Relocating Ozu: The Question of an Asian Cinematic Aesthetic



Jointly organized by the Centers for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, this meeting will bring together a dynamic group of international scholars on February 19-20, 2010 to reassess Japanese film director Yasujirō Ozu's work in its wider relation to inter- and postwar colonial and urban modernities in East Asia. Rather than replicate auteurist approaches to Ozu's legacy, we seek to situate his work — as well the afterlife of his style in contemporary East Asian cinema — within a global circuit, one that encompasses Hollywood as well as the cinemas of Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, and mainland China. Clearly, what we might call an 'Ozu-like' aesthetic — most readily identified with a long take, deep focus realism, non-180 degree editing, and a distinctive handling of cinematic time — has had an abiding presence in East Asian art cinema within and outside of Japan, particularly since the 1980s. What this conference aims to explore are the ways in which this phenomenon is not merely reducible to questions of influence. Nor can it be viewed simply in terms of a presentist history of global art-house cinema. Instead, this conference will attempt to place Ozu's work, and the emergence of an "Ozu-like" aesthetic, within the context of the early emergence of a genre-based commercial cinema in urban centers such as Tokyo, Shanghai, Taipei and Seoul.

This re-examination of Ozu's work entails a number of questions. In what ways were these various cinematic vernaculars in dialogue with one another, and how did they emerge from out of the crucible of colonial commerce and imperial violence that linked these urban centers? How might the most distinctly 'Ozu-like' genre — the family melodrama— encode these histories? How, finally, might we re-assess the question of Ozu's formalism? Yoshida Kiju has suggested that in Ozu's "anti-cinema," objects observe people, rather than the other way around. In what sense might this close attention to the world of things be a product of, as well as a creative response to, the reifications of urban modernity? How, in other words, can we open Ozu's aesthetics, and his continuing relevance to contemporary East Asian cinema, to historical question?

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Jinsoo An — Ozu in Korea: The Burden of the Most "Japanese" Film Director
This paper explores and locates the presence of the famed Japanese film auteur Ozu Yasujiro in film and cultural scenes of South Korea. Ozu's austere film style has made important influence upon contemporary Korean filmmakers. But his reputation as "the most Japanese" director immediately raises questions on South Korea's cultural politics because that which signifies the Japanese often triggers the thorny colonial history thereby viewed with suspicion and hostility. South Korea's prolonged "closed-door" policy toward Japanese popular culture, according to which no Japanese film was allowed for screening until 1997, informs the unusual cultural environment that surrounds Ozu's auteur status. I bring attention to the reputation of Ozu as Japanese film director in South Korea in relation to this prevalent cultural politics. In particular, I examine how Asian and international film festivals and art film events historically offered unusual space where the rigid cultural policy and politics were questioned, negotiated and redefined. These sporadic but regular occurrences fermented and facilitated various ideas on film, more specifically on art film, that circumvented the oppositional logic of cultural policy toward Japan. This paper examines the multiple and contradictory layers of film discourse in South Korea, in which Ozu and his films register unique yet changing meanings and relevance.

Kirsten Cather — Perverting Ozu: Masayuki Suō's Abnormal Family (1984)
Many labels have been ascribed to Ozu over the years: traditionalist, modernist, populist, and formalist, to name a few. One label, however, that has not typically been associated with Ozu, either in his films or in his life, is eroticist. Indeed, on a stylistic level, in particular, Ozu's "self-restricting cinema," known for its static shots, ellipses, and deadpan acting, would seemingly prove incompatible, or, at least, incongruous, with erotic expression. This paper considers an instance in which Ozu's restrained cinema was refashioned into a genre not widely known for its restraint: the pornographic "pink" film. In Abnormal Family: My Brother's Wife (1983), director Masayuki Suō explores the tension between the hallowed image of Ozu as auteur, on the one hand, and as pornographer, on the other. This paper considers how Suō's film appropriates and incorporates Ozu's thematics and stylistics into a generic porn and to what end. With this film, Suō simultaneously manages to flex his credentials as a debuting pink film director and as an astute Ozu critic, who studied under leading Ozu scholar Shigehiko Hasumi. Perhaps Suō was not only forcing a rereading of Ozu's films and criticism, but also pointedly commenting on the state of the Japanese film industry itself. Tellingly, Suō invokes a pater familias of Japanese cinema in a genre-based commercialized film at a time when the financial crisis for the domestic film industry left few avenues for new directors other than pornographic productions. In so doing, Suō suggests the intersections and tensions between market and auteurist demands that existed not only in the mid-1980s, but perhaps even back in the golden days of Ozu.

