Bordwell has studied all surviving films and therefore has a greater overall analysis of the complete career of Ozu. The first part of the book focuses on "Problems of Poetics" and is organized into eight chapters: 1. Bordwell discusses their criticism and makes observations and judgements as well. It is largely easily readable for the general reader, however, there is a certain amount of academic jargon used when discussing the more technical aspects of filming. In the second part of the book he discusses the films individually and even has notes about non-existing films that have been lost. Bordwell finds that most of his arguments are weakened by the number of omissions and inaccuracies regarding the film.
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By David Bordwell There he was, large as life, if not as lively. Ozu sat cross-legged, bent toward his camera and studying the final shot of Chishu Ryu in Tokyo Story. The Mitchell camera was real, as was the low-level tripod, and he had his trusty cigarettes in easy reach. But he, like Ryu, was only an effigy in a theme park.
In fall of , while visiting Tokyo to do research, I took the train out to the suburb of Kamakura. Shochiku had recently turned part of its grounds into a theme park devoted to movies. An air of vacuous opportunism hung over the place. The American zone contained a CNN store and a scaled-down drive-in, with several convertibles sunk into the concrete floor and pointed toward a video screen. On the left was a replica of his study, with pipes and sake bottles carefully arrayed on his work table.
On the right, there was the tableau of him directing Ryu. I loved it, but it also made me sad. Shochiku had fallen on hard times. Unlike Toho, which had an endlessly marketable commodity in Godzilla, Shochiku held a library of little appeal to modern taste. Its only branded items were Tora-San and Ozu, both sustained chiefly through nostalgia.
Kamakura Cinema World, as the place was called, closed in after only three years of operation. Shochiku continued to lose out at the box office to thrusting companies tied to TV, advertising agencies, and other conglomerates.
I still think of that theme-park exhibition whenever I turn back to Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema. I think about the fragility of tradition, the confusions and miscalculations of the film business, and the fact that even through hucksterism Ozu retains a place in the wildly unpredictable popular culture of Japan. It so overwhelmed me, even on a little Trinitron, that I started to show 16mm Ozu prints in my courses.
New Yorker Films had just acquired several titles and the copies, particularly of the color films, were superb. We well remember seeing our first graphic match in Ohayo, the red shirt on the line matching the red lampshade, when projecting the print in a tiny seminar room.
The result was another essay by Kristin. I kept teaching Ozu films and taking notes on them, asking at every archive I visited what Ozu titles they had in store. While we were getting the manuscript accepted and published, I wrote Narration in the Fiction Film, published in , the same year that CHC finally appeared. Both those books were centrally about conventions.
Hollywood cinema seems fairly simple, but the more we looked, the more we found that it harbored storytelling strategies that turned out to be fairly complex. So I came to the Ozu project having studied the conventions of the conventional and some conventions of the unconventional. Where did Ozu fit in? I signed a contract for Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema in After about four years of research, I wrote the bulk of it in the first eight months of It was published by the British Film Institute in spring of and by Princeton University Press in fall of the same year.
A brief account of the process can be found here. I had asked the BFI to arrange a copublication with Princeton because I noticed that some BFI books went out of print rather quickly, whereas Princeton usually kept books in print for a long time.
My apprehensions were justified. The BFI declared Ozu out of print four years after its release. Somehow Christmas got in the way. I just seem to have got swallowed up since I returned from. I did. But then the press ran out of copies and wanted to declare the title out of print. I had acquired the preprint materials from the BFI big cellulose sheets and paid for them to be cleaned so that Princeton could print from them.
I made the rounds of publishers without success, since no one wanted to take a risk on this fat, heavily illustrated monster. Bruce Willoughby, executive editor for the series, accepted the challenge and the Center scanned the book and posted an online pdf version in the fall of But the pictures in the pdf posting came out pretty coarse and contrasty, and so Markus and his colleagues agreed to replace them.
I hired a student, Kristi Gehring, to digitize all the illustrations, and Markus kindly handled the digitizing of the color frames. What you have now is in some ways better than a hard copy: the stills are sharp and bright, many are in color, and the frame enlargements can be blown up for further study.
The results confirm my view that online publication harbors great advantages for scholarly work. Understanding Ozu I called the book Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema because I wanted it to have two layers, like a cake.
The first layer is about Ozu—his films, their relation to broader trends in Japanese cinema, their place in the local industry, and their roles in popular culture of his era. The second layer of the book aimed to illustrate the value of thinking about cinema from the standpoint of a poetics. Earlier work on Ozu in English had approached him from three angles. For Schrader, Ozu captured a kind of spirituality on film, as Dreyer and Bresson did, but without adherence to their Christian world views.
