Late Autumn (1960)

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Fifth time with Yasujiro Ozu after TSLSFW and Brothers And Sisters of the Toda FamilyBeautiful poster there but no idea why it emphasises the guy at the front, who must have about four scenes total; must have been a fan favourite at the time.

Probably Ozu’s fullest picture (of the above, at least) – in the first scene, disparities of gender, class, region, and (of course) generation are introduced very discreetly and succinctly. BFI guide labels this a “remake” of LS, which I think obscures the extent to which YO’s films are individual takes on the same issues – in any case, the balance here is much more level, with various groups and peripheral characters playing off each other in contrast to the centripetal LS (which is far more magnetised around Setsuko Hara). Here nostalgically meddlesome, almost mischievous men are occasionally undercut by their gossiping wives, who nevertheless very notably follow them around picking up discarded workclothes or empty bowls. Perhaps most distinctively, youth culture (or at least mid-20s) gets a fuller portrayal. While comic references to “that Presley” situate LA after the westernised explosion in youth autonomy (with some assumptions here about hemispherically comparable postwar prosperity and liberalisation), YO’s eye for behaviour and mores is most evident in the way the captivating Mariko Okada runs rings around the older group of male friends. There’s an especially poignant moment on a balcony at work (perhaps a reference to the famous TS shot) when MO’s Yuriko and Yoko Tsukasa’s Ayako question the significance of female friendship if it cannot survive marriage in a way that male relationships clearly do.

From the beginning this does feel in step with BaSotTF on account of another late arrival at a memorial service, as well as the initial impetus arising from an absent father-figure (postwar context is elucidated at the end here). The late Miwa’s associates swarm around his widow Akiko and surviving daughter Ay, explicitly taking a possessive tone on account, firstly, of fraternity, but later simply the women’s beauty. Their project is as clownish as the colluding secondary actors in FW, but they never lose this unsettling sense of intrusion; later the two husbands among them profess a wish to be widowers. The initial suggestion of Ay’s marriage is edited to emphasise her discomfort in a way sufficiently deft as to emulate the comic negotiations of LS.

For its understatement, SH’s performance here is probably my favourite of hers. While in LS she is much more reticent about her marital misgivings than YT is here, giving her the same mysterious glow as in TS, here she balances the trademark deferential passivity with reproachful engagements with Ay and more knowing, maturer conversations with the peppy MO (who I think channels the consistent dismissive pragmatism of Haruko Sugimura, of LS particularly). Occupying all the various agent and patient roles in these movements and situations, she trades the magnetically sympathetic seniority of Chishu Ryu for a versatility which reflects and enhances the film’s different social gradients.

The generational divide seems politicised. Successful professors and businessmen each, the men’s houses are as grey and uneventful as their clothing, while their friendships have become moulded around corporate interactions. Chief instigator Mamiya (Shin Saburi of Toda Family) suggests Goto as a suitor for Ay with the caveat that “he doesn’t standout” followed immediately by the recommendation “I thought of him immediately.” Ak accedes to the resultant corporatised vetting process by making symbolic gifts of her late husband’s tobacco pipes (later employed amusingly as props in a bar scene), while Taguchi later celebrates Hirayama’s proposed engagement to Ak by notifying him that “you owe us a big meal.” They seem to fit right into a city design which is YO’s most explicitly consumerist, but the urban energy is in fact provided by the outgoing youth. However, the shot of Ay’s friends hiking in sync through the hills seems like something out of a socialist propaganda film, and there’s something iconoclastic about the way Ay explicitly challenges the morals of her father’s generation (again in contrast to that reticence of SH in LS). Contributing to that fuller depiction of generational confrontation.

Full is apt but the word that came to mind while watching was Rich. However, if the remarkably rhythmic, dynamic and comprehensive LA lacks anything its the breathtaking ambient beauty of the harbour in FW, the bay in TS or the Kyoto trip in LS, or the knockout incongruity of LS‘s ending. This is very domestic, very urban, very soapy; tied-up with a bow, sidestepping the curtailed character arcs of Toda but perhaps sacrificing some degree of risk in the process. I credit it in the same way as Fanny and Alexander though, perhaps, as it seems like a summative piece, being one film which somehow nails that Ozu balance between national cross-section and human condition, the balance otherwise grandly struck by considering his films together.

