sábado, 20 de junho de 2009

The Imagination of the Transcendent: Kore-eda Hirokazu's Maborosi

(Maboroshi no Hikari, 1995)
By David Desser

Between text and context, any understanding and appreciation of Kore-eda Hirokazu's internationally acclaimed theatrical debut Maborosi (Maboroshi no Hikari, 1995) must also take into account a particular intertext: the films of Ozu Yasujiro. Though Maborosi both continues and antecipates the young director's thematic interests - loss, trauma, memory - and reproduces certain stylistic procedures of post-1990s Asian art cinema - long takes, de-dramatized narratives - the film work of Ozu provides Kore-eda with a model he can appropriate for his own needs. Ozu's status in the West as an archetypally "Japanese" director may be contorversial and full of misunderstandings, but his stature as a world-class director with a demonstrable sensibility that includes recognizable signature elements means that Kore-eda can confidently assert the Ozu intertext and know that it will be recognized. By the same token, Ozu's status in Japan, where his stylistic elements and peculiar consistency have their own standing, similarly enables Kore-eda to be confident that his intertextual allusions will be acknowledged. Kore-eda's intertextual dialogue with Ozu's cinema represents the younger director's efforts to highlight the themes of loss, trauma and memory through the stylistic and narrative structures that enabled Ozu similarly to deal with timeless and transcendental issues. That there have been almost universal invocations of Ozu in reviews of Maborosi should not dissuade us from fully appreciating the manner in which Ozu's cinema works to enrich the considerable depths of this film.
Kore-eda Hirokazu was born in Tokyo, in 1962. He graduated from the Department of Literature at Waseda University. He started his career in television where he became a highly successful documentarist. Maborosi was his first feature film. It received its North American premiere in 1995 at the Toronto International Film Festival and it went on to play at the Vancouver International Film Festival thereafter. The film was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 1995 Venice International Film Festival where it won the prize for Best Director. Worlwide theatrical distribution of the film followed and its subsequent release through mainstream distribution sources on DVD attests to the success of the film, making it something of a rarity among contemporany Japanese feature films. Outside the works of Kitano Takeshi, very few non-animated Japanese films merit the theatrical release and wide distribution. As we will see, film festivals have been receptive to a certain strand of Japanese "art" film, into which category Maborosi, After Life (Wandafuru Raifu, 1998), was similarly well received, but his third feature film, Distance (2001), fell into typical obscurity of current Japanese cinema worlwide, showing at film festivals (including prestigious ones), but receiving no theatrical distribution. Nobody Knows (Dare mo Shiranai, 2004) was more successful. It was distributed internationally after Yagira Yuya won Best Actor and Kore-eda was nominated for the Golden Palm Award at Cannes.
The universal invocations of Ozu's cinema in reviews of Maborosi should not repress the other directors often highlighted by way of comparison. In particular Krzysztof Kieslowski and his Three Colours: Blue (1993) is frequently called into play. It is perhaps a thematic link between the two films that such critics have in mind, where a young woman withdraws from the world after the ultimely death of her husband, or the symbolic and poetic feel to both films which strongly rely on imagery and silences. There is even, perhaps coincidentally, an eerie similarity to the cover art used on the home video versions of both films - a medium close-up of the starring actress against a blue background (obviously appropriate to Kieslowski's film) gazing enigmatically a bit off-screen. Here, however, newspaper and Internet reviews can only take us so far, as we note that virtually no review is able to invoke a contemporany Japanese film or filmmaker by way of comparison. Yet Maborosi is very much a part of a challenging group of works in the Japanese art cinema - a group linked by stylistic and thematic concerns very much worth exploring.
Consider the following. Early on Maborosi, Yumiko dreams of her grand-mother, perhaps afflicted with Alzheimers, telling her that she must return to Shikoku to die. Indeed, when Yumiko was a young girl, her grandmother disappeared. Plagued into adulthood by this loss, Yumiko mourns that she could not stop her grandmother from leaving. How much greater is Yumiko's loss later when her husband, Ikuo, commits suicide, leaving her with a three month-old child? In Okaeri (Makoto Shinozaki, 1996) Kitazawa Takashi is perplexed by his wife's irrational actions, only to learn that she has schizophrenia. He is in danger of losing her to a debilitating and difficult disease. But what has brought this on? Could it be Yuriko's separation from her parents who live in far-away Hokkaido? Perhaps it is the loss of her youthful dreams of being a concert pianist? Perhaps it is the sense of betrayal by her husband? In The Eel (Unagi, Shohei Imamura, 1997), Yamashita Takuro has lost his wife's affections to another man. In a shocking moment of violence, he stabs her to death. Imprisoned for eight years, he loses all sense of connection to other people and when he is paroled he is in danger of missing out on a chance for redemption when he meets Hattori Keiko, a young woman who has recently tried to commit suicide. In Tokyo Lullaby (Tokyo yakyoku, Jun Ichikawa, 1997), Hamanaka Koichi returns to the wife and family he abandoned some years earlier. Just why he left is vague and what he hopes to achieve on his return is only gradually revealed. Missed opportunities and a lack of communicantion keep the characters essentially where they start. In Tokyo Fair Weather (Tokyo Biyori, Naoto Takenaka, 1997), Shimazu Mikio mourns the loss of his wife, Yoko, who died of cancer at age 34 after 11 years of marriage. Just before her death, Yoko was diagnosed with myodesopsia, a persistent buzzing in the ear, and thus seems, in consonance with her treatment of a neighbor-boy, quite as schizophernic as the sad Yuriko in Okaeri. Schizophrenia, too, aflicts Keiko's mother in The Eel. In Suzaku (Moe no Suzaku, Naomi Kawase, 1997) Eisuke, abandoned by his mother, lives with his aunt and uncle in the country. His grandmother early in the film, mourns the loss of her husband some years back. Later and more importantly, Eisuke, his cousin, and his aunt cannot recover from the disappearence of his uncle, Kozo, who seems either, like Ikuo of Maborosi to have commited suicide, or like Koichi of Tokyo Lullaby, simply to have disappeared, this time never to return. In Village of Dreams (E no naka no boku no mura, Yoichi Higashi, 1995) identical twins Tashima Seizo and Tashima Yukihiko publish a book of their drawnings about their childhood village in 1948 - a village, like their youth, long gone.
In these films, all made between 1995 and 1997, the preponderance of disappearences, suicides and murder which lead to a sense of profound loss, alienation and hopelessness is obvious. One may reasonably add Kitano's Hana-bi (Fireworks, 1997), with its focus on Miyuki's terminal illness and Nishi's profound sense of alienation, to this list of films that deal with what Kore-eda himself called a "feeling of lack of certainty about anything - a universal undefined feeling of loss". This thematic link is but one commonality among all these films. No less obvious are the stylistic similarities primarmly revolving around the long take. It is the primary style of Maborosi, Suzaku, Okaeri and The Eel. An often static camera is used, combined with a propensity for long shots. It is likely that the immediate stylistic influence on these films derives from the Taiwanese New Wave of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Edward Yang and Tsai Ming-Liang. The success of these films in Japan and at internationaly film festivals may very well have been the inspiration for Japanese filmmakers to try a re-entry onto the world scene. Although, as we will see, there has been some tendency to see the marks of Ozu on these filmmakers, especially Hou, it is similarly true that the works of now all-but ignored European filmmakers such as Jacques Tati, Robert Bresson, and Michelangelo Antonioni are equally likely as cinematic predecessores. This tendency toward the long take is, in fact, not attributable to Ozu, but more clearly to Hou and Tsai. It continues to manifest itself in more recent Japanese films, across ostensible genres. Such films include M/Other (Nobuhiro Suwa, 1999), and otherwise engaging melodrama of a young woman simply not certain she wants to take on the responsibilities of motherwood to her boyfriend's child or a sort of horror film such as Charisma (Karisuma, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1999) where the camera's distance defeats expectations and engagement with the characters and the relative lack of editing mitigates against a sense of tension. Clearly it works for Eureka (Shinji Aoyama, 2000), the most chalenging Japanese film of recent years, another story of murder, alienation, and a chance for redemption, all told in a crisp 217 minutes! Certainly, traditional Japanese cinema, associated, say, with the films of Kenji Mizoguchi was lauded in the West for this style. Yet camera movement, especially the tracking camera, was a typical component of Mizoguchi's long takes, whereas the style as it has devolved from the work of Hou and Tsai is quite resolutely static.
In addition to thematic convergences on loss and alienation and the stylistic tendency toward long takes, these films also rely on visualizations of remarkable similarity. The use of rural landscapes in contemporary films is striking for the sense of loss such landscapes already cause in their audience, given the overwhelmingly urban nature of contemporany Japanese society. Village of Dreams easily captures this sense of loss, especially by focusing the film on children. Suzaku utilizes its rural landscape ironically. The film was shot in the mountains south of Nara, and concerns a small village steadily declining in population precisely because of its isolated nature. Hopes for the development of a rail line to revitalize the town are dashed when the project is canceled. Maborosi revels in the majesty of its seaside location and dares the audience to object to the long takes, especially in the climactic scene where the "mysterious lights" of the title (Maboroshi no Hikari) reach out to grab Yumiko. Both Suzaku and Maborosi find it impossible to resist a shot taken through a cave, from within the darnkess toward the light, and the play of darness and light across the cityscapes of Maborosi, Okaeri and Tokyo Lullaby is similarly prevalent. The landscape - rural or urban - exerts a hold on the filmmakers in the way Taipei does for Tsai or Yang or Paris did for the French nouvelle vague. The cinephilia of these directors is too clear to ignore and thus we may claim that the turn to Ozu on the part of Kore-eda is a deliberate strategy, which will now be considered.