Burch argued that Ozu created a stylistic system that was firmly opposed to the Western mode of cinematic representation. 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.
In framing an answer, I had the advantage of a resurgence in Ozu studies in his native country. Several of his screenplays were published, and there were memoirs by figures like Miyagawa Kazuo. I also had time rethink some claims Kristin and I had made in our essay.
But this was to understand modernism in a very ahistorical sense. While our descriptive and analytical account of his work was valid as far as it went, I failed to offer a convincing causal account of its historical sources and premises. For the book, I wanted to correct my mistake and supply something no earlier writer had proposed: a sense of his proximate cultural context.
Fortunately for me, scholars in Japanese history were beginning to study this context. For example, given a Japanese artistic tradition emphasizing impermanence and ephemerality, Ozu could apply that to the modern city through imagery of smoke, water, and changes from daylight to dusk. He went on to develop these as lyrical asides through his unique insistence on fine-grained cinematic pattern-making.
Kristin Thompson and I had already worked on this problem in the mids, as had Ed Branigan. In addition, several lengthy visits to the Library of Congress in Washington, where scores of pre Japanese films are preserved, allowed me to tease out trends threading through film style of his epoch. This research enabled me to mount a finer-grained account of his distinctiveness. Ozu is one of the few directors to create a systematic alternative to Hollywood continuity cinema, but he does so by changing only a few premises.
By creating a degree space and a consistently low camera height, Ozu radically alters all the tactics of American technique. By refusing the dissolve after his early films , he forces himself to find ways to ease the viewer out of one scene and into another. As a result we get those visually experimental transitions that engage the viewer in a play of graphic space and linked objects.
He also learned lessons from American filmmakers, especially Lubitsch and Harold Lloyd, and the book was able to show that several aspects of his style imaginatively recast some of their cinematic ideas. Ozu set constraints on his style, as many great artists have, in order to force it to reveal nuances not achieved otherwise. He did something comparable with his narratives, reiterating a narrative arc that fits into a broader mythos of youth, adulthood, maturity, and old age. He also devised a distinctively elliptical cinematic narration, suited to the stories of social adjustment and private disappointments he developed.
Richie had noticed that Ozu characters can surprise us; I suggested that he achieved this by artfully shifting our point-of-view attachment from character to character. Just when we think we know everything, we learn something that casts a new light on the situation.
In sum, I took Ozu to be an innovative, even experimental filmmaker, but one working in an utterly commercial context. This conclusion supports an idea to which I keep clinging. Rather than denounce mass-audience filmmaking as mindless or manipulative, we have to be alert for those moments and those films that are subtly altering received forms and formulas.
Above all, of course, in writing this book I wanted to understand more intimately a filmmaker whose view of cinema and of human life chimed with my own. Particulars and principles So this is what people in film studies call an auteur study. Originally, the auteur approach to criticism showed that directors working in a highly commercial context could create works that bore a personal stamp. By that criterion, Ozu counts as an auteur. But now the term seems simply to suggest the study of a single director.
Many scholars think that such a project is necessarily easy, old-fashioned, or blind to the social circumstances of filmmaking. On the charge of focusing on a creative individual, I plead guilty. We ask, in effect: How do the creative choices made by distinctive film artists seek to achieve certain ends? I sketch the idea of a poetics in the Introduction and flesh it out on the fly in succeeding chapters.
A more theoretical account of the project can be found in the opening essay of my collection Poetics of Cinema. Most of the pieces there look at broader trends, involving work by many directors. Ozu proved ideal for my research program exactly because he has a unique approach to filmmaking, and his artistic decisions transmute some commonplace thematic and dramatic materials into rich aesthetic experiences.
At the same time, a poetics-based approach allows us to explore the broader resources of cinematic expression. How to study these things systematically? On page 17 I propose a concentric-circle model of inquiry. Put the films at the center. When we want to determine causal and functional explanations for certain features of them, look for the most proximate factors impinging on them.
I argue that the most proximate forces are the creator, his colleagues, and their concrete craft practices. These factors are in turn nested within the wider circumstances of filmmaking: the institutions, trends, and traditions that structure the current creative options. Further out lie all the broader cultural forces that make themselves felt in the practice of filmmaking.
At one level this is simply a methodological choice, but theoretical considerations lie underneath it.
Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema