directed by Ozu Yasujiro (1952)
Ciné Nouveau, Kujo Stn., Osaka
Yesterday, I watched – without subtitles – this movie, and managed fairly well. Well enough to write a review? Not really, but I jotted some notes. It was part of a film festival which is still in progress, so more on this later
First of all, don’t be put off by the title, which loses everything in the translation. O-chazuke is a bowl of leftover rice with a bit of green tea poured over it to warm it up. It’s comfort food in Japan, the sort of thing you throw together for a late-night snack in the winter. It’s as evocative of home life as a bowl of chicken soup in the West.
Yasujiro Ozu is called, ad nauseum, the most Japanese of directors, a phrase which seems designed to short-circuit any enjoyment of his films. By implication, only Japanese viewers can truly appreciate his movies because his work speaks directly to them and no one else. I was lucky enough to have watched a few of his movies before really being aware of his reputation, so I know that that opinion is nonsense. Ozu’s home dramas hit a nerve with me , not because I’m Japanese (I’m not), but because I have parents and siblings, and human behaviour is universal.
Donald Richie writes that Japanese critics tend to dismiss foreign interest in Ozu as “exoticism”. By “exoticism” they mean a sort of condescending fascination with the Japaneseness of the stories (tatami mats, kimonos, green tea over rice), a sort of film-buff colonialism. Of course, Ozu’s movies are exotic. They are old. He made his last movie the year I was born, and had been making them since the silent era. In the same way, what could be more ‘exotic’ than a Frank Capra or John Ford movie? They are worlds which never really existed, imagined in worlds which no longer exist, by actors and writers and directors who are no longer alive. Yet we can pop in a DVD and watch it all in our world, our time, with all our ample, comfy hindsight, a situation unimagineable a hundred years ago, or even when these movies were made.
So why am I paying ¥1000 to sit in a little cinema with – at most – 12 other people, trying to listen to Japanese dialogue over the snap, crackle and pop of an ancient celluloid print, watching a screen slightly bigger than a bedspread? Dunno. Exoticism?