(Maboroshi no Hikari, 1995)

A sort of prayer

Aoyama Shinji had this to say about his thrillingly minimalist magnum opus Eureka: "This film is a sort of prayer for modern man, who is searching for the courage to go on living ("Eureka"). This aptly describes Maborosi, whose primary, if not sole, theme is how its protagonist, Yumiko (Esumi Makiko), manages to overcome, to trascend, her overwhelming grief in the face of her first husband's inexplicable suicide. Already plagued throughout her young life by her grandmother's disappearence some years earlier, Yumiko is plungued into a profound lethargy bordering on total whithdrawal when her childhood love, Ikuo, kills himself some few months after the birth of their son, Yuichi. This occurs about 20 minutes into the story and the rest of the 110 minutes of the film's running time does not so much examine as observe Yumiko's gradual turn to an acceptance of life. From the puzzlement expressed by Yumiko's mother shortly after the young man's suicide, "Why did Ikuo die? It's a riddle", to Yumiko's own anguished cry over one hour later in the film, "I just don't understand!", Kore-eda provides no easy answers. Ikuo's motivation remains always a mistery. There is a certain ambiguity here: did he deliberately commit suicide or did the misterious "phantom light" of the film's title lure him? And, as Roger Ebert observes, "What is the reason for the light?" (Ebert, 1997). More to the point, how Yumiko overcomes her awesome grief to attain a level of contentment and happiness is not, and cannot be, shown. Instead, Kore-eda relies on the film's implicit connections to Ozu and the stylistic devices he used to engulf the character and the audience in a vision of the transcendent.
To accomplish this, Kore-eda deliberately restricts his film's drama: "When I was making Maborosi, I deliberately eliminated a lot of things. If you heard only the story - a woman loses her husband to suicide, takes the child... and remarries, moving to a harbour town on the Noto Peninsula - you'd expect to hear enka [old-fashioned emotional songs] on the soundtrack. Like something Shochiku would make" (Documentarists of Japan). The reference to Shochiku is to the studio's vaunted melodramas of the 50's, a mode Kore-eda deliberately avoids. Yet it was precisely at Shochiku that Ozu made his anti-melodramas, his de-dramatized, understated versions of the shomin-geki (films about the lower-middle classes) that were the studio's bread and butter. In this respect, he has made something Shochiku would, and did, create: Ozu's films. By the same token, Kore-eda uses a strategy similar to Ozu's in terms of character expression and insight: "I thought I'd try to limit the expression of emotion, to create a different kind of emotional expression that didn't depend on close-ups... to communicate the character's feelings" (Ibid.).
It is tempting to see the Ozu intertext in Maborosi through the lens of Paul Schrader's influential, yet often criticized Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu Bresson, Dreyer. Schrader's 1972 book was the first sustained attempt in English to come to terms with the seemingly unique sensibilities on view in Ozu's post-war films. (Schrader does not deal with the pre-war and wartime films, probably because they were not avaible to him. That he could deal so closely and carefully with Ozu's cinema at all in 1972 is testimony to his prescience and powers of observation. As scholars of Japanese cinema, we do ourselves a great disservice in too easily dismissing this book as reductive and essentialist). Schrader's book was translated into Japanese in 1981 as Seinaru Eiga: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer by a pioneering Japanese film scholar, the late Yamamoto Kikuo, a professor at that time at Waseda University. It is likely that Schrader's own reputation as an important screenwriter (e.g. Taxi Driver, Us, 1976; Raging Bull, Us, 1980) and director (e.g American Gigolo, Us, 1980) accounts for the translation into Japanese. But it was also the first sustained look at Ozu by a Western critic in book form (Donald Richie had published two essays on Ozu in Film Quarterly, one in 1959, the other in 1963/4) and further, it linked Ozu to acclaimed, if specialized, Western directors Robert Bresson and Carl-Theodor Dreyer. Given the major theme of Maborosi - overcoming loss and grief - the "religious" interpretation of Ozu's films put forward by Schrader seems all too appropriate. While this chapter by no means accepts the syllogism that Ozu equals transcendental style/Maborosi equals Ozu/ therefore Maborosi equals transcental style, the apparent recollections of some of Schrader's primary concepts should nevertheless be pointed out. Ultimately, this accepts only the middle portion of the equation, Maborosi equals Ozu, although as we will see Kore-eda's film has some stylistic variations.
