Ozu and the universal

Last night, I hastily promised that I would write more about Yasujiro Ozu and universality. So I'm here to deliver on my promise, as underwhelming as my performance will be.

Why is it that I want to spend many of my hours watching the films of a director whose name I did not even know two months ago? Am I just caught up in the type of fashion that afflicts middlebrow intellectual wannabes? (The PFA says Ozu is great -- so I must go around watching these films, professing Ozu's greatness even if I can't quite see it for myself.) Maybe.

But that doesn't explain how moving the films have been to me. I biked home last Saturday evening after seeing Late Spring with tears streaming down my face. It was just a film about a father and his daughter, how she doesn't want to get married because she does not want her father to be alone, and how her father convinces her to get married, thus condemning himself to loneliness. I thought that Tokyo Story was absolutely gripping, speaking to my sense and understanding of family. I want to know more about the film, what makes it tick. I spent two hours on Sunday with the new DVD of Tokyo Story looking for insight.

Does it help to be Asian or specifically Japanese to really get Ozu? Some European American friends of mine did not respond to the portrayal of family in Tokyo Story the way I did. They were surprised that the film is considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever. I myself am delighted to see the recognition that Tokyo Story has received. It's good for me to read many who don't have any problems associating artistic experiences originating from Japan with the universal. I'm tired of hearing primarily ideas and art from Western contexts described as such. I'm refreshed by seeing faces on movie screens that look more like mine crying, speaking (or not expressing) heart-felt emotion -- and moving viewers around the world in the process.

Yes, I know that I'm shedding very little light on whether Ozu's work is universal. Maybe I'll answer that question some other day.