Sunday, January 16, 2011

Analysis of "There Was A Father", 00:36:00 - 00:41:59

There Was A Father, Scene 2420


A visit to Hirata's home is another example of two-room staging coupled with a small room in the back. This scene echoes the earlier scene at Horikawa's home when they discussed about Horikawa's decision to resign his position. While the earlier scene opened with a troubled expression on Hirata's face, here we have the more jovial smile on his face. Hirata is also a widower, but lives with his daughter (Nami) and young son (Seiichi). The contrast with Horikawa's father-son relationship is revealing. They are living together, they have a home of their own, and they have their own privacy. Especially the privacy is important, as can be evidenced by the tone, delivery and vocabulary of Nami's speech in privacy (in a small room in the back) and in public (in front of Horikawa). The only instance we see this kind of intimacy as a family in Horikawa's is their exchange in the first scene of the film, at their own home.


Many of Ozu's films are universal and timeless in their themes, dealing with families, marriage and death. At the same time, Ozu usually injects little artifacts of the time here and there, so the contemporary audience could relate cinematic space and time to their own. In "I Was Born But ...", the inconspicuous frame of Japanese Calligraphy signaled the significant event of the time. In "Ohayo", the Yokozuna in Sumo League was the public star, while in "Late Autumn", the fad among corporate executives is golf. Here, the country was at war. The son, Ryohei, teaches the chemistry of TNT (Tri-nitrotoluene) in his class. Large part of the applied chemistry in wartime Japan concerned the explosives. This can evidenced that many departments of chemistry in Universities today have their roots in explosive laboratories during the war.

As it can be seen from the 3D plot below, in this section, up until this point, the image histograms are concentrated in the darker end of spectrum. The scene in the class is dominated by the blackboard and the dark suits of Ryohei. Exterior shots of students on the bridge are polarized between dark figures of students and bright sky in the back. The interior shots tend to be dark, while exterior location shooting provides bright background. I believe that, in general, Japanese films at the time end up with less bright interior shots compared to those in Western counterparts. It seems there are only a couple of light sources in many of interior scenes in this film, resulting in less distinct features and blurred outlines of the figures. The figures tend to sank into the darker background. Hollywood films of the same era use the quite different lighting strategy. Take, for example, the night interior scene in "How Green Was My Valley". Though it is not really a brightly lit scene in Hollywood standard, you can see the figure is separated from the background by ambient light and its distinct outline is brought out. Multiple lighting sources, many of which are probably "artificial" (or "for cinematographic purpose"), are employed to "mold" figures. The extra care is also taken for its background, where the consistency of the light source is maintained throughout the scene. When compared to the shot of Chishu Ryu in this Ozu's film, the most striking difference is the enough lighting on the face to bring out the details of facial features.

Left: There Was A Father, Right: How Green Was My Valley
There must have been many reasons for this difference in lighting approach. To some extent, it was Ozu's aesthetics in B & W cinematography. I believe another critical reason was poor conditions of Japanese film production during the war. Emergency measures in wartime apparently changed the mode of film production in Japan. In one of the articles in the trade journal around this time, the film directors discussed about the changes in the film studio operations. The (self-imposed) restriction in film stock usage during the shooting seemed to affect their shooting style. They said they used as small as one third of the typical usage before the war. Electricity was scarce and the lighting used during the shooting must have been minimum. Coupled with slow film stocks available at the time, the look of the Japanese films from this era, especially those in night interior scenes, is distinctively dim. The screen capture from "Uresii Koro (1933)"(Dir. Hiromasa Nomura) indicates more composed lighting than "Nichijo no Tatakai (1944)"(Dir. Yasujiro Shimazu). This might as well be fine, since the whole country was under lighting restriction during nights to avoid detection from incoming bombers up above.

Left: Uresii Koro (1933), Right: Nichijo no Tatakai (1944)


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