The following is a lecture delivered at a symposium, “Yasujiro Ozu in the World,” organized by Shigehiko Hasumi in Tokyo on December 11, 1998. The other participants, apart from Hasumi himself, were Jean Douchet (the keynote speaker), Hou Hsiao-hsien, his screenwriter Tien-wen Chu, and Thierry Jousse. I’m proud to say that Hasumi, my favorite Japanese film critic, has included a link to this text on his own web site, mube.jp. — J.R.
I’d like to preface these remarks by citing a moment from Ozu’s I Was Born, But… (1932) and the particular significance it has for me. During the home movie projection which marks the critical turning point in the film from comedy to tragedy, and shortly before the clowning of the father in front of his boss appears in one of the home movies, the father’s two little boys start having a debate about the zebra they see on the screen — does it have black stripes on white, or white stripes on black? — creating a disturbance that momentarily halts the screening. In comparable fashion, a spurious, distracting, and no less innocent debate has been persisting about Ozu for years: is he a realist or a formalist? What seems lamentable about this debate is that it fails to perceive that cinematic forms and social forms are not alternatives in the world of Ozu but opposite sides of the same coin, so that it should be impossible to speak about one without speaking about the other.… Read more »
This essay was commissioned in fall 2018 for an exhibition devoted to Michelangelo Antonioni in Tehran curated by Sami Astan. — J.R.
[Antonioni’s] trilogy was concerned with differing aspects of love as the medium of hope in our world. This film [Red Desert] is stripped to naked essence — hope or nonhope unadorned: the prospect of human life in the midst of whirling changes. We live, as we know, in the age of the swiftest transition in history, and all indications are that the speed of change will increase: in everything from household appliances to concepts in philosophy, the whole architecture of thought. Antonioni seems to be saying, without effervescent cheeriness, that what was valuable can be preserved or can be transmuted to a new viability: that the future may contain new, at present inconceivable, values. — Stanley Kauffmann, The New Republic, March 23, 1963
There seems little doubt that Red Desert (1964) represented a major turning point in both the art and the career of Michelangelo Antonioni, and not only because it was his first film in color. It also concluded his collaborations with Monica Vitti as his lead actress — in L’avventura (1960), La notte (1961), and L’eclisse (1962) — apart from the sole and significant exception of The Mystery of Oberwald (1980) sixteen years later, which also worked with image (including color) manipulations.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 2002). — J.R.
Roman Polanski’s 2002 film about classical pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a Polish Jew who managed to survive the Warsaw ghetto, won the top prize at Cannes and an Oscar for best director, and it’s easy to understand why: Polanski, himself a survivor of the Krakow ghetto, is so authoritative in showing us what life there was like that this film makes more conventional heart tuggers like Schindler’s List shrivel to insignificance. He appears to follow Ronald Harwood’s adaptation of Szpilman’s autobiography with scrupulous thoroughness, as well as with the special patience that it takes to show a passive and mainly unheroic victim surviving. All of Polanski’s films reflect the grimness of his war experience in one way or another, and this feature serves to clarify some of the emotions and attitudes found in the others. The results are masterful, admirably unsentimental, and never boring, if also a little stodgy. The Polish dialogue is rendered as English, the German is simply subtitled. R, 148 min. (JR)
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