A Sublime Scene from Japan Evoking the Subtle Brilliance of Yasujiro Ozu

Japanese characters on a jute background: the opening credits start flowing on the screen, like fading cherry blossoms – so incredibly simple and yet so charming. And it is precisely Yasujiro Ozu’s simple but extremely refined technique that bewitches the Western spectator: an almost otherwordly atmosphere permeates his films. To our Western eyes, his films seem to originate not only from a different time and a faraway region of the world, but rather from another, almost mysterious age, lost in time and space: the frozen smiles on his actors’ faces, his innovative choices in perspective and viewpoint, his mingling of Western and Japanese atmospheres, and his cult of the family all conjure up images of a remote yet extremely intimate world.

Wim Wenders, world-renowned German film director, defines Ozu’s cinema in these words: ‘If in our century something sacred still existed … If there were something like a sacred treasure of the cinema, then for me that would have to be the work of the Japanese director, Yasujiro Ozu.’ Further, he dedicated one of his most important films, Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire), to ‘all the previous angels, in particular Yasujiro, François (Truffaut), and Andrej (Tarkovskij)’, and even decided to celebrate Ozu with a documentary on him, Tokyo-Ga.

Ozu’s cinema was thus something nearly heavenly for Wenders, something sacred that must be neither confused nor mingled with religion though – Ozu himself was essentially an atheist and there was little, if any, religion in his films: even his tombstone bears no epigraph, save only for an ancient Chinese character signifying ‘Nothingness’, (‘mu’). So, what is exactly sacred about Ozu’s cinema?