Yasujiro Ozu

Was im Leben uns verdrießt, man im Bilde gern genießt.



Look what a formidable master Yasujiro Ozu was! They say Yasujiro Ozu (Dec. 12 1903 – Dec. 12 1963) was the „greatest filmmaker movie buffs probably have never heard of“, (if I may say so) an explorer of the human condition comparable to Shakespeare! I came across him some weeks ago when I saw one of those „Greatest Films of all Time“ lists (a seemingly somehow reliable one), where Tokyo Story (1953) by Yasujiro Ozu was ranked #3 (after Vertigo and Citizen Kane). I also remember to have seen Late Autumn (1960) last year at the Filmmuseum when they had a focus on Japanese cinema of the postwar era – I was impressed by it, but had no time to dive further into that director back then. Yasujiro Ozu´s films usually are quite simple and not overcharged with plot. Tokyo Story is about an elderly couple visiting their children (and grandchildren) in Tokyo. Their grown-up children meanwhile have families of their own and it turns out that they have neither the time nor the motivation to care a lot for their parents (with one good – however also somehow exaggeratedly good – soul being an exception). The careers of them are middle class, but more humble than expected, the grandchildren show a nasty (though also childish/immature/harmless) behaviour and may not seem very promising. On their way home the mother suddenly dies, which makes the family come after them, but leaving soon again. Late Autumn begins with the burial of a wife´s husband, with three friends attending (and one of them being a bit late), consoling the widow and her grown-up daughter (although both do not seem to be particularly shocked, with especially the widow showing a near-idiotic grin almost all the time). The story then revolves around the three friends trying to find a husband for the daughter, who somehow stubbornly refuses marriage, wanting to stay with her mother instead, with one of them (a widower himself) trying to remarry with the mother: The first endeavour is finally successful, the second one not, condemning both the widow and the widower to spend the rest of their lives in solitude, respectively, in case of the widow, leaving them obviously unable to reinvent themselves anew and start a fresh life. I reiterate, very simple stories, not overcharged with plot – but in the result, Yasujiro Ozu´s films are extremely heavy, and when I saw Tokyo Story, it was extremely uplifting for (well, for what? – for) my mind. With a somehow Beckett-like precision and sharpness, though not in an abstract/absurd setting, Yasujiro Ozu reveals what life is about at such a level of artistic quality that he may account for a true metaphysical artist! On the one hand, Yasujiro Ozu heavily relies on what Paul Schrader calls „transcendental style in cinema“ (read his illuminating essay or watch his lecture): By withholding stuff, confronting the viewer with the unexpected, paradoxical construction of empathy in the viewer, constrasting images (e.g. happy music to rather, or silently tragic scenes), by using ellipses, delay on the verge of provoking boredom he creates multiplicity of meaning and depth, even spirituality. On the other hand, and seemingly in contrast to such qualities of creating „depth“, his films and characteristics of his signature style are simple and somehow „flat“: the uneventfulness in his films and humbleness of storytelling, often the lack of soundtrack, the lack of melodrama, the static camera, the tatami shot (showing people from the perspective of a viewer seemingly sitting on a tatami mat with the film´s characters on the floor around a table) – what is more, the seemingly flat characters with their flat dialogues, where it is always unclear whether they are supposed to be characteristic Japanese people being somehow lost in their overly formal behaviour and politeness or being rather expressionless and shallow human beings per se. Dialogues usually are shown as frontal shots on the character speaking and the other characters responding, creating the impression of a competition or fight between egos (maybe even manifestations of a Nietzschean „Will to Power“) or at least of an isolation of the characters in their (pseudo-) individuality – or their solitude. The static camera creates the impression that all shots are also to be seen as artworks or paintings (with Ozu being reported to have been obsessively careful in the meticulous aesthetic arrangement of each shot) – and with no shot usually lasting longer than another, giving them equal importance. Likewise, Ozu´s films usually don´t revolve around a single character (neither they ever seem to have someone resemblant to a hero/ine), but around a number of characters, respectively their mutual interplay, and, as already stated, there is a most obvious absence of melodrama in the execution of storytelling – in sum, creating a counterweight to Hollywood movies and Hollywood storytelling. And it seems to be that characterstics of „flatness“ that (in tandem to the „transcendental“ elements of style) are responsible for the „frightening“ metaphysical depth of Ozu´s works and his (execution of) worldview: Metaphysical depth in art is created by the interplay between reality and ideal, the expected and the unexpected, archetype and individual idiosyncracy and the like, forming self-contained units of universal appeal. Ozu´s approach maybe can be said to consist in bringing humble but also bright reality (therein usually the beauty of nature of of the colourfulness of the world) so much into coverage with itself that an extreme metaphysical tension that adresses the intellect, the senses, the soul is created. Bringing stuff not into full coverage with itself, respectively metaphysical art, opens up and adresses one´s own imagination, though not in a sense of using your imagination further, but adressing imagination per se. The perfect art of the genius are manifestations and examples of endgames won by the power of imagination, imagination perfectly realised, as such they are frozen and static, but there are a lot of explosions that happen around them and they are transcendent in themselves. Ozu´s genius and its metaphysical appeal is not, for instance, a „fiery“ one, his quality rather lies in bringing stuff so much into coverage with itself that the metaphysical depth is endless (and of course, people in real life are not exactly like portrayed in Ozu´s films, neither is reality exactly like that…). With his extreme precision of intellect and imagination, Ozu strikes us by creating so very universal situations and universal characters – it is a paradox that Ozu´s films have gained little international recognition for being „too idiosyncratically Japanese“ while on the other hand – as (for instance) German independent filmmaker Wim Wenders notes – being the most universal films ever made, and probably ever possible to create (of course, their universality is limited as they do not seem stuff a mass audience can ever be programmed to fall into, due to the lack of melodrama, artistic sophisitication, „transcendental style“, nonconformism, and, most general, Ozu´s core approach not to make movies for the purpose of entertainment, but to get closer to the mystery of life). Human relationships and the life cycle are the most general topic in the films of Yasujiro Ozu and the most defining elements and conflicts, like between stability and transition, loss, tragedy, failure, missed opportunites, but also warmth between friends and family members (which Ozu also portrays), trust, altruism, mutuality, the „follies“ of youth and the wisdom of age, are more or less the same across times and across cultures. It has been noted that it takes a lot of courage and self-assuredness to „always make the same movie again“, and Ozu at least made movies that are very similar to each other (and, superficially, simple), but also exhaustively distinguished. Late Spring (1949, #15 in the above mentioned list of 50 greatest films of all time) is about a grown-up daughter that (again) refuses to marry because she likes to stay with her beloved father, and her father being finally successful trying to marry her, with a pleasant present being cracked up into an unpredictable (and maybe more dismal) future for both, yet also as a necessity of transition in a world where all things must pass. Floating Weeds (1959) and The Only Son (1936) are about life games that do not exactly work out and remain humble. By contrast, Good Morning (1959) is a wonderful film about children who want to have a TV set from their parents (including farting jokes), or What Did the Lady Forget? (1937) is about (humourous) ways of how to deal with different (and difficult) family members. Both Late Autumn or An Autumn Afternoon (1962) are also about friendship, altruism and taking care for each other. In his early days, Yasujiro Ozu made rather comic (but also tragic) films, like Days of Youth (1929) (however, many of them are lost).