Jinhee Choi — The Paternal Melodrama and Modernity: The Ozu Connection
In this presentation, I examine the "paternal melodrama" in South Korean cinema of the 1960s. In works such as Romance Papa (dir. Shin Sang-ok, 1960), Mabu (a.k.a. The Stableman, dir. Kang Dae-jin, 1961), and Samdeung Gwajang (a.k.a. Petty Middle Manager, dir. Lee Bong-rae, 1961), it is the father who provides the emotional center of the film. I draw a comparison between this Korean production trend and the early paternal melodramas of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, as seen in such films as I was Born But... (1932) and Passing Fancy (1933). While an overt causal connection between these two trends may be tenuous, both trends similarly portray a waning patriarchy in the face of modernity, and the protagonists' acceptance of changing historical reality is manifest in both trends via a similar sensibility: sentimentalism.

Jinhee Choi is Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Kent, UK, and is the co-editor of Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures (Blackwell, 2005) and Horror to the Extreme: Changing Boundaries in Asian Cinema (Hong Kong University Press, 2009). Her book "The South Korean Film Renaissance: Local Hitmakers, Global Provocateurs" (Wesleyan University Press) is forthcoming in early 2010.

David Desser — Ohayo: Space, Narrative and the Ambivalence of Modernity
In Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, David Bordwell reminds us that "The critic's tendency to rate pathos more highly than comedy must be checked, especially in discussing a film as brazenly odd as [Ohayo]." Bordwell also notes that the film "remains firmly a film of the 1950s," insofar as it recalls other of Ozu's films of the decade and certain topical references — to television most obviously. Finally, Bordwell also notes that "Ozu's manner of filming makes it quite difficult to reconstruct the exact layout of homes" in the lower-middle-class tract neighborhood in which the film is set. I want to suggest that Ohayo is, in fact, one of Ozu's most complex examinations of the ambivalences of modernity is a canon devoted almost obsessively to this focus. Without reducing the use of space and narrative to the level of mere symbolism, I nevertheless want to claim that the use of multiple families, intersecting storylines, striking narrative ellipses, severe tonal shifts and perhaps his most playful and often deceptive use of space, construct modernity as a series of disappointments, breaks and fissures.

Xinyu Dong — "Lubitsch of the East": Yasujiro Ozu, Zhu Shilin, and Wartime Marriage Comedies
This paper intends to "relocate" Ozu (1903-1963) by juxtaposing him with his Chinese contemporary Zhu Shilin (1899-1967) and looking at them together in light of their shared source of inspiration: Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947), a master craftsman of marriage comedies. While there has yet to be found evidence of any direct influence between the works of Ozu and Zhu, the two filmmakers demonstrated strikingly similar genre sensibilities. Both had a knack for the "Lubitsch touch," both played indefatigably with variations of similar motifs, and both interspersed comedies with family melodramas in their long and productive careers.

Unlike Ozu, however, Zhu's name has been very much obscured in official Chinese film history because of his work under the Japanese occupation, and his wartime films remain unavailable to the public to this day. By excavating Zhu's wartime marriage comedies and examining them in tandem with those of Ozu, this paper explicates the ways in which their appropriation of Lubitsch outlasted, and indeed outperformed, the imperial war. This is the case not just in terms of Occidental frivolity, or the "inward turn" to the battle of the sexes, but more significantly in terms of the democratic manner in which the films engaged the spectators' perceptual, affective and cognitive activities.

