BFI: 32 Ozu Films

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zedz
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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#726 Post by zedz » Thu May 23, 2013 4:11 pm

Next in line at the confessional:

I haven't watched the Gangsters set yet, but I'll only be watching the one film I haven't seen yet (Walk Cheerfully) when I do, since I'm planning on doing an Alpha-Omega Ozu re-watchthrough when the BFI completes their series.

But I have read the booklet: great work, Michael, a really informed and informative essay.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#727 Post by liam fennell » Thu May 23, 2013 4:21 pm

Well, I bought the set. I still don't have the student comedies but the Eclipse Ozu and Naruse silent boxes are some of my most viewed films and I've long wanted to see Dragnet Girl because of the oft-mentioned Sternberg influence. I'm saving the middle film for a rainy day but both Walk Cheerfully and Dragnet Girl were excellent. The bit from Tokkan Kozo was also wonderful - I love that kid!

The earlier film is sort of slap-dash but in a charming and energetic way. He is having fun with the milieu. When Ozu does the rare dolly shot it is always perfect, which is to say both cinematic and informative story-wise. I of course love the clean lines of the later Ozu pictures but kind of wish he had never abandoned his dolly tracks! The choreographed dancing gangsters also never failed to make me smile and even that quirk serves to further the story - it is like a secret handshake or signal (it kind of reminded me of that Buster Keaton short The High Sign!)

Dragnet Girl was a much more mature work, on par with the other later silent masterpieces. I felt it dragged towards the end with the endless deliberating of the main gangster guy, perhaps, but it didn't bother me much because the whole film was such a rich tapestry. Every shot here was perfectly balanced and realized, the picture was a real treat to finally see! Ozu, it seems to me, was by this point clearly carefully thinking about how he would like to eventually use sound; many scenes in the record store were so deftly handled I felt like I could hear the music the character was listening to. The main influence seemed more Scarface than Underworld, but all the shadowy lighting was a nice change either way.

One thing I notice more and more watching these very late silents from Ozu and Naruse is how they use the intertitles to transition between scenes. They do an approximation of the sound editing technique where the first scene is overlaid by sound/dialogue from the following scene before the cut or fade into the following scene proper... I'm not sure how to best describe it (there must be a technical term for this?)

Ozu and Naruse will both often show an intertitle and you might not find out who said the dialogue until two or three shots later. This kind of transitioning is very effective with sound but I find it even more effective in a silent! Without sound cues I find myself a little bewildered and end up analyzing the visual information they are presenting more thoroughly.

I know I've seen this now-basic technique here and there in older sound films but I've never seen it in other silent films or if so it wasn't so strategically deployed as by both Ozu and Naruse. Is this something other Japanese directors did in the silent era or were these two idiosyncratic Shochiku directors just comparing notes as I like to imagine? I haven't read Bordwell's book yet - does he discuss this little trick?

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#728 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu May 23, 2013 4:51 pm

Shochiku policy at this point in time was to weaken the grip of the benshi -- by trying all sorts of methods (including scores recorded on discs). Ozu includes so much talkie-style dialog in his last silents that it took away most of the benshis' ability to "decorate" the film verbally. Naruse wanted to _make_ talkies (which is one reason he jumped to PCL), while Ozu wanted to develop a talkie-compatible style without having to be bothered by new-fangled sound cameras until he was ready to cope with them. Moreover, Shochiku's old silent studio was so close to a major train line that sound shooting was almost impossible. (Only Son was shot mostly at night -- when most trains were not running -- or running only infrequently).

I guess Walk Cheerfully is sort of "slap-dash", but in a way I really really like. I can't think of any other Ozu film that is _more_ fun to watch (though some others may equal it). Dragnet is a bit more serious, but visually almost as wild. I have always considered this to have the most thorough-going "virtual soundtrack" of any film I've seen -- so much so that no real score can fairly complete with Ozu's imaginary one.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#729 Post by zedz » Thu May 23, 2013 5:18 pm

That's a good observation about the 'virtual soundtrack'. In Dragnet Girl Ozu shows a complete mastery of visual rhythm, both in terms of montage and in coordinating movement within the frame with movement of the camera. Even with his utterly different, much more sedate mature style, he's still doing the same careful pacing of montage and movement, though in a more subdued fashion. (And when he does begin to use music, he uses it in a completely different way, and not as a way of underscoring or counterpointing his visual rhythms.)

