Monday, November 15, 2010

The Conversations: An Autumn Afternoon

And just like that, The Conversations is back! In this, the second of three editions of The Conversations this month, Ed Howard and I discuss Yasujiro Ozu's final film, 1962's An Autumn Afternoon, which of course inspires discussion of Ozu in general. After seeing eye to eye more often than not in our previous installment, on rock concert documentaries, this time around Ed and I found quite a bit to debate.

Is Ozu's photographic eye emotionally evocative, or just visually pleasing? Do his meticulous compositions serve the themes of his stories or stand apart from them? And what's the effect of Ozu's meticulousness on the acting? These are the kinds of things we grapple with in what is a relatively short edition of The Conversations. Our third installment this month will publish in less than two weeks, so head on over to The House Next Door and contribute to the discussion of An Autumn Afternoon.

Click here for an archive of The Conversations.


Sam Juliano said...

"Yes, those shots of the empty house are especially poignant as employed toward the end of the film, because by that time we know precisely how much Hirayama will miss his daughter’s nurturing presence. Having said that, Ozu consistently displays a knack for generating emotion from empty-room shots no matter the context, at least to some degree because empty rooms are inherently lonely."

The entire conversation is especially fascinating for me at this specific time, as I have been engaged in a five-month weekly Ozu Film Festival at the IFC Film Center Center, which began in July and concluded two weeks ago with a Sunday morning screening of AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON. During that span I managed 18 of the 20 films shown (only missing AN INN IN TOKYO and THE ONLY SON - films I have seen a few times on DVD previously) and was this able to apply an acute focus to his work. I have recently come to the conclusion that Ozu's is the cinema's greatest humanist (ahead of Satyajit Ray and Vittorio De Sica) on the basis of his prolific output and his unwavering application of familial themes. These themes, as Ed rightly asserts are recylcled an basically display variations on marriage, aging, loneliness and bonding. The master's greatest films of all in my view are TOKYO STORY, THERE WAS A FATHER, LATE SPRING, TOKYO TWILIGHT, I WAS BORN...BUT, and EARLY SUMMER, but AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON and a few others represent the highest level of his humanist expression. While this final film (yes, Ozu was planning another when suddenly stricken with the cancer that claimed him on his 60th birthday on Christmas Day, 1962) continues to deliniate the a changing Japan amidst overriding Western influences as Ed points out, the film is essentially about aging and loneliness, two themes previosuly examined is some of the earlier masterpieces.

This conversation came at the most perfect time for me, and I am preparing a comprehensive wrap of a festival I won't forget for the rest of my life. Even our pal Joel Bocko attended the screening of THE END OF SUMMER with me, three weeks ago.

I was sorry to read that David Ehrenstein found David Bordwell's magisterial volume, OZU AND THE POETICS OF CINEMA as "reductive" (the book is one of the beautifully penned and profound of any English language treatment of Ozu, and at the very least the equal of Donald Richie's OZU) and likewise his contention that TOKYO STORY is eclipsed by RECORD OF A TENAMENT GENTLEMAN, a great film for sure, but nowhere near TOKYO STORY in emotional power and universality. But fair enough; these are his views and they are expressed superlatively.

While I find myself agreeing here with Ed on almost every brilliant salvo, I am no less impressed with your own erudite presentation Jason, especially what you say above in the highlighted quote. In the end Ozu's deep understanding of the human condition and his ability to pound home his cycle of life issues, result in the most emotionally resonant cinema of all-time, cinema that defines the essence of humanism.

One only needs to refer back to the heartwrenching conclusion of THERE WAS A FATHER, when the son tells his new bride that "he doesn't have a father anymore" or the shattering coda of TOKYO STORY when Chishu Ryu tells Setsuko Hara that she showed more love for he and his wife than his own children to understand the true nature of unadulterated humanity in the silent events of everyday life.

Jason Bellamy said...

Sam: Thanks for leaving your thoughtful comments here! More over the weekend when I have time.

Jason Bellamy said...

OK, back to this ...

Sam: I'd happened to notice through your blog that you'd just seen An Autumn Afternoon, among other Ozu pics, so I was looking forward to your comment.

Indeed, Ed feels Ozu's films much more deeply than I do -- and maybe that means I still need to see more Ozu. But, as the passage you quoted shows, I'm by no means numb to Ozu's art. Based on your comment, I'm hoping to get to There Was a Father and Tokyo Story as soon as I can.