Aaron Gerow — Ozu to Asia via Hasumi
It is safe to say there are multiple Ozus, and not simply because Ozu Yasujirō's film style or content shows crucial differences over time. Ozu has been represented in such different ways in criticism and scholarship — for instance, as a traditionalist, as a modernist, as Japanese, as completely un-Japanese — that there exist quite varying pictures of the director and his work. The picture drawn by the Japanese scholar Hasumi Shigehiko, first completed in his book Kantoku Ozu Yasujirō (Chikuma Shobō, 1983), is without a doubt the most influential version of Ozu presented in Japan in the last three decades, one that has played a crucial role in the revival of interest in the director's work in his home country. If Ozu in Japan has largely been defined by Hasumi, then one must explore how Ozu's relation to Asia has been conceived in Japan through Hasumi as well. Hasumi, however, has had a complex relation with Asian cinema, for a long time ignoring it, and then suddenly finding certain auteurs he could support, the primary one being Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-Hsien — who interestingly ended up directing a movie homage to Ozu, Café Lumière, in 2003 that was produced by Shōchiku, Ozu's old studio. I want to consider the Asian transnationality of Ozu through these discursive interconnections — the passages that seem to travel abroad via the influential theory of one Japanese intellectual.

Guo-Juin Hong — Hou Hsiao-Hsien before Hou Hsiao-Hsien: The Poetics of Cinema in Transition, Taiwan 1980-82
In this talk I considers David Bordwell's framework of the poetics of cinema in assessing and analyzing Yasujiro Ozu's works and shift its locus of theoretical practice to Taiwan before the New Cinema. For Bordwell, film history, or historicizing film, depends on locating its "overall composition" and "stylistic patterning." A poetics renders cinema historical because, in Borwell's words, "only by comparison with prevailing standards and practices can we specify the particular workings of one film or a body of film." It is therefore no surprise that Bordwell's Ozu becomes "unique" in that he is at once an agent and an object of history — who makes history and is made by it. With that dialectics in mind, especially the deep entanglement between national film industry and national cultural policies in post-war Taiwan, I examine Hou's early films in between the tensions from Healthy Realism of the previous decades and New Taiwan Cinema they anticipates. I hope to show that Hou's film style as developed in those three years resonates, though not parallel in any symmetrical and neat way, with Taiwan changing cultural policies, transforming popular culture, and increasing transnational pressure. In short, a peotic analysis of Hou's first three films reveals an Ozu-like aesthetics emerging in a period of transition. In closing, I make some speculations on why certain aesthetic traits echo one another across different East Asian historical contexts.

Chika Kinoshita — From Twilight to Lumière: Two Pregnancies
This paper sheds new light on Ozu Yasujirô's relatively obscure film Tokyo Twilight (Tokyo boshoku, 1957) by placing it in dialogue with Hou Hsiao-hsien's Café Lumière (Kôhî jikô, 2003). Café Lumière, produced by Shôchiku in commemoration of Ozu's centennial, has been rightly labeled as Hou's official tribute to the Japanese master's oeuvre, particularly to his best-known film Tokyo Story (Tokyo monogatari, 1953), through the theme of the disintegration of family and the recurrent motif of trains. Yet, Café Lumière, I argue, is most productively juxtaposed with Tokyo Twilight. Both films center on a single, young woman's response to her pregnancy and trace her wandering in downtown Tokyo, underlining her sense of uncertainty and fatigue; in both films, the woman's biological mother abandoned her as a child. This juxtaposition also reveals stark contrasts. In Tokyo Twilight, a "pregnancy film" made as a conservative response to the legalization of abortion in Japan (the Eugenic Protection Law, 1948, 1949, and 1952), the woman is dumped by her boyfriend, has an abortion, and dies in a train accident that seems like a suicide; in Café Lumière, she confidently chooses to be a single mother, while keeping a relationship with her Taiwanese boyfriend. Rather than simply condemning Ozu's view of reproductive rights, however, this paper appropriates Café Lumière's insight into issues of pregnancy, family, and nation in order to foreground the woman as an embodied subject in modern cityscape in both films.

