozu for his 100th anniversary. In it I mentioned the fact that one of his trademarks was the placing of the camera 'about three feet off the ground'. The robotic sub-editors changed this, according to house style, to 'about 0.91 metres'. Now I think of that and cringe every time I see an Ozu film. ](*,)

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jguitar
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#238 Post by jguitar » Fri Sep 11, 2009 2:58 pm

Matango wrote:A few years back I wrote a full-page feature for a newspaper about Ozu for his 100th anniversary. In it I mentioned the fact that one of his trademarks was the placing of the camera 'about three feet off the ground'. The robotic sub-editors changed this, according to house style, to 'about 0.91 metres'. Now I think of that and cringe every time I see an Ozu film. ](*,)
This reminds me of something I read years ago in a John Walsh column in the Independent. I don't remember the context, but whatever it was, it gave him a chance to make fun of the Telegraph. He quoted them reporting on a visit some years ago by Elizabeth Taylor to the UK; when she was asked by a reporter how she felt to be back, she said "I feel like a million dollars," to which the editors dutifully inserted in parentheses whatever $1 million US was in British pounds at the time.

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aox
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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#239 Post by aox » Wed Dec 16, 2009 12:04 am

Just got these discs. Am I supposed to watch I was Born, But.... silent or with the score? What is more appropriate?

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Matango
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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#240 Post by Matango » Wed Dec 16, 2009 12:15 am

Just look in the phone book under Benshi.

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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#241 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Dec 16, 2009 12:38 am

aox wrote:Just got these discs. Am I supposed to watch I was Born, But.... silent or with the score? What is more appropriate?
The original presentation would have included detailed narration (including dialog not in the intertitles and color commentary) plus a perky musical background. I advise experimenting -- and finding the solution that works best for you. My preferred method is no music or neutral unobtrusive background music of my own choosing.

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aox
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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#242 Post by aox » Wed Dec 16, 2009 12:41 am

thanks, michael.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#243 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Dec 16, 2009 12:47 am

I'd recommend watching the less polished (but still enjoyable) Tokyo Chorus first, btw.

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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#244 Post by Caged Horse » Tue Dec 22, 2009 7:50 am

Finally sat down for this Eclipse set (my first). Previously I'd only seen I Was Born, But... and it still seems a superior work alongside its more melodramatic companions. Too bad Criterion couldn't just have issued it together with a remastered Good Morning, in the manner of the Floating Weeds double bill.

Did anyone else notice the accidental reflection of the camera dolly appearing in one of Tokyo Chorus' tracking shots? Even a framing as meticulous as Ozu's isn't infallible. :)

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aox
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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#245 Post by aox » Tue Dec 22, 2009 10:05 am

Caged Horse wrote:Finally sat down for this Eclipse set (my first). Previously I'd only seen I Was Born, But... and it still seems a superior work alongside its more melodramatic companions. Too bad Criterion couldn't just have issued it together with a remastered Good Morning, in the manner of the Floating Weeds double bill.
100% agreed.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#246 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Dec 22, 2009 11:29 am

Caged Horse wrote:Did anyone else notice the accidental reflection of the camera dolly appearing in one of Tokyo Chorus' tracking shots? Even a framing as meticulous as Ozu's isn't infallible. :)
Ozu's camera work was a lot more dynamic at this period -- but never rule out the possibility of a deliberate little joke in early Ozu. His Walk Cheerfully (no subbed DVD yet) is quite prank-ish.

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aox
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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#247 Post by aox » Fri Jun 25, 2010 9:58 am

If you live in NYC, IFC is playing I Was Born, But.... all week starting today. Screening with Ozu's 1929 film, Straightforward Boy.

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dad1153
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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#248 Post by dad1153 » Sat Jun 26, 2010 3:33 pm

Thanks for the heads-up. I might make an evening out of it, go to the 9:25PM showing and stay to watch the Korean 80's grindhouse feature "L.A. Streetfighters" \:D/

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dad1153
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Re: Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

#249 Post by dad1153 » Thu Jul 08, 2010 11:50 am

If you're in NYC between July 9th-11th IFC Theater in NY will be showing Ozu's AN INN AT TOKYO (1935, silent with orchestral score) Friday, Sat. and Sunday at 11AM: http://www.ifccenter.com/series/yasujiro-ozu/. Every weekend from now until November will actually have an Ozu movie playing weekends at 11AM (but "INN" will be the only silent one of the bunch).

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ambrose
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Yasujiro Ozu

#250 Post by ambrose » Mon Jan 10, 2011 5:27 pm


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