Japanese Cinema Survey, Ozu Assignment

Abé Mark Nornes
Author email address: 
University of Michigan

DUE: November 17, 1998

IF LATE: One-third letter grade docked PER DAY….starting at the beginning of class. If you come to class late with paper in hand, it’s docked.

LENGTH: minimum of 4 pages; maximum of 6 pages.


Up to this point in the course, we have defined what a “national cinema” is, along with various approaches we might take to analyze Japanese films. We have primarily deployed our new tools to analyze films, but for this assignment you must turn to written texts.

As we have seen, Ozu’s style is unconventional, if not bizarre. This has puzzled film scholars, who have developed a variety of explanations regarding Ozu’s departure from the norm. The assignment is to analyze the texts of Darrell Davis, Hasumi Shigehiko, Donald Richie, Kathe Geist and David Bordwell/Kristen Thompson to 1) identify what their theory is, and 2) how and why they come to their conclusions. This is to say:

  • What assumptions do they hold concerning the relationship of cinematic art and the nation/national cinema?
  • How does this determine their reading of Ozu’s unusual filmmaking?
  • Which provides the most convincing argument and why?

NOTE 1: Do not simply summarize the articles. Critique them! Determine what values these writers hold, and how these values affect their perspectives on Ozu in particular–and Japanese cinema in general. This means you must take your own position. You must ask which offers the best analysis (perhaps none are acceptable).

NOTE 2: The Bordwell/Thompson article will give you helpful hints for your own analysis of the Richie text. However, they are arguing from a particular position so be careful not to simply summarize their work.

NOTE 3: There will be a lot of technical jargon in some of these pieces. We will go through this in detail on November 17, so I am not expecting you to achieve a command of this. In class and at the Tokyo Story screening, I explained enough for you to recognize that Ozu has a distinctive and unconventional approach to style. Each of these authors has a different explanation for it, and that is your object of analysis here. This paper is about the various writers’ approaches to the study of national cinema, not these technical matters per se.

NOTE 4: If you wish to review Ozu films on video tape, you can find some at the Frieze LSA Media Center, the MLB Language Resource Center, and at the Undergraduate Library’s Film and Video Library.

NOTE 5: You do not have to discuss each article, but you must discuss at least two. Make your choice based on the larger points you wish to make.