Schrader defines transcendental style as "a general representative filmic form which expresses the Transcendent" (Schrader 1972: 8-9). "Transcendental style seeks to maximize the mystery of existence; it eschews all conventional interpretations of reality: realism, naturalism, psychologism, romanticism, expressionism, impressionism, and, finally, rationalism... To the transcendental artist these conventional interpretations of reality are emotional and rational constructs devised by man to dilute and explain away the transcendental" (10-11). In order to construct the appropriate film style, filmmakers are obliged to focus on: "1- The everyday: a meticulous representation of the full, banal commonplaces of everyday living, or what Ayfre quotes Jean Bazaine as calling "le quotidien" (39). "2- Disparity: an actual potential disunity between man and his environment which culminated in a decisive action; what Jean Semoule calls "un moment decisif" when writing of Bresson's films"(42). "3- Stasis: a frozen view of life which does not resolve the disparity but transcends it. "(49). Thus, in looking at Maborosi we note a fierce determination to focus on "le quotidien". Yumiko and Ikuo drink coffee together at a neighborhood restaurant; they paint a bicycle sitting in a alleyway. They ride together on the bike through the quiet night-time streets. Kore-eda emphasizes these commonplace activities through the sheer duration of these shots. They paint the bike and later ride in a single-take shots each lasting slightly over one minute. Other commonplace activities include two scenes of Yuichi being bathed; a shot of the old man napping in a boat; Yuichi playing ball on the slope outside the seaside house; the two children walking through the rural landscape until they finally hitch a ride home; Yumiko and Tamio sitting together underneath their bedroom window after making love - again, shown in a single-take of more than one minute in lenght. These longs takes are, precisely, that "meticulous representation"of everyday living without the hyper-realism or implicit critique, say, of a film such as Chantal Akerman's famously banal Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai do Commerce, 1980 Bruxelles (France/Belgium, 1976). Instead, the focus is on "dailiness" as highlighted previously in Ozu's films and extended further here.
Schrader's notion of disparity comes in the form of Yumiko's inability to reconcile her inner turmoil, her unspoken grief and anger over Ikuo's suicide, with the monumental environment in which she finds herself living.Kore-eda is fascined by the endless ocean outside the bedroom window, the rugged coastilne of the Sea of Japan on which a village has been precariously constructed, and a fierce winter storm which rattles the windows and walls of a traditional Japanese rural house. Amid this backdrop, Yumiko cannot control her torment. Obsessively playing with or looking at a last reminder of Ikuo - a bycicle bell whose sound is a leitmotiv of Ikuo's loss - fearful of another loss (the old lady who goes out fishing as the storm comes in), she finally takes her decisive action: leaving home to wait for a bus that, surprisingly, she does not board when it arrives. It is as if her decision not to board the bus came as she waited, unseen by the distant camera, inside the small bus shelter. As the bus pulls away, we are surprised to see Yumiko emerge from the shelter. Perhaps a victim of phantom light itself, she follows a funeral procession to the seashore. Will she herself succumb? Or is this phantasmal funeral Ikuo's last rites? His funeral, like a good deal of the film's dramatic moments, is elided. Perhaps Yumiko's long-repressed plaintive cry, "I just don't understand!", is her final acceptance of this fact, an acceptance that enables her to go on with her life.
Thus the film may conclude with stasis, a frozen view of life which does not resolve the disparity but transcends it. Yumiko never voices her resolution. After the very long take that culminates with Yumiko's plaintive cry, Kore-eda offers only one more scene. In six shots over the course of almost four minutes, he brings his film to a peaceful, leisurely close. We first see a distant shot taken from across the harbour into which Tamio and the children enter. Tamio is teaching Yuichi to ride a bike - Kore-eda is too subtle to remind us of the centrality of the bycicle as a symbol of transcience and loss. Instead, the bike is transformed into an image of dailiness, of the quotidien - a father teaching his son to ride. Then we see Yumiko coming downstairs and she sees her father-in-law sitting to the veranda of the house. She walks over to him and sits down, offering the observation, "It's getting warm, isn't it?" The old man replies, "It certainly is". The camera cuts to the two of them side by side, gazing off-screen. Only two more shots remain, the first a high-angle, long shot across the roofs of the village, the sea in the backgroung, the sounds of bike riding and laughter only dimly heard. And then a still-life, a classic coda, a shot from within Yumiko and Tamio's bedroom, the room a little untidy, lived-in, the sea visible through the open window in the background as the curtains sway gently in the summer breeze. For Schrader such a final shot indicates "Complete stasis, or frozen motion, [which] is the trademark of religious art in every culture... a still-life which connotes Oneness' (1972: 49). Clearly these two final shots are something like still-lifes, motion barely detectable in shot lenghts of 1:05 minutes and twenty seconds respectively, and a sense of peace and contentment is palpable.

