Ozu and Expressionism

Gardner, William wgardner at jaguar.middlebury.edu
Mon Jan 28 10:50:12 EST 2002

Your query about Ozu and Expressionism is an interesting one, though I would
hesitate to draw conclusions about Expressionist influence on the basis of
nighttime scenes alone. At any rate,  Murnau's "Der letze Mann" was screened
in Japan in 1925 and much discussed in Japanese film journals of the day.
It's been cited as an influence on Kinugasa among others. Caligari was shown
in Japan in 1921, and I believe expressionist horror films such as Der Golem
also played Japan in the late teens and early 20's.

Another way of posing this question would be to ask why Hollywood films have
been so prominent in Ozu auteur narratives (including Ozu's own), to the
possible erasure of other sources.

William Gardner

> ----------
> From: 	Michael E Kerpan Jr
> Reply To: 	KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
> Sent: 	Sunday, January 27, 2002 4:48 PM
> To: 	KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
> Subject: 	Ozu and Expressionism
> Neither Richie nor Bordwell provide much discussion of connections
> between the German Expressionist cinema and the work of Ozu.
> By coincidence, however, the last three Ozu films I've watched
> involved an unusually high amount of nighttime settings. Moreover,
> I've recently watched Murnau's "Der letze Mann" (incorrectly called
> "The Last Laugh" in the United States). As a result, I noted some
> connections I did not expect to find.
> Murnau's "Der letze Mann" (1924) is constructed in very
> much the same way as Ozu's (soon-to-come) films. There are only a few
> settings, in which patterned variations take place; the action is
> centered around the Doorman's home and workplace. The main action of
> the story takes place over the course of only a few days. Finally, the
> story is as "simple" as can be -- the loss of a prized job (along with
> the splendid uniform that symbolizes that job) and the
> consequences of such loss on the protagonist. In short, this
> film is as "parametric" a narration as anything one can find in Ozu --
> and noticeably moreso than anything I've seen in Lubitsch or Lloyd
> (who are viewed as primary influences on Ozu by Bordwell). One wonders
> whether this film was generally available in Japan during the
> mid-1920s. (Disclaimer: unlike Ozu, the film is virtually title-less
> and has a bitterly ironic "imaginary" coda).
> I also wonder how typical "Der letze Mann" was for Murnau.
> Naturalistic (and humanistic) expressionism is not what I think of
> when I recollect "Nosferatu".  Unfortunately, I've never seen
> "Sunrise".  Pabst's cinematic structuring seems much more "sprawling"
> than Murnau's in "Der letze Mann".  Is the parametric style of this
> film simply an "outlier"?  Even aside from parametric structuring,
> though, it seems that there are features of Expressionist imagery that
> play a role in at least some of Ozu's films.
> Many of  Ozu's 1930's films seem to show traces (or more) of
> Expressionism. "Tokyo no onna" ("Woman of Tokyo") (1933)
> is set largely at night and has a central action as simple
> as that of "Der letze Mann". "Hijosen no onna" (from a couple months
> later) is more variegated, but uses a lot of Expressionist-like
> imagery -- clocks, hanging hooks (etc.) and most improbably a storeful
> of "Little Nippers". "Tokyo no yado" ("Tokyo Inn") (1935) and "Hitori
> musuko" ("Only Son") (1936) also seem to have a considerable degree of
> darkness (of tone and setting) and an aggressive use of imagery that
> is ostensibly naturalistic (but also seemingly overloaded with
> symbolic significance). A  similar style recurs in "Nagaya
> shinshiroku" ("Record of a Tenement Gentleman") (1947) which looks a
> lot like the darker 1930s films.  More surprisingly, "Tokyo boshoku"
> ("Tokyo Twilight") (1957) seems to have more than a few
> Expressionistic features, despite looking (in many ways) like a
> "normal" late period Ozu film (except for a lot more cold and dark).
> I wonder now whether, even in Ozu films without as much visible
> darkness as the ones touched on above, there might not be a degree of
> Expressionistic influence that has not been fully considered.

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