b Papa Dog's Blog: Ozu in Bits and Pieces

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Friday, February 04, 2005

Ozu in Bits and Pieces

Today I was telling J (of J&M) that while we used to go through four or five Netflix in a week, now it takes us about a week to get through a single one. When Baby Dog was little – like, littler than she is now – she would have nursed obliviously through the full length of Berlin Alexanderplatz had we been keen to give that a go. Then she started to go through a stage where she wasn’t content to sit quietly while her parents stared at the box in the corner, and movies started getting serialized into little chunks of fifteen, twenty minutes—half an hour, tops. Worse, in addition to her affecting our ability to watch TV, TV affected her ability to nurse. She was becoming more and more distracted by the sounds and images, and would break off from feeding to see up to what hi-jinks that ole Bandit was getting in his flight from that ole Smokey. Then – miraculously – Baby Dog’s sleep pattern stabilised into a regular 8 p.m. bedtime, theoretically early enough for us to watch a movie before we turned in too. Somehow, that’s rarely happened. There are chores to do, faversham entries to churn out, dogs to walk, conversations to have. If we get to the movie at all, we get only twenty or thirty minutes into it before bedtime or hitting the wall, whichever becomes apparent first.

Case in point: we’ve lately been indulging a bit of a vogue for the films of Yaujiro Ozu; or rather we would be indulging such a vogue if it didn’t take us so long to watch them. We watched Floating Weeds in early December. I can’t pin down exactly how many days it took us to watch it in how many instalments, but we returned the movie that preceded it on November 29 and didn’t return Floating Weeds until December 9. Compared to the old days, that’s quite a lag. Right now, we’re watching Tokyo Story. We started it on Tuesday, I believe – got about twenty minutes watched that night. Last night we clocked in another thirty minutes. Tonight we managed another twenty. So that’s an hour ten, with another hour six of running time left. A weekend’s coming up, so chances are good we’ll finish it. But gad’s ooks. It’s taking a while.

I went on to explain to J a little of the singular quality of Ozu’s films. The best word I can think of to describe them is meditative. The camera rarely moves, and little in the way of dramatic plot developments occur. Little bits of life just sort of unfold. A technique he favoured was to use a short series of static shots as a transitional device between scenes. You’ll see, say, five seconds of a seashore, then five seconds of a fence, then five seconds of a storefront, then you’re inside the store and see the characters interacting there. He sets a general sense of place, then goes to the specific. The rhythm of it is kind of hypnotic. People talk slowly. They fan themselves. They nod. J, expressing sympathy, said “It must be really difficult to follow that kind of movie over several nights.” Oddly not, I told her. In a weird way an Ozu film is just about the perfect kind to break up into little chunks like that. For one thing, the films don’t depend much on plot. They’re all relatively simple stories of different kinds of domestic unhappiness and intergenerational discord, and it’s not difficult to follow the story even after baby-mandated fragmentation. As long as you leave off just before one of those little transitional blocks starts, it’s quite easy to re-engage in the experience when you start up again. Obviously I don’t recommend this as the method of choice in introducing yourself to postwar Japanese cinema – but if your child or your electric bill or your narcolepsy or whatever won’t let you watch more than twenty minutes of a movie at a time, allow me to recommend Ozu as a suitable bill of fare.

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I just discovered this one, which may be old news to some of you, but I think it’s funny.


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