(Maboroshi no Hikari, 1995)

"Its getting warm, isn't it?"

To anyone even vaguely familiar with Ozu's cinema, the invocation of the weather in the film's last bit of clearly audible dialogue and the still-life "coda" clearly recall films such as Late Spring (Banshun, 1949), Early Summer (Bakushu, 1951) and Tokyo Story (Tokyo Monogatari, 1953). Roger Ebert notes the following about Maborosi: "The camera, for example, is often placed at the eye level of someone kneeling on a tatami mat. Shots begin or end on empty rooms. Characters speak while seated side by side, not looking at one another. There are many long shots and few close-ups; the camera does not move, but regards' (Ebert, 1997). We should not, on the one hand, make too much of any one of these things. The tatami-eye view is a frequent one for shooting interiors of the Japanese home, especially those with tatami rooms. The eye-level view is the most frequent in all cinemas everywhere. In Japan, this level is a bit lower than in the West, but hardly a definitive structure. (In fact, Ozu's camera is lower than the eye-level of someone seated on tatami, but that may not be worth pursuing here). Japanese cinema for generations has eschewed the close-ups; in fact, Ozu has many more close-ups or medium-close shots than many of his contemporanies. Mizoguchi Kenji made films in which he used only one or two close-ups. There is a myth about Ozu's lack of camera movements, though it is true that latter in his career he used fewer such movements. Still, pans and dollies are frequent in his films until the mid-1950s and his pre-war films are positevily giddy with camera tracks, pans, tilts, and dollies. By the same token, there are a number of tracking shots in Maborosi - the nightime bicycle ride of Ikuo and Yumiko , or the youngsters exploring the winterscape of Sosogi. Nevertheless, that combination of tatami-level shots, (relative) lack of camera movement, the focus on rooms recently emptied of their subjects, does indeed typify the rarefied world of Ozu. Ebert also notes the "characteristic tea kettle in the foreground of a shot and a scene in which the engine of a canal boat makes a sound... uncannily similar to the boat at the beginning of Ozu's Floating Weeds (Ukigusa, 1959)" (Ibid). In fact, if we look at Maborosi from a systematic perspective, we find that most of the major narrational principles favored by Ozu are reproduced in Kore-eda's film.
The universal invocations of Ozu in reviews in the West of Maborosi indicate both the status of Ozu and Kore-eda's confidence about the acknowledgment of his intertextual references. As normes and Yeh note in their interesting hypertext study of Hou's City of Sadness (Taiwan, 1989):
By the late 1980s, Ozu's position as an "international auteur" and one of history's great film directors had been established through lenghty debates in film journals, books by Richie and Bordwell. In Japan, Ozu was the New Wave filmmakers' emblem from everything wrong in the Japanese cinema. However, in the 1980s his reputation was resurrected, and he swiftly became canonized as one of their greatest directors. This was largely due to the articles, lectures, speeches and books of Hasumi Shigehiko.
(Nornes and Yeh, 1994)
Hasumi's insistence that Ozu was not the most Japanese of Japanese directors' represented a certain rebellion against Western standards, a deliberate swipe at essentialist and reductive readings of Ozu in the West. This sort of rebellion was continued by Hasumi when he helped introduce the films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien into Japan, all the while claiming that Hou was not influenced by Ozu. Hasumi was also one of the first writers to promote Taiwanese film in the early days of Taiwan New Cinema. Hasumi was careful to avoid comparisons of Hou and Ozu, but other critics and audiences were certainly not. Yet in a