It has been noted that Yasujiro Ozu´s films revolve around the principle of mono no aware – which refers to an awareness of transcendental beauty of things which are bound to, nevertheless, pass, leaving behind melancholy about a basic sadness of life. As it comes to mind, great art, and therein also the art of Yasujiro Ozu, retrieves the things lost, or out of reach, in their transcendental beauty, and makes them tangible. Despite their simplicity, Yasujiro Ozu´s films come in with an enormous gravity, dass es dich einfach nur so aushebt, where it remains – as in the good things usually the case – a mystery from which it actually derives. Sure, from the slowness and metaphysical uneventfulness, their expression of artistic mastery, their depiction of life, their universality… but finally you begin to realise that the simplistic films by Yasujro Ozu are – sublime! Their gravity derives from being „something greater/deeper than you“ and of themselves, transcending themselves, like all true works of art do, opening up depths that can be explored forever. How do they make you feel? Ist es eine Komödie? Ist es eine Tragödie? The maybe most memorable moment in the entire oeuvre of Ozu is when at the end of Tokyo Story the youngest daugher, Kyoko, frustrated by the behaviour of her relatives, moans Isn´t life disappointing? with the exaggeratedly friendly (and silently lonely and depressed) Noriko nodding at her with a (frozen) smile: Yes, it is. – Well, you have to understand that there is finally no conclusion possible to be objectively drawn from life and from existence, but that your outlook on life is entirely dependent on whether you are mentally healthy or (have become) mentally unhealthy. When you are healthy, you can stand the sadness of life, and you might find Yasujiro Ozu´s bleaker films amusing. When you are unhealthy, you may not. But even (or only) then, Yasujiro Ozu´s films will strike you as a kind of Satori. That films like Tokyo Story have been a Satori-like revelation to them has been noted by many filmmakers. Satori is a general experience (across time and cultures) that is, however, very idiosyncratically experienced by few and for which no general description may be vaild (hence the reluctance of the enlightened ones to speak despite speaking a lot and the un/ambiguity of the Koan); it has been described as „the same experience of reality as usual, but only two inches from above“. In a way however, films like Tokyo Story or Floating Weeds are like the (finally inexplicable) Satori perspective itself, and the bleakness of life becomes illuminated (in the ambiguous meaning of the word). As it says in Zen Sand 16.3.: If only a single awakened spirit becomes DAO and views upon the Dharma-World / Leaves and trees, nations and the great Earth all become Buddha. Hence, if all else fails, the films and the spirit of Yasujiro Ozu remain, and the world is saved.

