Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Cinematheque celebrates film master

David Drazen is tired. This is not surprising, considering he just spent 90 minutes feverishly playing a piano while precariously perched in front of a crowded screening room in Vilas Hall.

“In some ways,” Drazen said with a weary sigh, “the less I think about it, the better it works.”

Drazen, a renowned performance pianist from outside of Chicago, has just completed the task he’s been doing for the past several weekends: accompanying the masterful silent films of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu with a frenetic live soundtrack.


Through Dec. 3, the University of Wisconsin Cinematheque is presenting a free film retrospective of Ozu’s distinguished career.

Cinematheque’s goal of the organization, according to the exposition’s programmer Tom Yoshikami, is “to enrich the film-going culture both on campus and in the city as a whole.” That is exactly what the current retrospective “For All Seasons” accomplishes.

The films, 23 in all, are part of a series of Ozu’s work that has been newly restored by Janus Films and Ozu’s Japanese film studio Shochiku in order to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth. It is by far the largest retrospective that the Cinematheque has ever produced and one that is comparable in breadth and comprehensiveness to the retrospective of Ozu’s career that was exhibited at last year’s New York Film Festival and this summer by the Melbourne Cinematheque.

Every Friday in room 4070 Vilas, there is a free screening of films that people spent years restoring and days waiting in line for.

Ozu was born Dec. 12, 1903, and throughout his childhood he concerned himself more with methods of getting out of school — in order to lose himself in the cinema of the local movie houses — than actually attending it. This youthful rebelliousness eventually led him to develop a keen eye for the cinema and, maybe more importantly, an adoration for it.

When viewing Ozu’s films, one becomes aware of a prevailing sense of mischief and childlike energy as if a part of Ozu never left the marvelous darkness of the movie theaters of his youth. In his works, drama and humor develop a careful yet undeniable coexistence as, throughout his career, he examines the varying and sometimes contradicting experiences and emotions of the family unit.

His films offer, as film scholar Nick Wrigley suggests, “a pure, emotional response to the beauty of nature, the impermanence of life and the sorrow of death.”

Honesty and candor pervade the films of Ozu, but they are always coupled with a sense of optimism and especially a sense of humor.

“I portray what should not be possible in the world as if it should be possible, but Ozu portrays what should be possible as if it were possible, and that is much more difficult,” mused Kenji Mizoguchi, a contemporary Japanese filmmaker. This sense of possibility is rooted in both the director’s character and his characters.

Ozu not only carefully conveyed the diverse and divergent emotions of everyday life in Japan, but he did it successfully in a number of different genres. The screening of a previous weekend, for example, featured the 66-minute “That Night’s Wife,” about a young father who turns criminal while trying to afford medical treatment for his ailing daughter. It is a suspenseful yet pensive film with both chase scenes and quiet introspection.

The accompanying 90-minute film, “Tokyo Chorus,” on the other hand, surrounds a young father’s struggle to provide for his family and deal with his unruly son as he, himself, grows out of his own youthful rebelliousness.

Both films surround the problems faced by characters in similar positions and confronted by similar emotions, but each does its respective examination in decidedly different ways.

The Cinematheque’s retrospective offers a mapping of both the development and variance of Ozu’s style.

“Ozu’s work remains significant not only for its extraordinary richness and emotional power but also because it suggests the extent to which a filmmaker working in popular mass-production filmmaking can cultivate a highly individual approach to film form and style,” said David Bordwell, recently retired UW professor and author of the book “Ozu and The Poetics of Style.”

The films of the retrospective are a far-reaching and significantly rare set of 35mm prints by a director whose legacy is evident in today’s films.

“He is widely regarded as on of the greatest directors ever to pick up a camera by both critics and contemporary directors,” Yoshikami said. Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch and Hou Hsiao-hsien all list Ozu as a major influence.

“I think it’s important that people broadened their horizons, and Ozu’s films are so important in terms of the history of not only Japanese cinema but also cinema as a medium,” Yoshikami said.

UW Communication Arts professor Ben Singer, who regularly inhabits a front row seat for the retrospective, said the screenings offer a unique opportunity to see the development of an auteur.

“It’s really remarkable to see films throughout the career of one of the greatest directors in history,” Singer said. “You get to experience the aesthetic development of a master filmmaker.”

So as the pianist Drazen makes the tedious commute home to Chicago, he takes comfort in the fact that he has felt an acute sense of intimacy with one of the 20th Century’s greatest filmmakers.

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