symposium, "Yasujiro Ozu in the world", organized by Hasumi in Tokyo on December 11, 1998, participants included Hou Hsiao-Hsien and his screenwriter Chu Tien-Wen (Rosenbaum, 2000). This kind of playfulness is typical of Hasumi. Kore-eda seems less playful, but also no less ambivalent about links to Hou. He directed a television documentary about Hou in 1993, Eiga ga jidai o utsusu toki: Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Hou Hsiao-Hsien: When Film Represents an Age), and the music for Maborosi was composed by Chen Ming Chan, who did the scores for Hou's Dust in the Wind (Taiwan, 1986) and The Puppetmaster (Taiwan, 1993). Similarly, the long take shot method in Maborosi is far closer to Hou than to Ozu, who rarely utilized especially long takes. The average shot lenght of Ozu's late films is around seven seconds whereas Kore-eda's here is well over 21 seconds. And Kore-eda has a large number of shots that last over one minute, one shot that lasts over two minutes, and the climatic take is over three minutes in duration. Combined with the low-key lighting and shot scale, this is obviously closer to Hou than to Ozu and more in keeping with the Japanese and Taiwanese art cinemas mentioned above.
The two most important structures Kore-eda derives from Ozu are dedramatization and narrative ellipsis. The first is a consequence of the second. As Ozu tends to elide certain dramatic moments in a film - refuses, that is, to move his narration by a series of climaxes - so, too, Kore-eda skips over those moments that structure mainstream films. Yumiko returns to Osaka to attend her brother's wedding, but that ceremony is elided, as is the return trip to Sosogi. There is, as noted, never a funeral or other remembrance of Ikuo's death. Quite surprising is the major ellipsis following Ikuo's death. Here I have in mind the transition from the time that Yuichi, Yumiko's child, ages from 3 months to 5 year-old. A scene in Yumiko's apartment finds her mother bathing 3-months-old Yuichi as Yumiko essentially sits and mopes. The scene lasts a somehwhat lenghty 2:20 minutes, one of the longer takes in the movie. Near the end of the scene, the mother says, "Why did Ikuo die? It's a riddle". From there the film cuts to the exterior alley where we last saw Ikuo, then it cuts back to Yumiko. Somewhat uncharacteristically, Kore-eda uses an insert shot, of the bicycle-bell, certainly to emphasize how significant it is as a leitmotif. Then we see four exterior shots of Yumiko walking the bike - the bike associated, of course, with Ikuo. It is easy to imagine Yumiko's unvoiced thoughts and feelings. Then, there is a fade-out. Fade-outs typically mean that time passes. How much time in this case? We fade in on the bike, which may deceive our sense of time passing through the fade-out. But as we cut to the alley in front of Mrs Ono's shop, where Yumiko and her mother thank Mrs Ono for arranging a new father and sister for Yuichi, which is to say a new husband for Yumiko, we discover that five years have passed since the fade-out. Yumiko and Yuichi soon leave the Kansai area for a new home by the sea.
What is interesting about this is the question of when, where and how Mrs Ono arranged for Yumiko to meet and marry a new man. There would be drama in such a meeting, pathos in Yumiko's acceptance of a proposal of marriage, sad reminders of her loss of her true love. Instead, it all takes place off-screen. This is typical of course of Ozu, where in a number of his "marriage" films we never even see the groom, the man who will, and does, take the daughter away from the aging, single parent. The pathos is not what Ozu is after. Whatever motivates Yumiko to accept a marriage, and how she lived and struggled in the almost five years since Ikuo's death, are all unimportant to Kore-eda. What is important to the filmmaker is Yumiko's ultimate ability to overcome that loss, live with that loss, live again.