Jeannette – L’Enfance de Jeanne d’Arc

„Ein Heavy-Metal- und Rap-Musical voller (selbst)bewusst schlaksig-tapsiger Tanz- und Gesangseinlagen, dargeboten von Laiendarstellern mit teils recht eigenwillig-eindrücklichen Gesichtern – über die Kindheit von Jeanne d’Arc, basierend auf einem modernen Mysterienspiel aus dem Jahre 1910?! Ganz genau. Und so findet in JEANNETTE zusammen, wovon man nie glaubte, dass es tatsächlich etwas miteinander zu tun haben könnte: die (scheinbar) religiös-vergeistigte und die (oberflächlich) humoristisch-groteske Seite von Bruno Dumont. Hier, bei diesem spirituell durchaus ernsthaften, minimalistisch-bizarren Camp-Gustostück, kann man endlich einmal sagen: Das habe ich so noch nie gesehen.“ (Stadtkino Wien)

WOW, wie dieser Film drei Elemente enthält, die für mich so wesentlich sind: Tanzende/singende/springende Kinder, deren Seelen gleichzeitig älter sind, als die Zeit selbst, Heavy-Metal-Musik, sowie das Streben nach Heiligkeit – der Gernot hat gemeint, wir sollen uns diesen Film rasch ansehen, da er unglaublich schlecht läuft, meistens seien nur drei, vier Leute im Publikum: und tatsächlich waren dann neben dem Gernot und mir nur noch irgendeine Alte im Saal, wobei der Michi dann auch noch dazugekommen ist – scheint zu unterstreichen, dass Leute wie Jeanne d`Arc, die ganze Nationen und Großgefüge spirituell zusammenhalten, dabei gleichzeitig meistens radikale Außenseiter und Einzelgänger bleiben. Die Geschichte der Jeanne d`Arc z.B. mit Heavy-Metal-Musik zu vermengen, mag gekünstelt wirken von der Intention her und paradox im Ergebnis, ist es aber nicht; die scheinbare Heterogenität sei vielmehr ein Tribut an die Vielschichtigkeit und Tiefengestaffeltheit der Welt, die tief ist, und tiefer als der Tag gedacht, und ergibt somit eine vollkommen homogene Perspektive, einen perfekten Kreis, eine vollkommen Sphäre. Der Über-Humor ist die Methode, der Welt (und ihrer Psychose) mit vollkommen tiefsinnigem Ernst und in spiritueller Feierlichkeit begegnen! Ein achtjähriges Kind, das versucht, ultratiefe Moral zu verwirklichen (also Moral, die über das gegebene menschliche Maß hinausgeht und so einen neuen Markstein in der Geschichte, eventuell sogar der Evolution der Moral errichtet)… da verschlucke ich mich fast vor Begeisterung, und fühle mich erinnert an meine Jessica Simpson aus St. Helena… (wobei ich am nächsten Tag dann in eine gewisse Depression verfallen bin, zusätzlich zu dem, mit was ich sonst zu kämpfen habe, als es sich irgendwie aufdrängt, dass die Geschichte des Verwirklichers ultratiefer Moral, der nicht nur ein Hyperset bildet, sondern sich gleichzeitig auch von der Menschheit abnabelt, im Leben mit einer gewissen Wahrscheinlichkeit nicht so gut ausgeht). Der Text, der verfilmt und vertont wurde, stammt von Charles Péguy, der bei uns kaum bekannt ist, und den ich also lesen muss.