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Symbol (2009)

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First time with Hitoshi Matsumoto.

After it finishes you have to go digging back a bit for the opening section, which begins with a Fear and Loathing nun travelling to pick up the wrestler father (Escargot Man!) of an anxious young boy in a Mexican wilderness. There’s later a feeling that this is just a disorientating false-start, but there’s also a sense of trusting childish investment in an adult world: the boy places faith in his father’s strength and heart despite a fretting mother and dismissive schoolmates. His faith is mirrored by the prayers of his wrestler father, surrounded by quietly prevalent catholic iconography in his locker room. Barthes says that wrestling is always about “explicit” signification of moral (internal) situations (expression of emotions that signify and complicate status of heroes/villains etc.). “Each moment of the wrestling match is therefore a kind of algebra which instantaneously discloses the relation of a cause with its figured effect.” Its truth is present and immediate (“Each sign in wrestling is thus endowed with an utter clarity since everything must always be understood on the spot.”). “A wrestler may irritate or disgust, he never disappoints, for he always ultimately achieves, by a gradual solidification of signs, what the public expects of him.” Catholic devotion and wrestler-worship are both investments in moralistic/causal systems that appear to function continuously – upon which its devotees are therefore trustfully dependent.

In contrast (constantly contrasted, in the first half of S anyway) we have the surreality of a man awakening in a bare rectangular room. Cherubic figures emerge from the walls and their abstracted penises become levers by which random objects are inserted into his world for him to puzzle over – pots, trees, sticks, comics, sashimi, a floating key, a mysterious runner, a door which is appears and disappears on a timer. Our man is dressed childishly in a bowl-cut wig and spotty pyjamas (infantility enhanced by the first apparition: a pink toothbrush) and exhibits a streak of infantile (scatological) humour amidst his frustration at this confinement – frustration which he announces, in protest, as unanswered pleas for help or explanation. He is clearly an adult trapped in a world of childish (il)logic, failing to get to grips with a system of infantile signification: effect does not explicably follow cause; knowledge has to be pieced together blindly through trial-and-error experience (like an animal in an intelligence test). None of Barthes’ “instantaneous disclosure” in here; in fact, the system often seems to play (childishly) capricious tricks on our man, with soy sauce ejected at the wrong time during a meal, levers awkwardly springing shut at inconvenient points, objects breaking each other at inopportune moments, etc. Our man longs for the certainty of Barthes’ world of wrestling:

In wrestling, nothing exists unless it exists totally, there is no symbol, no allusion, everything is given exhaustively; leaving nothing in shadow, the gesture severs every parasitical meaning and ceremonially presents the public with a pure and full signification, three-dimensional, like Nature. What is enacted by wrestling, then, is an ideal intelligence of things, a euphoria of humanity, raised for a while out of the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and installed in a panoramic vision of a univocal Nature, in which signs finally correspond to causes without obstacle, without evasion, and without contradiction.

Our man does eventually escape: after a purgatorial entrapment, he is laboriously led to another similar room, in which the effects of each lever are obscured to him. In fact, in a pulse-raising coordination of S‘s two plotlines, the first lever gives the Mexican wrestler-dad a bizarre means to win his match. Other levers take effect in global scenes with a similar level of systemic signification to wrestling: painted rockstars spout fire at a concert, a tv magician’s trick is interrupted, etc. Meanwhile, increasingly frustrated about his protracted confinement, our man starts climbing levers on the walls towards a seraphic light above – each compression sparks an action or event in a montage of home-video and news footage, including animals falling over, weapons firing, and an Obama speech.

This angelic ascent forms a middle section entitled PRACTICE. The first room was LEARNING; the final stage is FUTURE: our man ascends through the roof into a final room, where instead of cherubs a topographical atlas seeps through the wall. Opposite is one final dick-lever, which our man reaches towards like The Creation of Adam until the credits cut in before we get a chance to see what happens. There’s a clear development from blind operation of levers whose effects capriciously torment the operator, to a blind operation of levers whose effects register capriciously in the real world, to an enlightened operation of a lever whose effect (I imagine) will constitute complete control over the real world.