Jason McGrath — The Ellipsis: Cinematic Aesthetics and East Asian Modernity
As a critical practice if not a claim about direct influence or intertextuality, it is possible to trace an aesthetic strand in East Asian cinema that stretches from Ozu Yasujiro to various Chinese filmmakers who were both his contemporaries and his successors. One part of this aesthetic is the use of ellipses in ways that go well beyond their usual function in classical Hollywood-style continuity editing — not just condensing time for the purpose of efficiency but introducing radical ruptures in the spectator's viewing experience, knowledge, and ultimately the "worldhood" of the film. By examining instances in films of Ozu, Fei Mu, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Jia Zhangke, this paper will discuss the implications of ellipses in terms of classical film theory, traditional East Asian aesthetics, and modernist philosophy. It will be argued that ellipses represent a historically situated response to the mass culture and contradictions of modernity, including the uncertainties of modernist thought, that nonetheless preserves and even reinvigorates elements of traditional Buddhist and Daoist philosophy and aesthetics. This suggests not simply the sort of cultural essentialism of those who seek a distinctively East Asian cinematic aesthetic rooted in tradition, but rather a still-evolving modernity which, as is increasingly apparent, is not and never was as essentially Western as has been widely assumed.

Daisuke Miyao — Prince of Darkness?: Lighting, Shochiku, and Ozu
In the films of Ozu Yasujiro there was "deep current of darkness at the bottom of nihilistic brightness on the surface of shoshimin (petit bourgeois, or the middle class)," argued critic Ando Sadao in his 1938 essay, "About Darkness." No matter how strongly Ando's framework is inclined to Marxisit dichotomy between capitalists vs. workers, it is noteworthy that he used the metaphor of lighting — darkness versus brightness — in describing Ozu's commercial films produced at Shochiku, whose official slogan was "bright and cheerful." Ozu's films of this period, mostly gendaigeki (contemporary dramas), have been discussed in canonical auteur studies as typical examples of the Kamata (and later Ofuna) style, a vernacular form that appropriated American mass culture — the classical Hollywood cinema, in particular. It is true that Ozu, a tremendous fan of Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitch, and King Vidor, among others, even imitated their styles. However, close reading of his films reveals that the situation was not that simple. Lighting plays a significant role in terms of the contents and visual means in his films, and complicates the relationship between Americanism and Japanese nationalism, industrial modernity of Hollywood and Shochiku, and brightness and darkness. His films even challenged the dominant "clarity first" tendency at Shochiku from within.

Michael Raine — Citation as transcultural mimesis in Ozu's early films
Ozu Yasujiro was widely regarded from early in his career as one of the premier interpreters of Western, especially Hollywood, film in Japan. Like many other filmmakers, especially at the Shochiku studio, he worked in the genres of student comedy and young romance, but more than any other he seemed to capture the essential "lightness" of Hollywood film at the same time that he invested these bitter-sweet stories of Japanese modernization with a seriousness befitting a Chaplin. It would be easy to dismiss these early films, before Ozu fully developed his famous stylistic system, as mere "imitation" of Hollywood film — film being the "mimetic medium" par excellence. But a more serious consideration of mimesis turns the understanding of that term away from simple derivation toward a more complex conception that entwines at least three strands: mimesis as ontological re-presencing, parody, and a mode of learning. In that light, perhaps the style for which Ozu is famous was itself neither "resistant" to, nor even "independent" of Hollywood's international norms, but instead poised in a much more complicated relation to Japan's most significant cultural other.

This paper puts Ozu's citations of (especially) Hollywood cinema into the context of their production and reception, itself embedded in the material conditions of Japan's project of modernization, understood as westernization at home and imperialization abroad. When Ozu restages scenes from popular films by Lubitsch and Borzage, is this simply a cinephilic homage, or a way of parodying, or at least giving ironic recognition to, the gap between Japanese and American cinema, or even America and Japan? What did Ozu "learn" from Hollywood, and what can we learn from his response to the geopolitical incline between Japan and the West? Are conceptual tools such as "cultural colonialism" and "vernacular modernism" adequate to the way Ozu's films, and Japanese film culture, interfaces with Hollywood film?

