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YASUJIRO OZU

Japan

Born: Tokyo, Japan, 12 December 1903.
Died: 11 December 1963.


Yasujiro Ozu (JPG, 15 KB)

At age ten he was sent by his father, a fertilizer merchant, to a remote school at the family's ancestral hometown. He was raised by his devoted, pampering mother and until he was 20 rarely saw his stern father. Some critics would later find traces of this unusual childhood in many of Ozu's films. He was an undisciplined youth, with little patience for formal schooling but a growing passion for Hollywood movies. After finishing middle school, he worked for a year as an assistant teacher at a village school. Back in Tokyo at 20, he landed, through an uncle's connections, a dream-come-true job as an assistant cameraman at the Shochiku film company. Despite a one-year hiatus for compulsory military service, he made rapid headway and by the end of 1926 had become an assistant director. A year later, he made his first film. Ozu's early work was raw and unfocused, and reputedly influenced by his long exposure to Hollywood films. But gradually he developed his own disciplined style and thematic concerns. By the early 30s he was among Japan's most popular and most highly regarded directors. In 1945 he was interned for six months in a British POW camp.

Before his death of cancer at 60 he had made 54 films, all remarkably consistent in their milieu, theme, and style. His films almost invariably deal with the lives and domestic problems of the Japanese middle-class family. His style is exquisite in its simplicity. Technically, it is characterized by stationary-camera shots usually taken from a low angle, about three feet above the ground, which corresponds with the eye-level of a Japanese adult crouching on a cushion, a position customarily taken by his tradition-bound characters. For this reason, his sets were constructed with ceilings long before Welles and Citizen Kane. He seldom varied his camera angle and almost never resorted to such devices as fades, dissolves, pans, or tracking shots. He also ignored the traditional rule of consistent camera direction through 180-degree space for the purpose of matching action on the screen for greater clarity of the narrative. Ozu shot his scenes in a circular 360-degree space, achieving dramatic visual effect, often at the expense of narrative logic. Yet despite this laconic use of some of the basic "phrases" and punctuation marks in the language of the cinema, and the resultant static long scenes, he turned out films of great beauty and magnetic power. In Japan, where he was considered the most Japanese of all the national directors, his films won frequent awards. Since the mid-50s his work has been increasingly appreciated in the Western world as well.

Ephraim Katz, The Film Encyclopedia



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