Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Lady and the Beard (1931)

The next three films after That Night's Wife - The Revengeful Spirit of Eros, The Luck Which Touched the Leg and Young Miss - all appear to have been lost and so I pick up again with The Lady and the Beard.  Unfortunately the only copy I had was the version currently on YouTube and so my notes come from watching a copy without sound and for which I could not read the intertitles.  Admittedly I am not entirely sure of the details of the plot but since this exploration has been focused more on the formal aspects of Ozu, that "minor" inconvenience leaves me a little less concerned than it might normally.

Most evident was the sudden proliferation of the famous low-angle (tatami) shot.  While I noticed a moment or two in previous Ozu films where he employed the shot, usually to emphasize a certain emotion, it now seems to have become Ozu's default camera placement, no matter at what point the story might be. 

Other than the sudden emergence of the tatami shot, one of the key characteristics of style people would later associate with Ozu, not many other elements jumped out.  I did notice a crane shot or two and a few tracking shots, which again, seem to disappear almost entirely in Ozu's later work.  There is also again a prominent Western symbol, something that has shown up in almost every single one of Ozu's early works.  Central in many frames this time it is a poster for a Laurel, Hardy, and Lionel Barrymore picture with a large quote in bold "All Talking" (we are in 1931 after all, the beginnings of the sound film).  A couple of times as well Ozu cuts to a close-up of Abraham Lincoln. 

Ozu is out of the gangster genre and back in somewhat more familiar territory.  The film has a few signs of his characteristic playfulness.  We are not yet, however, completely in the world of Ozu, where the takes are long, the rhythm slow and the style as refined as the cinema has ever known. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

That Night's Wife (1930)

Back to Ozu after a three month absence and what is most surprising again are the amount of Western allusions that show up in the early Ozu films, he who is oft considered the most Eastern of directors.  This time around we see Walter Huston film posters, a poster for a 1929 American film entitled Broadway Scandals and another poster featuring Jean Giraudoux.  Was Ozu already working out one of the themes of greatest importance to him, the threat of Westernization, or was Ozu deeply under the influence of his Western counterparts?

And it does not stop at the visual namechecks, Ozu is surprisingly but clearly working in a noir register.  There are shadows, the almost always-present nighttime, guns, pre-Hitchcockian close-ups and extreme close-ups focused on obects and a handful of noir-type twists and turns.

Ozu is not yet the restrained formalist at this point in his career.  Nor is he a pure genre filmmaker strictly following a recipe.  Ozu registers the most when he temporarily shifts his focus from plot to character, like when he startes to linger on the policeman watching the interaction between the husband, wife and their sick daughter or as the husband slowly considers his future all alone crouched down in a phone booth.