Any film course worth its salt must necessarily include the study of Ozu’s films. He is a cinema master and a favorite with architects because of his particular framing devices. The film I’ve chosen for you this week is representative of his films’ content & form, and it also includes a scene that summarizes our interest [as architects] in his work. The particular choice of camera position [also his 50mm lens, more about that later] that he uses inside the traditional Japanese house puts the audience’s eye level at the same place one’s eyes would be while sitting on a tatami mat. The frame above [from Late Spring] is interesting because when Ozu’s camera goes into a Western house the camera stays at the same level, distorting our spatial memory of a house, making it seem a bit Alison-In-Wonderland-ish. Take a look for example at our view of the mantel, which in a western context is seen from the top, here seen from underneath because the camera’s POV (“point of view”) is low, about three feet above the floor. We will come back to mantelpieces later, when Citizen Kane in a couple of weeks, and at that point we’ll also talk about the particular ability of film to flatten space, something used to great narrative effect in that film. For this week though, let’s focus on the architectural framing of Ozu’s fixed eye on mid-twentieth century Japan.
Take a look at this Ozu film…
Yasujirō Ozu, Late Spring, 1949
… and also the Wim Wender’s documentary on Ozu. The clip below from the Criterion website documents the particulars of Ozu’s camera, the documentary is worth seeing as a great film itself.
Wim Wenders, Tokyo-Ga, 1985
The exercise for next week is this: take and print exactly ten shots, any framing ratio but all 10 must be exactly the same and oriented horizontally. All should be taken from the same POV trained on one space only. We will use our classroom today to test out some scenarios for this—we have the perfect interior space for this. You will necessarily have to include human figures in your tableaux, and you will have to design the furniture, props, light, and even what your protagonists are wearing. The ten frames must read like a story [without using any text]. Remember, our thesis here is that since we can’t have narrative without space [if something is happening it must be happening in some place] we will argue for an architectural space that necessarily includes narrative [dust off your Tschumi].
Others have followed Ozu that are worth studying in this context. See the following reading and film:
Ming-liang Tsai, What Time Is It There?, 2001
Bruno, Giuliana, “Architects of Time: Reel Images from Warhol To Tsai Ming-Liang,” Log 2, Spring 2004.
For another master of the wide shot [and the domestic mise en scène] see also:
Edward Yang, Yi Yi [A one, and a two…], 2000
And as long as we are in Asia, we must also discuss Lost in Translation. I have always wanted to ask more about Denby’s contention that in light of what she was able to do with this film Sofia Coppola was “two-thirds of a great director,” what’s the other third then? I have an answer for him now—she is also one-third architect.
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation, 2003
“Heartbreak Hotels: Lost in Translation and Dirty Pretty Things in The Current Cinema” by David Denby (The New Yorker, September 15, 2003).