Yasujiro Ozu and the Japanese Film System

March 18th, 2010

I find the Japanese film system and one of its premier directors, Yasujiro Ozu, to be exceptionally unique. This was, especially true since Japan was one of the “Third World” countries that entered the film arena during the technical height of filmmaking, when other nations already established their particular styles. I was amazingly surprised to learn that when Hollywood began to send an influx of its films overseas, destroying other national cinemas, like Italy’s, that a small island nation like Japan had a more stable film industry than Britain even before WWII. Also, the cadre and producer approaches in Japan were more ahead of its time than the Hollywood studio system. I think of it as similar to the auteur approach that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s because of the free reign and originality that Japanese screenwriters and directors exhibited during the 1920s and 1930s.

I liked how the Japanese were able to incorporate what they learned about other international film industries and filmmakers, yet still keep their own national identity. They were able to open their doors to other nations’ film and still maintained the popularity of the country’s own films, like the chambara before the war. However, I was disgusted with some of General MacArthur’s SCAP programs during the Occupation. The forced censorship of the Japanese film styles, as well as the imposition of American themes by a leader of the FREE WORLD, was beyond contradictory. Nonetheless, I was happy that the program did help the tenant farmers, gave women more rights and created universities.

What I like the most about the Japanese film industry was that it produced such an interesting film director in Yasujiro Ozu. He made films on his own terms. He was not afraid to make daring films by using unheard of techniques. He did not simply make films about his life, but observed others and created movies about their plight. His use of shomin-geki was interestingly similar to that of a neorealist, but what interests me the most was that he never sticks with any one film style. He uses one method and then completely abandons it on a whim; for example, his 360 degree approach a shot/reverse shot for one film would be discarded for a film about picturesque landscapes. His stories about children, or salarymen were later forsaken for stories about modern women and white collar individuals.

The most fascinating thing I find about Ozu was that he followed film conventions on his own terms, like a true auteur. He did not immediately start making talkies because it became the norm in films, but because it added to a particular story he was trying to tell. He didn’t use color in his films when other filmmakers jumped at the chance for this new standard, but because he saw something new and intriguing that he could do with it. This is why I think he is an incredible filmmaker, and I can’t wait to get familiarized with his work.

 Naeisha Rose

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