Ozu and Expressionism

Michael E Kerpan Jr kerpan
Mon Jan 28 18:58:22 EST 2002

Gardner, William wrote:

>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. 
My feeling exactly.    ;~}

Although the coincidence of "darkness" is what first caught my 
attention, there seems to be other things that Ozu's style has in common 
with Expressionism.  My initial sense is that similarities include the 
way that the "landscape" is used (especially in urban settings), and the 
way that certain objects in the environment seem to take on some special 
significance (even if one is not entirely certain what that significance 
may be).  there are probably more elements to be considered (since the 
notion has only just occurred to me and I haven't tried to 
systematically examine lots of films).

>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. 
Thanks for this information.  Given Ozu's extensive film-going during 
this period, it would seem almost certain that he would have run across 
this film.

>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.
Offhand, I don't see much obvious impact of these non-naturalistic 
expressionist films on the development of Ozu's style.   The feature of 
"Der letze Mann" that seems most pertinent to Ozu is the rigorously 
parametric structure of that film's narrative.  I would expect the 
"supernatural" Expressionist films to have a much more free-flowing 
structure, but my recollections are foggy (at best).

>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.
Maybe simply because the quantity was so much higher?  It is an 
interesting question.

Michael Kerpan
Boston, MA

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