I don’t 100% know what to make of that. The ending isn’t annoying: it’s like a joke shared with the writer about how clearly none of us can know what it would be like to wield that kind of power, the power to control a system “in which signs finally correspond to causes without obstacle” (the mad futility of wrestling as an approximation is kind of hinted at by the fact that the miracle-lever ends up inducing Escargot Man to headbutt his own celebrating child). It’s certainly satisfying that our frustrated hero ends up with that power, though it is pretty hilarious watching him struggle in the first room, particularly when he devises cartoonish plots for escape. This first section certainly feels less like youtube excreta than the last third-ish, which is less satisfying visually and thematically. There does seem to be a religious ascension, a graduation from patient- to agent-status; perhaps a comment on the incomprehensible causal complexity of today’s world of object-based consumerism and the internet. There’s also a dick-lever which lowers a massive room-sized arse from the ceiling while flashing red lights and a child’s countdown announce a visible fart to which our man responds by kneeling and screaming “That STINKS!!!!”

A colourful, bizarrely lovable oddity whose surreal logic is sufficiently engaging to encourage both uncomprehending enjoyment and pompous retrospective speculation.

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Brothers And Sisters Of The Toda Family (1941)

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Fourth time with Ozu after Tokyo StoryLate Spring, and Floating Weeds. This was a freebie on the BFI TS DVD (badly in need of some restoration).

Definitely in the mould of TS, with the sliding and shuffling negotiations between levels of family – parents to offspring, brothers to sisters. Almost Ozu-in-reverse as the death of a cherished but obviously slightly distant patriarch precipitates these readjustments, with the relocation of his widow (and her youngest daughter Setsuko) seemingly the central task.

Some delicately sketched characters: Setsuko is hemmed in by a brother (Shojiro) who insists she mustn’t marry and a sister (Chizuko) who insists she mustn’t work at least in part because she will be marrying soon. She sticks with her permissive mother, who is wrong-footed by a hyperactive grandchild to the annoyance of his disciplinarian mother Chiz – who herself has an unsettling preoccupation with clothing and appearance (taking distasteful pride in selecting an outfit to wear to attend to her dying father at short notice). Shojiro indulges a centrifugal ambition (by moving to China) partly motivated by guilt over his own misbehaviour and tendency to inconvenience his late father (our sympathies with him are perhaps the film’s most complex: he appears rightly ruffled by the vulturous materialism when his father’s assets are auctioned off to pay his secret debts, but he slowly emerges as a somewhat hypocritical stickler for filial duty).

The focus is spread fairly evenly across these illustrated figures, with the effect that BASOTTF feels quite decentralised, more structurally freeform than TS or LS (the strange ending is a point at which this is particularly, uncomfortably evident). This also lacks the chorographic roaming of FW and the big-money shots in TS and LS, honing in, instead, on Ozu’s characteristically reticent but evocative detail. Sho professes his lack of remorse upon receiving the news of his father’s death but the emotion comes to him through the memories embedded in the objects and arrangements of a favourite restaurant. A picture of the grandfather hangs above a doorway in one of the houses, and we get the sense that his gaze is cast over every surface in the film, imbuing each scene with restless melancholy. A year swings round and after all the rearrangement, something has slipped through the cracks.

Another elegant and naturalistic portrait, pretty low-key but with some creative structuring, and some historical interest for tracing the development of Ozu’s key themes. It’s going to be hard to find a bad one.

7

The Bad Sleep Well (1960)

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Been intrigued by the translated title’s use of Bad as a plural noun. BFI leaflet in my DVD copy says that Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru could more accurately be translated as “the worse you are, the better you sleep”.

Akira Kurosawa’s first film with his own production company. A Hamlet-inspired tale of urban corruption that bisects Throne of Blood and High and Low. Also comes after Stray Dog and Rashomon, my two favourites. Surprised to learn all this because it sometimes seems quite prototypical in all senses. I prefer the way the Shakespearean plot is interpolated to ToB‘s recostumed Macbeth. Mifune’s casting seemed like an early experiment rather than an attempt to break type. His classic visual cues (besides weather, perhaps) are here but often contained, less theatrical.