East Asian cinemas emerged from film cultures in which Hollywood film had a broad popularity. Despite that shared matrix, Asian film circulation seldom crossed ethnic and linguistic lines. Film censorship records shows that Ozu's generation was the first to overtake Hollywood film, which remained the dominant foreign cinema at a time when "Asian cinema" had no meaning in Japan. Ozu's films were exported to colonies and expatriate locations such as Korea, Taiwan, and Shanghai but only a handful of Asian films were screened in prewar Tokyo. Drawing on work by Kinnea Yau and Yan Ni, the paper concludes by offering a way to think about common responses to unidirectional flows of cultural power.

James Udden — Strange Cinematic Bedfellows: The Ozu/Hou Connection
Desiring to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ozu's birth, Shochiku decided to hire a contemporary director whose work supposedly most resembled the Japanese master. Rather than hiring another Japanese director, however, Ozu's former employer hired the Taiwanese, Hou Hsiao-hsien, who then completed Café Lumière (2003). While Hou at least claims he was surprised, this choice did not seem to raise many eyebrows. Yet it is surprising when one considers how two directors so widely noted for having unique cinematic styles are nearly polar opposites from each other in several ways. Ozu went from having some camera mobility early in his career to a completely static camera at the end; Hou has taken nearly the opposite trajectory. Ozu prefers to cut in unusual ways where graphic elements in one shot will line up almost exactly with the next; by stark contrast, there are almost no graphic matching in Hou's films since oftentimes there is minimal editing. Ozu never exceeded 20 seconds per shot in any film; Hou has approached close to three minutes per shot in one film.

Thus, why are the two directors often considered cinematic bedfellows? The best explanation is to separate the 'spirit' of Ozu from the 'letter' of Ozu. In concrete stylistic terms, Hou violates Ozu's oeuvre at nearly every turn. But in spirit, the two directors do share a number of similarities: they are both products of a peculiar set of industrial and institutional circumstances; they both developed idiosyncratic styles with no real precedence; and most importantly, they both have found a way to render the quotidian in indelible terms, often involving the family, or the disintegration thereof. In short, this talk will try to explain why it is that two filmmakers, who are really so different from each other, feel so similar nonetheless.


Friday, February 19, 2010

3:00-5:00 PM
Location: Berkeley Art Museum

Panel 1: Relocating Ozu

Aaron GerowOzu to Asia via Hasumi

Jinsoo AnOzu in Korea: The Burden of the Most 'Japanese' Film Director

Jason McGrathThe Ellipsis: Cinematic Aesthetics and East Asian Modernity

Respondent: Alan Tansman

7:00 PM
Location: Pacific Film Archive

Film Screening

That Night's Wife (dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 1930)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

9:00-11:30 AM
Location: David Brower Center

Panel 2: Historicizing Style: The Question of Aesthetics

Michael RaineOzu Before "Ozu" — Ozu's Explorations of Hollywood Silent Cinema as "Transcultural Mimesis"

Daisuke MiyaoPrince of Darkness?: Lighting, Shochiku, and Ozu

David DesserOhayo: Space, Narrative and the Ambivalence of Modernity

Guo-Juin HongHou Hsiao-Hsien before Hou Hsiao-Hsien: The Poetics of Cinema in Transition, Taiwan 1980-82

Respondent: Paul Roquet

12:30-2:30 PM
Location: David Brower Center

Panel 3: Moving House: The Domestic Drama as Traveling Genre

Kirsten CatherPerverting Ozu: Masayuki Suo's Abnormal Family (1984)

Jinhee ChoiThe Paternal Melodrama and Modernity: The Ozu Connection

Xinyu Dong"Lubitsch of the East": Yasujiro Ozu, Zhu Shilin, and Wartime Marriage Comedies

Respondent: Miryam Sas

3:00-5:00 PM
Location: David Brower Center

Panel 4: Cohabitations: From Homage to Dialogue

James UddenStrange Cinematic Bedfellows: The Ozu/Hou Connection

Chika KinoshitaFrom Twilight to Lumière: Two Pregnancies

Daniel Cuong O'NeillBetween Men: Tsai Ming-liang's Cinema of Halting Bodies

Respondent: Lalitha Gopalan

8:00 PM
Location: Pacific Film Archive

Film Screening

A City of Sadness (dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1989). New Print.



Jinsoo An, Hongik University
Jinsoo An is an Assistant Professor at School of Design and Media of Hongik University in Korea. He completed a Ph.D. at UCLA with a dissertation on the golden age melodrama films of Korea (from 1953 to 1972). He has written on the topics related to Korean cinema of the 1960s including representation of Christianity, historical drama, courtroom drama, cult film and Manchurian action film. His current project focuses on representation of colonialism as historical past in South Korean cinema. His other interests include history and visuality of interactive media art.

Kirsten Cather, University of Texas at Austin

Jinhee Choi, University of Kent

David Desser, University of Illinois

Xinyu Dong, Stanford University

Aaron Gerow, Yale University

Lalitha Gopalan, University of Texas at Austin

Guo-Juin Hong, Duke University

Chika Kinoshita, University of Western Ontario

Jason McGrath, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

Daisuke Miyao, University of Oregon

Daniel Cuong O'Neill, University of California, Berkeley

Michael Raine, University of Chicago

Paul Roquet, University of California, Berkeley

Miryam Sas, University of California, Berkeley

Alan Tansman, University of California, Berkeley

James Udden, Gettysburg College studies/employee



The conference "Relocating Ozu: The Question of an Asian Cinematic Aesthetic" will be held at the following locations.

Panel 1: Berkeley Art Museum

The Berkeley Art Museum is located at 2621 Durant Avenue, Berkeley. Enter on Durant Avenue. See section E5 on this large campus map.

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archivea

Panels 2-4: David Brower Center

Panels 2-4 will be held at the David Brower Center in the Richard & Rhoda Goldman Theater, located at 2150 Allston Way in Berkeley. See section D1 on this large campus map.

David Brower Center

Film screenings: Pacific Film Archive

Film screenings will be held at the Pacific Film Archive theatre, located on campus. See section D4 on this large campus map.

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive


If traveling by BART, exit the Richmond-Fremont line at the Berkeley station (not North Berkeley). When you leave the BART station, walk south down Shattuck Avenue to Allston Way (one or two blocks depending on which station exit you use) and turn left. Walk one block to the David Brower Center at 2150 Allston Way.

The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive are another two blocks south (to Bancroft Way) and 4-5 blocks east (to just below Bowditch for the Pacific Film Archive, and just above Bowditch for the Berkeley Art Museum.

From Interstate 80

To reach the David Brower Center by car from Interstate 80, exit at the University Avenue off-ramp in Berkeley. Take University Avenue east to Oxford Street and turn right. The David Brower Center is located three blocks down Oxford at the corner of Allston and Oxford on the right hand side of the street.

To reach the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, continue three blocks down Oxford (which changes name to Fulton) until you reach Durant. Turn left on Durant and drive 4 blocks up to the Berkeley Art Museum, which is between Bowditch and College at 2621 Durant. To reach the Pacific Film Archive, continue up Durant one block to College Avenue. Turn left on College and left again on Bancroft. The entrance to the Pacific Film Archive is up a path on the right side between Bowditch and Barrows Lane.

From Highways 24/13

To reach the site from Highways 24/13, exit 13 at Tunnel Road in Berkeley. Continue on Tunnel Road as it becomes Ashby. Turn right at College Avenue and continue down College to Bancroft. The entrance to the Pacific Film Archive is up a path on the right side between Bowditch and Barrows Lane. To get to the Berkeley Art Museum, turn left on Bowditch and left on Durant. The Berkeley Art Musuem is between Bowditch and College at 2621 Durant. To reach the David Brower Center, continue down Bancroft to Fulton. Turn right on Fulton and drive two blocks to the corner of Allston and Oxford (Fulton changes name to Oxford).

Directions to campus are also available at

Parking at UC Berkeley

There are various public parking lots and facilities near the Berkeley campus and in downtown Berkeley. This list includes municipal and privately owned parking lots and garages open to the public. Please consult signs for hours and fees prior to entering the facilities.

Other lots:

  • Berkeley Way near Shattuck
  • Center Street near Shattuck
  • Kittredge Street near Fulton
  • Kittredge Street near Milvia

More information is available on the UC Berkeley Parking and Transportation page.