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It was not until 1978 and the commercial release in Paris of Voyage à Tokyo, twenty-five years after its shooting, fifteen years after the death of its author (1963), that in France, Ozu would be discovered by a wider audience. The same year Paris Film distributed Le gout du Saké (1962), Fin d’automne (1960) and Dernier Caprice (1961), and the following year, Gosses de Tokyo (1932). Until the eighties in France, only these five films will circulate and make reference. Lino Micciché believes that at this time no European critic was able to analyze Ozu as a whole because none of them knew more than two-fifths of his work. To watch his films, you have to run the cinematheques of Europe or the United States. Also, when some specialists look at this cinema they do so by referring to second-hand information and turning to the most famous of his exegetes, Donald Richie. In fmovies you can have a look at these films now.
Richie has lived in Japan for over thirty years and has published books on his cinema since the sixties. He has long been interested in the specificity of Ozu and pleads for international recognition. According to him, “Ozu is a spokesperson, marked by real Japanese taste. To speak here of Japanese taste is relevant: Japan remains conscious of the highest degree of its own identity.
Modern civilization is only a lacquer affixed to Asian culture with a tradition of more than 2000 years. The tone is set: Ozu will be seen and studied as “the most Japanese of filmmakers”. It is a culturist vision shared by many exegetes who will read his work in terms of classic Japanese aesthetics, correlated with his philosophy and religion.
Herbes Flottantes (1959)
After being “too” Japanese, Ozu became “all” Japanese. Ozu’s work is, in a way, the quintessence of the Japanese spirit and culture. For Max Tessier, Ozu, like many artists, made a detour through Western culture to gradually return to Japanese culture: after early enthusiasm for American films, for example by Ernst Lubitsch, he sank his contradictory influences in the mold of a personal and totally Japanese style. And this journey itself is one of the central concerns of his cinema. Some critics, such as Marvin Zeman, go further: to fully penetrate the work of Ozu, it must be understood in this context, more strictly Japanese – and less purely cinematographic. Consequently, the work of Ozu can only be appreciated and loved by those who are well disposed towards Japanese art. Although more nuanced, it is often at the heart of Zen culture that his exegetes will seek concepts to characterize his films, his way of painting Japanese, through the prism of a family upset by the changes in society before and post-war.
Thus, Richie is concerned with the numerous examples of mono no aware, one of the pivotal principles of Zen, in the films of Ozu. It is a very Japanese way of accepting a world in transition in which existence is only a passage, of being in the present with what is, and what is not, of to receive with permanence in impermanence. In other words to experience a certain serene sadness you should feel it. For his part, Paul Schrader evokes the transcendence of the style of Ozu. If the cinema of transcendence has emerged in different countries, in Bresson and Dreyer’s in particular, the films of Ozu are exemplary.