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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Ozu's Any-Space-Whatever, read through Gilles Deleuze

Marina, I was inspired by your post on Ozu, which is spot on, to type up a section from Gilles Deleuze's Cinema 2 book that deals with one of Ozu's particular contemplations, the "any-space-whatever." I think it's clear that Ozu's inventions are used again and again, though perhaps often only as a reference or gesture. Where Ozu's films contemplate space, later films contemplate Ozu? We have to think hard to see the difference, for in film, the distinction between an original image and the appearance of one is illegible in the image itself and is revealed only through the film's particular assemblage. A film might contemplate, or it might contemplate contemplation. Not all examples of contemplative cinema think original thoughts. Some might only reflect on contemplation, recollect periods of contemplation, or consider contemplation (only to abandon it). I think you'll like this:

"Although he was subject, from the outset, to the influence of certain American authors, Ozu built up in a Japanese context a body of work which was the first to develop pure optical and sound situations (even so he came quite late to the talkie, in 1936). The Europeans did not imitate him, but came back to him later via their own methods. He none the less remains the inventor of opsigns and sonsigns. The work borrows a trip/ballad form, train journey, taxi ride, bus trip, a journey by bicycle or on foot: the grandparents' return journey from the provinces to Tokyo, the girl's last holiday with her mother, an old man's jaunt... But the object is everyday banality taken as a family life in the Japanese house. Camera movements take place less and less frequently: tracking shots are slow, low 'blocs of movement'; the always low camera is usually fixed, frontal or at an unchanging angle: dissolves are abandoned in favor of the simple cut. What might appear to be a return to 'primitive cinema is just as much the elaboration of an astonishingly temperate modern style: the montage-cut, which will dominate modern cinema, is a purely optical passage or punctuation between images, working directly, sacrificing all synthetic effects. The sound is also affected, since the montage-cut may culminate in the 'one shot, one line' procedure borrowed from American cinema. But there, for instance, in Lubitsch, it was a matter of an action-image functioning as an index, whereas Ozu modifies the meaning of the procedure, which now shows the absence of plot: the action-image disappears in favor of the purely visual image of what a character is, and the sound image of what he says, completely banal nature and conservation constituting the essentials of the script (this is why the only things that count are the choice of the actors according to their physical and moral appearance, and the establishment of any dialogue whatever, apparently without a precise subject-matter. ....
It is clear that this method immediately presents idle periods, and leads to their increase in the course of the film. Of course, as the film proceeds, it might be thought that the idle periods are no longer important simply for themselves but recoup the effect of something important: the shot or the line would, on this view, be extended by a quite long silence or emptiness. But it is definitely not the case, with Ozu, that we get the remarkable and the ordinary, limit-situations and banal ones, the former having an effect on, or purposely insinuating themselves into, the latter. We cannot follow Paul Schrader when he contrasts, like two phases, 'the everyday' on one hand, and, on the other, 'the moment of decision', 'the disparity', which introduce an inexplicable break or emotion into daily banality. This distinction would seem strictly more valid for neo-realism. In Ozu, everything is ordinary or even banal, even death and the dead who are the object of a natural forgetting. ....
The philosopher Leibniz (who was not unaware of the existence of the Chinese philosophers) showed that the world is made up of series which are composed and which converge in a very regular way, according to ordinary laws. However, the series and the sequences are apparent to us only in small sections, and in a disrupted or mixed-up order, so that we believe in breaks, disparities and discrepancies as in things that are out of the ordinary.... It is just that we have to admit that, because the linkages of the terms in the series are naturally weak, they are constantly upset and do not appear in order. An ordinary term goes out of sequence, and emerges in the middle of another sequence of ordinary things in a relation which takes on the appearance of a strong moment, a remarkable or complex point. It is men who upset the regularity of series, the continuity of the universe. There is a time for life, a time for death, a time for the mother, a time for the daughter, but men mix them up, make them appear in disorder, set them up in conflicts. This is Ozu's thinking: life is simple, and man never stops complicating it by 'disturbing still water'....
Daily life allows only weak sensory-motor connections to survive, and replaces the action-image by pure optical and sound images, opsigns and sonsigns. In Ozu, there is no universal line which connects moments of decision, and links the dead to the living, as in Mizoguchi; nor is there any breathing space or encompasser to contain a profound question, as in Kurosawa. Ozu's spaces are raised to the state of any-space-whatevers, whether by disconnection, or vacuity (here again Ozu may be considered one of the first inventors). The false continuity of gaze, of direction and even of the position of objects are constant and systematic. One case of camera movement gives a good example of disconnection: in Early Summer, the heroine goes forward on tiptoe to surprise someone in a restaurant, the camera drawing back in order to keep her in the centre of the frame; then the camera goes forward to a corridor, but this corridor is no longer in the restaurant, it is in the house of the heroine who has already returned home. As for the empty spaces, without characters or movement, they are interiors emptied of their occupants, deserted exteriors or landscapes in nature. In Ozu they take on an autonomy which they do not immediately possess even in neo-realism, which accords them an apparent value which is relative (in relation to a story), or consequential (once the action is done with). They reach the absolute, as instances of pure contemplation, and immediately bring about the identity of the mental and the physical, the real and the imaginary, the subject and the object, the world and the I. They correspond in part to what Schrader calls 'cases of statis', Noel burch 'pillow shots', Richie 'still lifes'. ....
A still life cannot be confused with a landscape. An empty spaces owes its importance above all to the absence of a possible content, whilst the still life is defined by the presence and composition of objects which are wrapped up in themselves or become their own container: as in the long shot of the vase almost at the end of Late Spring. .... for instance in Ozu, the marvellous composition with the bottle and the lighthouse, at the beginning of A Story of Floating Weeds. The distinction is none the less that of the empty and the full, which brings into play all the nuances or relations in Chinese and Japanese thought, as two aspects of contemplation. If empty spaces, interiors and exteriors, constitute purely optical (and sound) situations, still lifes are the reverse, the correlate." Excerpted from pages 13-17, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, by Gilles Deleuze

1 comment:

Marina said...

Adrian, I love it! Thank you so much for posting this as well as your previous excerpt, which, after years of postponing due to high shipping, finally made me order the books.

the montage-cut, which will dominate modern cinema, is a purely optical passage or punctuation between images, working directly, sacrificing all synthetic effects

The cut as punctuation? Even the mere suggestion is fasnitaing! Then is the film prose or lirycs? Or an impression - lirical style [and mood] in prosaic structure?

In Ozu, everything is ordinary or even banal, even death and the dead who are the object of a natural forgetting.

Isn't this what Harry was talking about? The same mundanity, banality and everyday-ness that haunts CC? Of course, the execution is different but the subject is the same...

One case of camera movement gives a good example of disconnection: in Early Summer, the heroine goes forward on tiptoe to surprise someone in a restaurant, the camera drawing back in order to keep her in the centre of the frame; then the camera goes forward to a corridor, but this corridor is no longer in the restaurant, it is in the house of the heroine who has already returned home.

Yes, in fact, these lapses /expressions of disconnection/ are grouped and wonderfully analysed in the sensesofcinema article. In "A story of floating weeds", for example, when the master's in front of his "patron's" house, he goes back to drive away a crowd of youngsters. When he finally approaches the door, the camera is shooting him frontally, so it seems as if he's staring at the viewer. He opens the door and, having "seen us", quickly starts to slide it backwards. Until the door is half-closed, we're already on the other side (inside), looking at his back and waiting for him to close the door completely. It's a very interesting and odd decision: you feel as if someone grabs you and carries you inside, but extremely quickly and against the actor's will.