This is 110th anniversary of Yasujiro Ozu. Not so many artists receive recognition at the centenary of their birth, even less do at the 110th. But it is good to know that there will be a new generation of audience who will discover his works for the first time in this occasion. During the past months, I saw many books published, magazines running special issues, his prints newly restored, theaters holding Ozu festivals, and Blurays released. But somehow, my interests have faded away. Maybe it is a temporary thing, but I am fed up with this hype. Then I started to hate this anniversary thing after reading some pathetic articles. Sort of.
One high-blow art/literature magazine published a special issue on Ozu’s life and works. In one of these articles, a prominent Japanese film critic – the Ozu specialist, they say – declared BFI’s top 100 movies (TOKYO STORY was selected as No.1) atrocious. He seems to think all foreigners (and some Japanese) are riding along with Ozu fad. Half of those who voted for TOKYO STORY haven’t seen all of Ozu’s works, he triumphantly declared. I thought it hilariously stupid. In the middle of a sleazy marketing carnival, there is a sleaze criticizing other guys being sleazy. He called David Bordwell’s work ‘a thick book of little substance’, or words to that effect. He went on cursing everything related to recent Ozu appreciation (probably by those who didn’t ask for this guy’s permission). Among these vomit printed on tragically high-quality paper, I sensed timidness, cowardice, child-like withdrawal from the world outside.
Other articles by ‘lesser’ critics, – most of them are this guy’s followers – are not as scatological, but boring to death. I read these boring babbling somewhere else long time ago.
Part of the problem comes from what they used to call ‘Japanese-ness’ of Ozu. Many Japanese hesitated to recommend his works to overseas for a long time, because they were considered ‘too Japanese’ to be appreciated by non-Japanese. Somehow, they regarded SEVEN SAMURAI or GATE OF HELL were more accessible to non-Japanese, – mainly Europeans and Americans – back in ’50s and well into ’70s. To some extent, I believe that might have been true. Since ’70s, however, many world-wide audiences discovered Ozu’s films, thanks to Donald Richie, Paul Schrader, and many other critics. Their introduction did bring Ozu’s works to the arena of World Cinema. It didn’t take long for TOKYO STORY to become a staple of ‘All-time Best’ polls and ‘Movie List’. Now, Japanese critics, – and sadly many of them, – are at loss about this phenomena. Reading their writings, though it isn’t expressed explicitly, I sense this sentiment of too-Japanese-to-be-appreciated hidden underneath. It’s not about Japanese anymore. Maybe I should say this straight: they don’t like someone else discovering their treasures. For those who want to create an exclusive circle of themselves, non-Japanese audiences are easy target.
I don’t think Ozu’s works are particularly too ‘Japanese’. Furthermore, this may offend some die-hard Ozu fans, but I should say his techniques are not particularly unique, either. What distinguishes his works from other contemporary Shochiku filmmakers is consistency. His works are consistent in fluidity, in technique, in their approaches, in their characterization and in their stories. They are consistent within themselves and among themselves. That’s why they can be analyzed and re-analyzed over and over.
Another part of problem stems from the fact that these critics didn’t grow up. They are munching the same kind of analysis for more than three decades, using a similar set of language, methods and marketing tools. Their writings usually contain a strange set of words – mainly ‘invented’ by the group of Japanese critics back in ’80s -, like ‘gaze’, ‘anti’ or ‘toward’, which sounded fashionable during the time of “Beverly Hills Cop”. Not anymore. But these critics are still using them, and the most tragic thing is, they don’t realize they are out of fashion. That’s all right, that’s their problem, but this prompted me to think it over. In the time of DCP, 3D, YouTube and more new technologies to come, what the hell I should see in these old films? That’s one thing I should think over.
In any case, what I am trying to do here in this blog, then? I want to provide more background of each Japanese film to non-Japanese audience. I am trying to explore what was expressed in what context. Of course I know I am not as qualified as I want to be on the subjects. I am not as informed on the subject as any of you are. Many of these films were made a long time ago. Many of the things photographed in those films have been forgotten, decayed and lost. I am not a professional historian or a curator or a critic. What I can do is to dig up Japanese source materials and historical references relating to a particular film and introduce them in English. Personally, I learn a lot in this process myself.
By the way, I learned a lot from David Bordwell’s ‘Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema’. I learned a lot.