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#730 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu May 23, 2013 7:00 pm

Another thing I especially love about Dragnet Girl, is the cumulative degradation of the state of the couple's apartment (reminds me of Bunuel's Extermination Angel). Things that get dropped or spilled or knocked over STAY messed up in subsequent scenes.

I never truly appreciated Sono yo no tsuma until I watched it (almost) frame by frame when doing my article. It really is remarkably coherent (cinematically -- despite a few story short cuts) and appealing.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#731 Post by AidanKing » Fri May 24, 2013 10:40 am

I too have enjoyed all the releases in the BFI's Ozu collection and hope they are going to continue. I would agree with Michael K that the films in the latest collection are some of the most fun of Ozu's films and there's real pleasure in seeing a great artist work in a popular idiom without the quality of that art being in any way diminished. I suppose it could be argued that Ozu is the most entertaining of all the great film auteurs.

It would be nice if the BFI could move on to more Naruse once the Ozu collection has been completed now that it seems clear that there won't be any more Naruse from MoC.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#732 Post by zedz » Fri May 24, 2013 4:54 pm

I certainly don't mind the BFI pitching Naruse as "Ozu: Advanced Studies" if it means they release more Naruse.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#733 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri May 24, 2013 6:24 pm

I suspect that unless there is a sudden rush to buy up all the lingering copies of BFI's first Naruse set, we may not see any other Naruse releases. Too bad that Naruse still has so (relatively) few English-language fans.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#734 Post by domino harvey » Fri May 24, 2013 7:32 pm

repeat wrote:Godard said it well too - can't find the quote now, but the gist was that he didn't believe in home video because it would only end up with people spending more time buying films than actually watching them.
I believe the quote was something to the effect that he loved VCRs because now he could tape movies off TV and "never have to think about them again"

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#735 Post by Tommaso » Sat May 25, 2013 5:44 am

Michael Kerpan wrote:I suspect that unless there is a sudden rush to buy up all the lingering copies of BFI's first Naruse set, we may not see any other Naruse releases. Too bad that Naruse still has so (relatively) few English-language fans.
I guess one of the problems with both sets was that they were sets, and rather expensive ones, of a director that few people had heard about before. Perhaps they should try with one or two individual releases? I think "Wife, be like a rose" for instance would be a film with immediate appeal that might win Naruse a few new customers.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#736 Post by MichaelB » Sat May 25, 2013 6:12 am

I really wouldn't hold your breath for any more Naruse from the BFI. Aside from the Ozu project and the Kurosawa boxes, the BFI really isn't a specialist Japanese label and lacks both materials and in-house curatorial expertise.

I'd have thought, given the rights and materials situation, that a Kurosawa BD survey would be infinitely more likely once the Ozu project is complete.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#737 Post by AlexHansen » Mon Jun 03, 2013 6:08 pm

Watched A Hen in the Wind not too long ago and found it very interesting. The shocking moment at the end (which Rosenbaum does an excellent job breaking down in the booklet) was unexpected but it was the repeated interstitial shots that stuck out the most. Rather than those shots moving use through time and space like they do in Ozu's other films, these kept us mired in the characters' surroundings. We were as stuck as they were.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#738 Post by JacquesQ » Sun Nov 03, 2013 11:49 pm

