A Poetic Pioneer: Yasujiro Ozu’s Enigmatic Works Come To Reykjavík - The Reykjavik Grapevine

A Poetic Pioneer: Yasujiro Ozu’s Enigmatic Works Come To Reykjavík

A Poetic Pioneer: Yasujiro Ozu’s Enigmatic Works Come To Reykjavík

Published March 22, 2019

When you picture the masters of Japanese cinema, you might think of Akira Kurosawa or Kenji Mizoguchi. For those outside of the film world or Japan, the name Yasujiro Ozu is probably unfamiliar. But among critics and film connoisseurs, he’s widely believed to be one of the best filmmakers of all time. And while his works came out more than 50 years ago, they still hold resonance today.

“Ozu’s films depict the complexity of human behaviour in a simple but profound way.”

Now, the Embassy of Japan and the Japan Foundation will bring Ozu’s pioneering works to Reyjavík as part of Yasujiro Ozu Film Days, which will screen four films by the artist at Bíó Paradís from March 28th to 31st.

The pillow shot

“The first [Ozu] film I saw was ‘Floating Weeds,’” says Reiko Tatematsu, the head of cultural division at the Embassy of Japan. “I remember that I was pleasantly surprised at how beautifully colour-coordinated the film was.” Afterwards, she researched Ozu and found out his masterful use of colour was something he was particularly celebrated for. Her senses were clearly on point.

But in truth, many aspects of his style changed the face of cinema forever. In fact, there are few filmmakers credited with such a distinct style. A technique called ‘Pillow Shots’ are particularly synonymous with the artist. These were short cutaways which began a scene. Imagine a gorgeous landscape or empty room held statically for five to six seconds. At the time, this was a radical departure from traditional filmmaking, but the enigmatic shots created a distinct mood, which then held for the entire scene.

Intergenerational struggles

Ozu was also known for his subject matter. “His films may not be particularly dramatic, but they captured ordinary people’s everyday life in a detailed manner,” Reiko explains. She references scenes of average familiar conversations on tatami-covered floors, which were the style for average Japanese people at the time. “Ozu’s films depict the complexity of human behaviour in a simple but profound way, which I believe is hardly a uniquely Japanese issue and can easily be relevant to non-Japanese.”

For those new to the director, Reiko recommends ‘Tokyo Story’, which is not only considered Ozu’s best film, but also widely believed to be one of the best films ever made among critics. It tells the tale of intergenerational struggles, as two elderly parents leave their home village to visit their indifferent grown-up children in the city.

But as Reiko emphasises, there is more to the director than his most celebrated work. “To understand Yasujiro Ozu, we recommend that you watch as many works as possible on an occasion like this!” she says. We’re sure Roger Ebert would agree.

Info: Yasujiro Ozu Film Days runs from March 28th – 31st at Bíó Paradís. There will be one film screened each day. Tickets are 800 ISK, but the screening of ‘The Flavour Of Green Tea Over Rice’ on March 28th will be free.

For an example of pillow shots, check out this video:

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