Jessica Simpson, 9, entdeckt, dass alles auf der Welt ein Herz hat

Duncan Wylie: Construct and (Various) Disasters of Democracy in der Galerie Dukan (Leipzig), 13.4.2018 – 9.6.2018

Inmitten von Moden und ephemeren Trends widmet sich Duncan Wylie der eigentlichen Aufgabe der Kunst und der Malerei: die Tiefenstruktur und Vielschichtigkeit der Welt zum Ausdruck zu bringen, die Potentialität inmitten des Realen, das Geschrei des Seins (auch, wenn es möglicherweise nur die Lautstärke des kreativen Geistes ist, der sie wahrnimmt). Große, geniale Kunst lässt in der Welt, die sie abbildet, immer auch noch eine andere Welt sichtbar werden und hat ihr Leben im gegenseitigen Widerspiel und dem gegenseitigen Durchdringen dieser Welten bzw. Seinsbereiche. Das ist die ewige Aufgabe der Malerei und ihr eigentlicher Sinn! Duncan Wylie bildet die Tiefenstruktur der Welt ab in einer Zeit, in der, physikalischen Spekulationen zufolge, unser Universum in eine unendliche Vielzahl von Multiversen eingebettet ist, in denen wir selbst unendlich oft, mit alternierenden Geschichten, auftreten. Duncan Wylie hat neue Lösungen gefunden, den Reichtum und die Tiefe der Welt darzustellen.

Geboren 1975 in Zimbabwe, fällt ein gewisses Nomadentum in der Biographie von Duncan Wylie auf – der gegenwärtig in London lebt und arbeitet. Ausgehend von der Erfahrung der Vertreibung von (in Zimbabwe weißen als auch, und zahlenmäßig umso mehr, farbigen) Siedlern und der Zerstörung ihrer Häuser als auch dem Versuch der Zerstörung ihrer Identitäten und ihres Gemeinschaftsgefühls, bilden Akte der Zerstörung bzw. devastierte Architekturen ein frühes Grundmotiv in den Werken von Duncan Wylie – reflektierend verlängert in die Aufgabe, den „Augenblick“, dem Impakt – möglicherweise „das Ereignis“ – einzufangen, sowie den Zufall, das Schicksal; inmitten dessen die metaphysische Unbehaustheit des Menschen innerhalb des Seins, dessen Sinn offensichtlich abwesend ist, oder erst konstruiert werden muss. Zutiefst existenzielle Motive.

Wenngleich in seinen Bildern meistens keine Menschen vorkommen – von zeitweiligen rätselhaft unverblümt-unmittelbaren Porträts unter anderem von Robert Mugabe abgesehen – ist es in letzter Zeit die Figur des Seiltänzers, die öfter bei Duncan Wylie auftaucht. Ein Gradwanderer, der sein autonomes Selbst mühsam konstruiert, ein originärer Künstler, der zwischen Kosmos und Chaos als den Elementen wandelt – die Selbsterschaffung und graduelle Selbststabilisierung des Menschen in einer potenziell chaotischen Welt, die Erlangung autonomer, den Zumutungen der Welt gegenüber souveränen Subjektivität, ist die Botschaft, die Duncan Wylie dem Menschen mitzuteilen hat – weniger als eine harsche, autoritäre Aufforderung denn als Vermittlung von Hoffnung und als Zeichen des Respekts für die individuelle Gradwanderung, den individuellen Lebensweg, die individuellen Kämpfe jedes einzelnen.