Seems like the BFI project has slowed down quite a bit of late.
Anyway, regardless of the BluRay treatment, quality of masters, restoration, etc., I'd say that we should first and foremost look at plain availability of Ozu's films here, and in this regard only TWO (or 1 point something) of Ozu's films are BADLY in need of a Western release, namely :
1/ the extant fragment of "Fighting friends" (1929) ; if I remember correctly, it is included in the Shochiku box sets, but the Japanese subtitles have not been translated ; my memory is blurry about this, though (by which I mean I'm not 100% sure that there are any [Japanese] titles at all in this short bit of film - it is really a short fragment, much shorter than the approximately 10' of "I graduated, but..." included in a BFI set) ;
and CHIEFLY 2/ "The Munekata sisters", one of the two Toho films by Ozu (actually a "war subsidiary" named Shintoho), that is only available in two versions that are bound to despair non-Asian viewers : a Japanese DVD (from Toho) with only Japanese subtitles, and a Chinese BoYing DVD with Japanese and two varieties of Chinese subtitles, period ; some sellers advertise the BoYing version as having English subs (as is often the case with Chinese DVDs), but it doesn't. AAAAAUUUUUGGGGGHHHHH !!!!!
So I would say that for now, even though there are subtitles floating around on various sites and one can make their own version in AVI including subs, "The Munekata sisters" is the only true gap in the Ozu filmography - and I'm pretty sure it won't be included in any BFI or even Criterion collection. My hopes are actually slim that it will ever become available in "user-friendly" format...

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#739 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Nov 04, 2013 12:05 am

Shintoho was not started until after the war. It was a product of post-war labor strife, which came into existence due to the series of strikes aimed at Toho. Some Toho actors (chief among them Setsuko Hara) were very right-wing and anti-union -- and basically wanted nothing to do with actors more sympathetic to the unions. Munekata Sisters is probably the most "script-bound" of all Ozu films -- he was not given the freedom to adapt the source (a currently popular best selling novel) in his usual fashion. Obviously, completists (like me) will want this -- but it is the least appealing of the post-war films (by a considerable margin). It would be interesting to know if Ozu could have gotten a more effective performance from Hideko Takamine, had he been allowed to develop his script more freely.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#740 Post by JacquesQ » Mon Nov 04, 2013 5:31 am

Thanks for the precisions about Shintoho, Michael, your knowledge and/or memory about the Japanese film industry is obviously much better than mine.
I can confirm, having seen it after reading the synopsis, that all questions of subtitles (and hence not undesrtanding the dialogues) apart, "The Munekata Sisters" looks pretty substandard as an Ozu film, especially if one thinks that "Late Spring" came two years before it, but I hope that (in addition to the completism you mention, and of which I am also a victim !) I'm not too much of a bigot if I say that a bad Ozu is still much better than 95% of the output of most other directors...
Anyway, if it had been a Shochiku film, we'd have it, and if we don't it's chiefly because it was a Toho film and Western DVD makers are sometimes a bit lazy - considering that the Japanese Toho release (after which the Chinese BoYing was made with added subtitles) dates back to the moment when all the Shochiku films in their beautiful box sets + Toho's "End of Summer" + Daiei's "Floating Weeds" were made available in Japan, i.e. for Ozu's 100th birthday 10 years ago, and the film has been shown with French (at least once in 2007) or English subtitles since, so I'm sure that if Toho agreed to selling the rights for "Late Summer" there is no reason why they would put an unreasonable price tag on the rights to make a Western edition of "The Munelata Sisters" if they were asked for the material they have available.
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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#741 Post by JacquesQ » Mon Nov 04, 2013 6:08 am