Still, AK’s the best for the movement of many. The opening wedding scene is beautifully choreographed, with the internal eddies in the hierarchical seating plan creating the effect of a whole company squirming under the gaze of the journalists. The latter are aloof and able to comment but also seem somehow complicit in the rigmarole of power-plays and dissemination of information (TBSW perhaps relies too much on exposition, but here the introduction to the different players helps set up this interesting power dynamic). Nishi’s and Yoshiko’s relationship grows out of the ominous moment when, under many eyes, she trips on the aisle and the music stops: this inability to act under the thumb of capricious male authority is what drives Nishi both to his actions and into the arms of his wife. The reactions to the cake are amazing too.

Was reminded of Mann’s The Insider or even The Network in the way the schemes succeed because of their affective force, the emotional component to the power dynamics in the company. In the scene where N plants banknotes in Shirai’s briefcase, we expect an accusation of the obvious, but S is completely pinned down by the thought of Iwabuchi in the other room; the visual series of N’s crafty interest, S’s gawping horror and Moriyama’s smirk tinged with pathos are all held together by their obligations.

Interestingly, while the success of N’s plans relies on manipulating the emotions of his victims (S has gone mad long before the supposedly poisoned whisky because of the frequent appearances of Wada the ghost), it also relies on his own emotional stability. Outside the system he has to imitate the system itself in order to outsmart it: “I don’t hate enough. […] It’s hard to hate evil. I must hate and become bad myself.”

I’ve seen people complain about disjunction between the images and the score but I loved the way N’s whistled tune (western influences again) plays out in jaunty big-band glee when he recites his crimes to M. There are traces of classic Mifune (he’s pretty twisted in the chiaroscuro apartment at which he tortures S; this is a pulpy centrepiece).

I also liked the introduction of the postwar narrative: these corporate superstructures are built on the petrified remains of lives frozen in ruin after bombardment. The shattered munitions factory serves as a perfect base for N’s plot, and a perfect trap for when the company come to remove it by the roots. Grander narrative to the particular story about people behind their roles; we already know W is going to crumble (“he’s a man, not an official”) because his moralised criticism of N is couched in terms of obedience, institutional not ethical imperatives.

Obviously lacks the grandiosity of his Samurai pictures, and isn’t as stylistically attractive as SD (interesting also to read in the BFI book about the western response; K himself admitted that had he made the film in America his critique could have gone a lot deeper). But all the elements are there, and its an excitingly layered story; plus it lacks some of the problems with pacing that nag ToB, even SD, etc. Very fun corporate noir.

8

async (2017)

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Mego feel all over this. Something abrasive and indigestible about the electronics and timbres; difficult to let it fall into the background. (and the cover)

Solaris vibes from the organ on ‘andata’ (returned to on, er, ‘solari’) but thickening swirl of electronic fuzz and rippling synths creates a new sense of claustrophobia; a bit of Drøne’s Reversing Into The Future in there at the end. Gusty, like when a strong headwind pushes your breath back down your throat. (‘solari’ is dreamier, not far away from a Peter Strickland soundtrack)

Arrhythmic plunking on ‘disintegration’ – strange title for a track that slowly assembles itself with added instrumentation; sense therefore of construction through breaking away – metronomic percussion like slow work of a chisel. (this is a recurring trope [abstracted on ‘ZURE’] – all recalling Alva Noto’s Vrioon…) Half-life. Eerie inseparability of manual and electronic elements. Suggestibility of visuals (slow pursuit on foot) not surprising after RS’s great work on …The Revenant OST.

‘ZURE’ introduces a hint of noisy, processed field recordings which becomes lucid on the hypnotic ‘walker’, a highlight: steps on frosted grass, leaves, stones, puddles among drones, wolf call synths and gong hits. Brittle particularity of that Kim Myhr / Trondheim Jazz Orchestra / Jenny Hval album from last year. Builds on sense of algorithmic assembly (see raindrop cymbals on ‘tri’) to introduce stronger suggestions of unpredictability: how intentional in recording? Here and all over a the beauty is in the arrangement, the life and death or artificial animation of sounds colliding.

Abrupt tumbling synths on ‘stakra’, which glitches (Haunt Me) and floods without adding momentum. Return to manual arrangements on ‘ubi’ with a sonar pulse wandering between l and r channels, bouncing around persistently beautiful piano steps. Again juxtaposition of building tension and metronomic consistency, like monitoring a bodily pulse under flowing thought and feeling.

