Title: Ozu and the poetics of cinema / David Bordwell.
Author: Bordwell, David.
Collection: Center for Japanese Studies Publications
PROBLEMS OF POETICS milieu of Fukugawa. Both his parents came from wealthy noble families, but by the turn of the century his father was running a fertilizer firm. Yasujiro, along with his older brother Shinichi and two younger sisters, lived in Tokyo until 1913, when they went with their mother to live in Matsusaka, a mercantile castle town in Honshu. After Ozu passed some tempestuous years in middle school, failed the entrance exam for Kobe Higher Commercial School, and spent a year as an assistant teacher in a mountain village, he returned to Tokyo in 1923. It would be his home until he died. Ozu's life spans the six crucial decades of Japan's modernization. He grew to manhood in the period which saw huge industrial expansion, military conquests, and the creation of a westernized urban culture. His was the first generation to assume that men wore business suits, cut their hair short, ate beef and bread, and played baseball. He was shaped by the liberal Taisho era (1912-26), with its expanding bourgeoisie, its reformist optimism, and its passion for education and intellectual debate. He was in Tokyo during the horrific Kanto earthquake of September 1923, which destroyed his father's company along with over a hundred and thirty thousand other buildings. As a young man in the 1930s, he saw his country move toward jingoism, launch a war-based economy, and embark on a fateful policy of military expansion. He spent his thirty-fourth birthday fighting in Nanking; nearly five years later, in 1942, Doolittle's raid struck near the Waseda University that Ozu had portrayed in his college comedies. With thousands of other soldiers he spent the autumn of 1945 as a prisoner of war. With millions of other Japanese, he lived under American occupation, enjoyed the fruits of a new consumer society, and grew old in an economy in which output was doubling every seven years. When Ozu was born, Tokyo had just installed its first electric streetcar. Only a few years after he died, children at play wore gas masks to protect themselves from pollution. Like other urban Taisho youths, he admired Western culture, especially one form of it.'Film had a magical hold on me.'17 Ozu was almost certainly the most cinephiliac major director before the New Wave. Growing up in Matsusaka, he would sneak away from school to see Chaplin, Pearl White, Lillian Gish, and William S. Hart. He welcomed expulsion from the school dormitory, since it gave him more time to go to movies. He boasted that he took his examination for high school solely to get a trip to Kobe to see The Prisoner of Zenda.'18 He disdained his nation's cinema, claiming that when he was interviewed for a job at Shochiku, he could recall seeing only three Japanese films.'9 Throughout the 1930s he continued to follow American films. While he and his cinematographer Atsuta were stationed in Singapore in 1943-45, they screened captured prints of Citizen Kane, The Grapes of Wrath, Rebecca, The Letter, The Little Foxes, Wuthering Heights, and other recent Hollywood products. Admirals might plot strategy, but Ozu had a more direct gauge of the enemy's prowess: 'Watching Fantasia made me suspect that we were going to lose the war. These guys look like trouble, I thought.'20 Throughout his life he had a remarkable memory for the movies he saw, recalling dissolves in The Marriage Circle (1924) and criticizing Wyler's famous cut-in to Fredric March watching Dana Andrews' phone call in The Best Years of Our Lives.2' The citations of Hollywood throughout his work, 8