Ozu’s Cinematography (from the review of Early Spring)Ozu’s mise-en-scene was famously different from most other filmmakers across the globe, although his style has directly influenced some filmmakers, such as Hou Hsiao-Hsien. His camera is almost invariably set at a low angle, as if from a low sitting position and looking up at the characters. The image compositions are static, and there is almost no camera movement. Even when the camera tracks horizontally, it maintains a fixed composition on the principal characters of the shot. Thus the camera seems to be rooted to the environment, and pays little attention to the eye-line axes of the characters. Nevertheless, there is quite a bit of cutting on action, which evokes the idea of the camera representing the “invisible” witness whose focus of attention changes naturally with an action cut. Sometimes, at dramatically significant moments in the story, there is a straight-on camera shot, with the principal character speaking directly to the camera, which places the invisible witness directly in the middle of the interaction, empathetically assuming the role of the recipient of the speaker’s words.
For scene transitions, Ozu often shows static cityscape images that are empty of human content. Sometimes these scene transitions elliptically pass over a significant piece of action that must be inferred by the viewer. Altogether these effects create their own special cinematic atmosphere that seems to place the viewer in an intimate position to witness the scene, and yet not always privy to everything that is going on.
Ozu probably developed this consistently rigorous visual methodology during his early days in the period of silent filmmaking. Surviving storyboards of Ozu’s work show his meticulous concern for background compositions and are indicative of his static camera methods .
- “The director’s storyboards suggest Ozu envisioned his trademark rigorous-style compositions long before cameras rolled. In them, sets are lined with geometric beauty and are much darker than drawings done to illustrate the characters.” – quoted from “Ozu's Movies Continue to Win New Fans”, by Noriki Ishitobi and Aiko Masuda, The Asahi Shimbun, January 28, 2014.
Films of Yasujiro Ozu: