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Playing at the film club: Coriolanus (Fiennes, 2011)

Kurosawa and Ozu

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    Ugetsu

    I’ve no comment on this, except to say that I found this much more interesting than the usual youtube fare – a video essay on the contrasts between Ozu and Kurosawa, looking specifically at Tokyo Story and Rashomon. There is in it a lovely quote I like – an unnamed student writing an essay about Kurosawa started with ‘I don’t know much about Akira Kurosawa, but he knows a lot about me’.

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    Vili Maunula

    Thanks, Ugetsu! It’s a nice video and I love that quote!

    I took the liberty to fix the typo in the link. By the way, if you paste just the URL of a YouTube video into a post, the system these days should automatically convert it into an embedded video. The same should work also for Twitter and Instagram posts. Not that I have ever mentioned this anywhere on the website. The embedding also doesn’t work in the comment preview feature. So this is some very arcane knowledge indeed.

    Anyway, back to the video and the familiar subject matter that it touches. While I like the video, I wonder if the topic is really properly served by contrasting just two films from the two directors’ extensive filmographies. Very different conclusions could be drawn if one concentrated on, say, Rhapsody in August and I Was Born, But….

    Likewise, I wonder whether we wouldn’t have a very similar discussion going on if we as foreign film students only really knew two American directors, say Orson Welles and John Ford for instance. I could easily imagine that we would argue that John Ford is the quintessential American director while Welles is the international, almost un-American auteur. But since we are able to look at Welles and Ford within a wider context of American cinema, their differences become less pronounced and their cultural similarities more nuanced.

    The more I watch films from Ozu’s and Kurosawa’s Japanese contemporaries, the more apparent it seems to me that the above is the case also with these two directors. While they definitely had very distinctive styles and interests, and certainly stand out thanks to the insanely high quality of their films, within the continuum that is Japanese cinema of the era, they were not some sort of polar opposites or two sides of a coin. They were just two directors with somewhat different interests and approaches.

    In the end, might it be that the fact that Kurosawa was and continues to be more widely watched internationally has less to do with his supposedly universal or non-Japanese subject matters or stylistic approaches and more to do with the fact that he just directed more genre films, which also happen to have more mass appeal regardless of the cultural background that they come from.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the video. Got me thinking. 🙂

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    Ugetsu

    The one thing I’ve often thought about the distinction between Ozu and Kurosawa is that they represent the two key strands of Japanese art – one the one side the search for a ‘pure’ Japanese aesthetic (all that stuff about mono no aware and so on), and the other the magpie like appropriation of foreign ideas while turning them into something uniquely Japanese (as with manga, for example). For me, Ozu is in cinema form (along with Mizoguchi) very much of the former strand, while Kurosawa is the latter. I had thought the video essay was going to formulate this argument – it sort of went half way there and veered off.

    But anyway, while I agree you can construct this argument with any ‘pairing’ of great directors, I do think that there are more than just stylistic or thematic differences in their approach – they represent two quite fundamentally different types of Japanese art.

    But I’d better start there as there are lots of people who know far more about this thing than me…

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