Are Up in the Air, Avatar, The Hurt Locker and Precious really good films? Is it at all possible to see them at this point divorced from their hype? By sitting down to them, can they really make us forget everything we have ever heard about them? Fortunately, there is one filmmaker who can do that.
If you're lucky enough to live in London (or to be vacationing there in the next month), you will be able to see a nice selection of the films of Yasujiro Ozu, including extended runs of Tokyo Story (1953) and Late Autumn (1960), at the BFI. Most cinema buffs have at least heard of Tokyo Story, which is generally cited as one of the ten best films ever made, but once you dive deeper into Ozu's work, it's hard to understand why just that one film should be singled out; they're all great. Yet Ozu has always been a hard sell, as Ian Buruma writes this week in The Guardian. He was seen as old-fashioned, conservative, and/or slow and boring, and -- famously -- as "too Japanese" for Western audiences to understand.
Buruma argues that perhaps Japan wanted to be seen as exotic, through stories of samurai and geisha and ghosts, rather than as ordinary people with ordinary stories about ordinary problems. And even as the next generation of filmmakers turned up the flash and tried to get away from Ozu, Ozu's films remain, steadfast. They're classic and current, stylish and without style, and universal. I've always found something very refreshing about them, and almost feel as if I have been on vacation when I see one. Best of all is the way that the films resist hype. Despite all the words that have been written about Ozu and all the studies that have gone into his films, they work their magic.
(Note: If you can't make it to London, fifteen of Ozu's films are currently available on DVD here in the U.S., all released by the Criterion Collection.)