By the way, I have to make good another mistake : "Two Fighting Friends" is not a piece of an otherwise lost film, but a short comedy that has been preserved complete.
So that BFI's "pattern" for its 32 films now appears quite obvious :
Ozu's films : 54 ;
of which lost : 17, remain : 37 ;
of which released by Toho or Daiei : 3, remain (Shochiku) : 34 ;
of which one with only a fragment survivng (included in the BFI series, but as a bonus only), remain : 33 ;
of which one documentary ("Kagamijishi"), remain : 32...
If my guess is correct (i.e. if they consider "I Graduated, But..." as just a bonus, and if they somehow include the short "Two Fighting Friedns", and why wouldn't they since they included the other short "A Straightforward Boy" - only it will require a bit of subtitling...), then the only "Shochiku victim" in their list would be "Kagamijishi", Ozu's only documentary short, and it's a pity because it isn't that easy to find : apart from the Shochiku box sets, I think I only have it in one of the two French Carlotta box sets ; what's more, it doesn't require any subtitling, being entirely the filming of a kabuki performance, and another interest resides in the fact that, along with the famed noh performance in "Late Spring" and the two "Floating weeds" films (where the travelling troupe does kabuki), it is another look by Ozu at traditional Japanese performing arts.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#742 Post by FerdinandGriffon » Mon Nov 04, 2013 11:03 am

JacquesQ wrote:By the way, I have to make good another mistake : "Two Fighting Friends" is not a piece of an otherwise lost film, but a short comedy that has been preserved complete.
You were right the first time. It was a seven reel feature, and the surviving fragment only covers a fraction of the plot (but in pretty coherent form).

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#743 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Nov 04, 2013 12:04 pm

"Fighting Friends, Japanese Style" almost seems like a digest film (rather like "I Graduated But) rather than fragments like "Tokkan kozo" (The Charging-Straight-Ahead Boy).

Other "missing on disc" Ozu -- Shibuya's Radish and Carrot (based on the last script Ozu wrote) and the recently re-discovered (and restored) TV drama "After the End of Youth" (made after "Autumn Afternoon", right before Ozu became unable to work due to cancer).
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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#744 Post by AidanKing » Tue Nov 05, 2013 10:16 am

I really hope this project hasn't come to a premature end: it would be a shame if the other Shochiku films didn't get a release. I suspect The Munekata Sisters was unfortunately never part of the project, like Floating Weeds and The End of Summer.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#745 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Nov 05, 2013 1:09 pm

AlexHansen wrote:Watched A Hen in the Wind not too long ago and found it very interesting. The shocking moment at the end (which Rosenbaum does an excellent job breaking down in the booklet) was unexpected but it was the repeated interstitial shots that stuck out the most. Rather than those shots moving use through time and space like they do in Ozu's other films, these kept us mired in the characters' surroundings. We were as stuck as they were.
Movement in "Hen in the Wind" is often atypical (Tanaka's movements especially).

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#746 Post by JacquesQ » Tue Nov 05, 2013 1:51 pm

Other "missing on disc" Ozu -- Shibuya's Radish and Carrot (based on the last script Ozu wrote) and the recently re-discovered (and restored) TV drama "After the End of Youth" (made after "Autumn Afternoon", right before Ozu became unable to work due to cancer).
I didn't know this TV drama had surfaced. Funny, for a director who was so critical of TV (see "Ohayo" for instance), to have prepared a TV film...
Both would of course be very welcome additions to the Ozu canon ; it would be particularly interesting to see whether the two directors tried to "imitate" Ozu's style (whose "mannerisms" are, to be honest, fairly easy to copy), and also evauate, by comparison, how much of Ozu's greatness resides in his filming, writing (with Kogo Noda), actors' direction, etc. But I wouldn't hold my breath for those to show up on DVD - a bonus on a Criterion edition of "An Autumn Afternoon" would have been a great idea, but unfortunately it's too late for this.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#747 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Nov 05, 2013 2:17 pm

I think Ozu himself was either director or co-director of the TV drama.

From what I read, Radish and Carrot did not look very Ozu-ish (it seems to have been in cinemascope format, among other things).

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#748 Post by swo17 » Wed Nov 06, 2013 9:41 pm

What on earth happened to Good Morning? It's almost like it never existed in the first place.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#749 Post by shaky » Wed Nov 06, 2013 9:45 pm

Strange. It's still available on BFI's website though.

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Re: BFI: 32 Ozu Films

#750 Post by joshua » Wed Nov 06, 2013 9:59 pm

I can't seem to find it at Amazon when I do a title search but if I go back to my old order, I can find it. Here is the link as it seems to be available.

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