While a fade-out is a typical transitional structure to indicate the passage of time and a narrative ellipsis, Kore-eda utilizes some favored Ozu devices to elide, the other major dramatic moment in the film: Ikuo's death. There is a certain subtle foreshadowing the last time Yumiko, and we, see Ikuo. The scene begins with Yumiko hanging clothes outside on their small balcony when she sees Ikuo walking down the alley. He has come home to bring the bike back and get an umbrella in case it rains. The two go downstairs. Then there is a long shot down the alley from Yumiko's point of view, Ikuo trailing off-down the lane twirling the umbrella in an almost Chaplin-esque fashion. Perhaps I am reading too much into that. Nevertheless, this long shot may portend Ikuo's fate in the way it recalls the opening scene of Yumiko's grandmother similarly walking away from the camera toward an empty urban horizon. We match Ikuo for 18 seconds, a long time simply to see someone walk-away. Next there is a direct cut; it is raining and the camera focuses on the now-empty clothesline, holding on it for 11 seconds - again a long time to watch nothing happen. Except that the clothesline is a typical Ozu "pillow-shot" - a transitional space empty of human characters, but which suggests their presence in their absence. The empty clothesline may again portend Ikuo's fate precisely by the absence of clothes. A direct cut follows to Yumiko bathing her son in the background of the frame, while in the mid-ground screen left there is a teapot, steam emanating from its spout. We cannot help but notice this teapot as the shot is hed for 15 seconds. Another direct cut takes us to the exterior of her apartment where we see Yumiko open the window and look out. A final cut in this scene reveals Yumiko asleep on the floor, only to be awakened by a knock on the door from a policeman.
Obviously, we sense something is wrong by the time Yumiko looks out the window, but do we sense Ikuo's shocking suicide across the series of cuts from his walk, to the night-time rain, the empty clothesline to Yumiko bathing the child? I think we do, precisely by the lenght of the takes and the use of the rain, the clothesline, and the tea kettle. Ikuo's off-screen suicide not only spares us the violence of his death (the policeman at the station says there is not enough of the body left to identity; a whistle Yumiko earlier gave Ikuo is essentially all that remains), but leaves an emptiness in the heart of the narrative. Why did he do it? We never know. But we do not need to know. What we need to know is that Yumiko can overcome, transcend, this enigma, this mistery, and that she can do so precisely by investing herself in the dailiness of life. She lives not for the highs and lows, but for the moments in between, the only moments we see.

(Article writen in Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts)

)Documentarists of Japan 36 12: Koreeda Hirokazu (1999) Documentary Box 13, 10 August. Online. http://www.city.yamagata.yamagata.jp/yidff/docbox/13/box13-1-e.html
)Roger Ebert (1997) Maborosi, Chicago Sun Times, 21, March. Online. http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1997/03/032105.html
)"Eureka". Online: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/Eureka-1107897/about.php
)Nornes, Abé Mark and Yeh, Yueh-yu (1994) City of Sadness. Online. http://cinemaspace.berkeley-edu/Papers/CityOfSadness/onation.html
)Rosenbaum, Jonathan (2000) "Is Ozu Slow?" Senses of Cinema 4. Online. http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/00/4/ozu.html
)Schrader, Paul (1972) Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer, Berkeley University of California Press.

1 comentário:

  1. Buenas - gave your exquisite writing a mention here: http://snaporaz.posterous.com/2010-03-04-new-kore-eda-opens-offscreen-festi - warmest!