As if we haven’t talked about it enough, I’d like like to take us back to week 3 for Yasujiro Ozu’s film Tokyo Story. I have been a fan of his for awhile now and have studied his films in the past. His direction style has greatly influenced me thus far, along with countless other filmmakers. This particular style being conscious of classic Japanese Aesthetic concepts and utilizing them in his cinematography. I had talked a bit about these when we had got into our critique groups early this quarter. Though it may not be immediately apparent to the majority of his non-Japanese audience, many can see that there is obviously some cerebral and cultural depth behind his films.
The concepts of zen and yugen are featured throughout Ozu’s film. Yugen meaning dark obscure, mysterious and beautiful; an example of this being the scene with the older couple at the coast. Obviously the cinematography is dark, utilizing light and shadows, however the fact that they are on the coast and there is no ocean sounds is pretty strange. That shot of the couple against the sea is framed in a beautiful manner. Aside from it being aesthetically pleasing, i can’t really say why i liked it so much. Zen, though a broad concept, I found present in the theme of the film. Part of zen is being aware of the continuous changes in our consciousness. The grandparents are quite retrospective in their small talk with each other noting the way their family has grown up. It is also discussed throughout about how the children and parents relationships drift apart over time and the shifting dynamics of them. We see the most dramatic representation of this in one of the final scenes when Noriko who appears level headed and acts as though she has not changed and is happy, breaks down in tears and confesses, and maybe realizes, her terrible loneliness. It is in this scene she articulates acceptance of life’s disappointments as well.
Another couple concepts found in the film are wabi-sabi and mono no aware. These in a way go hand in hand; while wabi-sabi is the beauty in the imperfect and impermanent, mono no aware is awareness and gentle sadness toward the transience of things. Though wabi-sabi could be applied to some of Ozu’s shot set up and set direction, a narrative example of when wabi-sabi came into play was when Noriko spent time with the grandparents in her small apartment. Here the grandmother speaks of how it’s a treat to sleep in her dead son’s bed. Seeing some sort of elegance in the grim matter. Mono no aware is a theme present for the entire film. One of the more obvious is the grandparents feelings about their son’s death. Though they are saddened by it, they wish for Noriko to remarry to be happy, as this was traditionally uncommon at the time. They recognize his passing affects the rest of her life and want her to move on as she is still young. Another time it comes up is when the grandmother is talking to the youngest grandson on the hill about how he will grow up and what he will achieve and who he will become, though she will not be around to see it happen. All the while keeping a smiling face.
My final concept ma is space and emptiness; it comes from the word mu which actually means nothingness. While this can be exemplified in Noriko’s feeling of sadness and the literal empty space left by her husband and his mother’s passing, it can also be found in many other aspects of the movie. The dialogue of the film, the positioning of the actors in the frame, the sound and music score or lack of, and shot composition all consider ma. Ozu used this concept of nothingness in all his films in some way or another. When Ozu passed away in 1963 he actually had the single word mu placed on his grave. If you go far enough back the chinese root of the word actually means “the gate to enlightenment”, I think this is a quite fitting relation.