In the last few days I’ve glanced at filmmaking from Japan. I followed some rabbit trails and it’s lead me right back to the Midwest and David Bordwell over in Madison, Wisconsin. I have quoted Bordwell before, but was unaware that he wrote a whole book on one of Japan’s greatest filmmakers. The bad news is Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema is out of print, the good news is the entire book in available online for free.
The film scholar with long-standing ties to the University of Wisconsin at Madison has an arrangement with the University of Michigan’s Center for Japanese Studies where you can download the entire book as a PDF file. Bordwell also did the audio commentary for Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon. (Criterion Collection). You can read more of his writings at David Bordwell’s website on cinema.
I confess to dropping the first film history class I ever took at the University of Miami. I just wanted to make films. Not do a boring examination of dead filmmakers. Never understood the fascination with dates and influences. I’m not sure when that all changed for me but it probably had something to do with an interview I saw on Martin Scorsese where I began to understand the depth of his knowledge and appreciation of film history.
If you want to improve your appreciation of films, Bordwell’s writings are a great place to head.
“Filmmakers know more than they say or can say. They have secrets, some of which they don’t know they know. Let’s try to bring their tacit knowledge to light; let’s expose their secrets. Will that dispel the mysteries we cherish? Only if we cherish mysteries for their own sake. Know of how artists both rely upon and surpass their craft won’t diminish our admiration or dilute out experience. It’s illuminating to learn that Rembrandt starts from the portraitist’s standard schema for rendering eye sockets but them by applying looser brushwork conjures up a flickering glance. What seems an alchemist’s lair becomes a kitchen, where recipes are transformed by trial and error and spontaneous flair. Creation is demystified, and knowledge increases our appreciation and enjoyment.”
Creativity is more about connecting influences rather than just making something up . An example is one of the greatest Japanese films ever is Ozu’s Tokyo Story which was co-written with Kogo Noda. (Ozu & Noda, one of the all-time great director/writer teams, wrote 13 films together,) But that great film was inspired by the 1937 American film Make Way for Tomorrow. (That film was written by Vina Delmar, and was based on the book The Years Are So Long (1934) by Josephine Lawrence (and a play by by Helen Leary & Noah Leary).
Lawrence was born in Newark, New Jersey kept a strict three-hour writing schedule at night after work. She wrote over thirty books for young people, and one adult novel before she wrote The Years are so Long.