Then ‘fullmoon’ recording: “Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times…” Suggestions of decay and finitude begin to take shape after recalling RS’s recent survival of cancer. Drones return as different languages loop over each other; sense that they are saying the same thing confirmed by “finie de la vie … combien de fois…” Everyone everywhere is having the same experience, in the same situation, seemingly incomprehensibly separate but in fact identical. After the mood a has established these speeches wash past you not with the whiff of gimmick but an unsettling chill.

‘async’ blurts in with Greenwood polyrhythmic col legno and wooden string strikes. It’s a bracing rush but the incongruous sequencing feels a little too studied and chin-strokey here. Those Mego raindrop cymbals on ‘tri’ suddenly cut into a glitching light-show, like petrifying midi-fication. Weird poem (apparently David Sylvian reading Tarkovsky Sr.) on ‘Life, Life’, again universality; “and this I dreamt, and this I dream, and sometime this I will dream again…” “to one side of the world” “to wonder I dedicate myself on my knees like an orphan” “dreams, reality, death, on wave after wave.” Huge and particular images of pervasive beauty of humanity. (sincerity without pomposity) If everyone listened to this we could collectively forget Cloud Atlas.

‘honj’ far-eastern zither (guqin?) treated with echo and gentle rain. Dislocated eclecticism of that Olivier Alary record. Beautiful washes of ‘ff’, thin synths like a finger round a glass, respiratory flow of Soliloquy for Lilith.

a bottoms out into ‘garden’, echoes of the opening organs like the view of Kris from among the weeds underwater.

Constructive variety (asynchronous, perhaps) but tonal consistency; strange melancholy, persistence but fragility. Really the sort of album I’ve been waiting to hear, with some slightly less satisfying experiments and occasionally wobbly sequencing. A crisp and sobering experimental album.

8

Floating Weeds (1959)

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Third time with Ozu, after Tokyo Story and Late Spring. Couldn’t find a satisfying poster; this one seems to foreground the kind of melodrama that Ozu sidelines.

Convinced you cannot tire of this visual style. Counted 0 shots with camera movement. Every shot is either square to its subject or at the Ozu angle (thought of Möbius) – faces obscured, emotions hidden. Perspectives are discontinuously recycled. (Komajuro and Kimisho playing chess) Dialogue is square shot/reverse shot. Endless expressibility within given formula (easy to make layman’s comparisons with other Japanese art).

The most dynamic and textured of Ozu’s films for me: drifting drama is roughened with scenes of real tension and even violent outbursts. Ko and Kayo distraught in the theatre’s cellar; he strikes and they ping back to vertical and opposite like weebles – likewise the confrontative domestic conclusion. Disruption heightened by the natural reversion to order. Ozu’s comic touch is more on show here too: a young boy actor breaking character to collect tributes thrown onstage; Ko cigarette wriggling away from a match proffered by Sumiko as he tries to maintain antipathy.

Leaving and returning. The troupe’s first visit in 12 years, since The Surrender. Sense of a lost generation, disruption of the unexpected return. Each character with their own ex-centricities. (Floating Weeds)

I want a lookbook of Ozu’s Mondrian interiors. I want a supercut of Ozu’s characters going up and down stairs. (Every Frame A Painting on Kurosawa’s movement, but Ozu is a real master: domestic rhythms and delicate individual discrepancies [and he can do rain])

Seeing Ki on the steps watching Ko argue with S somehow put Through A Glass Darkly into my mind, Harriet Andersson haunted by the spider god. Central youths taunted with withheld information, fluctuating agency disturbing balances. In fact ship only at the beginning and Ozu trains only at the end – for the most part FW is likewise a film about entrapment, the TS heat building the pressure in a closed loop. (comparing the pier scenes TS and here  – former couple lost and wistful, latter contemplative and isolated)

Easy to make theatrical comparisons but the layabouts in bordello scheming mutiny does feel like a subplot; layers of dramatic irony. Wending and winding of plot rather than slow revelation and development of motivations, as in LS, or steady panning across a story, as in TS. Externality and observation. (the theatre itself has a quiet but Paradiso charm)

Strange, loose ending. Duties vs desires. The snowglobe shaken and most must make do and mend.

Ozu in colour is a treat.

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