In seinen jüngsten Arbeiten, die in der Galerie Dukan erstmals gezeigt werden, scheint Duncan Wylie bei einem Subjekt angelangt zu sein, das über eine etwas sicherere Bahn (Eisenbahngeleise) wandelt, und das beginnt, von seinem inneren Material, seinen Innenräumen produktiv chaotisch überlagert zu werden, das zunehmend komplexer und reichhaltiger wird. Er nennt sie „self constructing figures“. Die Doppelbedeutung von „construct“ scheint eine wesentliche Inspiration zu sein: insoweit ein Konstrukt eine definitive materielle Konsistenz und Objektivität haben kann, aber auch etwas Subjektives (z.B. „ein ideologisches Konstrukt“) sein kann – damit eben auch ein Akt der Schöpfung. Haben wir es mit einer Verhältnisbestimmung Subjektiv – Objektiv zu tun? Dem Ineinanderspielen von beiden? Man bemerke, wie sich die „explodierenden“ Subjekte und die Welt, der Hintergrund, in den sie eingelassen sind, offensichtlich überlagern. Gleichermaßen figurative wie auch abstrakte Kunst. Die Architektur in diesen Werken ist nunmehr intakt, die Welt scheinbar „heiler“.

Zusätzlich präsentiert sich Duncan Wylie in dieser Ausstellung auch noch auf eine neue Art und Weise mit seinen Gravuren „(Various) Disasters for Democracy“: Kaltnadelradierungen, die an das Dämonische im Dasein gemahnen und die an Alfred Kubin erinnern – entdeckt Duncan Wylie auch die Möglichkeiten des Surrealismus für sich?  Duncan Wylies Kunst bleibt, wie es heute selten der Fall ist, universal, und in ihren Aussagen von universaler Gültigkeit. Nichts entkommt letztlich ihrem Blickwinkel; in der Hoffnung, die sie vermittelt, liegt Mahnung, in der Mahnung Hoffnung.

Philip Hautmann (geb. 1977 in Linz) ist Schriftsteller und Philosoph und lebt in Wien


In the midst of fashions and trend dictates, Duncan Wylie dedicates himself to the true purpose of art and of painting: to express and portray the deep structure and the multilayeredness of the world, of potentiality within reality, the clamour of being (even if it is only the loudness of the creative mind that perceives such a reality). In great art, in art of the genius, you always seem to have another world emerging within, or beneath, the world that is ostensibly presented, and seems to live in the mutual osmosis of both worlds, respectively world visions. Isn´t that the eternal purpose of art and the true meaning of art? Duncan Wylie portrays the deep structure of the world in an age where, according to scientific speculations, our universe is embedded in an infinity of multiverses, in which we, most personally, appear with alternating biographies. Duncan Wyle has found new solutions to portray the richness and depth of the world.

Born in Zimbabwe in 1975, a certain nomadism is evident in Duncan Wylie´s biography –  who currently lives and works in London. The experience of the expulsion of (in Zimbabwe not only of white but also, and at distinctly higher magnitude, black) settlers and the destruction of their homes, not least also with the purpose of destroying their identity and sense of community, acts of destruction and devastated architectures become a basic motiv in the works of Duncan Wylie – transcended into the task of portraying „the moment“, „the impact“ – maybe even „the event“, as well as of chance and fate and the metaphysical Unbehaustheit of man within an existence in which meaning and salvation is obviously absent, or needs to be constructed in the first place. Deeply existential motives.

Although there usually are no people portrayed in his paintings – apart from intermittent enigmaticly blunt and direct portraits, for instance of Robert Mugabe – it is the character of the tightrope walker that emerges in Duncan Wylie´s more recent works. A wanderer between worlds, who laboriously constructs his own self, an original artist, navigating between chaos and cosmos as the elements of art – the self construction and gradual empowerment of man in a potentially chaotic world, the acquirement of autonomous subjectivity, sovereign against  the impositions of the world seem to be the message Duncan Wylie wants to transmit to man – to a lesser extend as a harsh, authoritarian appeal than as an indication of hope and as a sign of respect for the individual tightrope walking within one´s own challenges of each and everyone of us.

In his most recent works, which are presented by the Dukan Gallery for the first time, Duncan Wylie seems to have pushed forward to a subject that wanders on a somehow safer track (railroad tracks) and that seems to become overlaid by his own inner material, in a productively chaotic way, a subject that seems to become ever more rich and complex. He calls them „self constructing figures“. The double meaning of „construct“ seems to have been an inspiration: since a „construct“ can have a definitive, material, objective substance, yet can also be something rather subjective (i.e. an „ideological construct“) – a materialisation of creativity at any rate. Do we have an exploration of the interdependence subjective – objective it that? The osmosis of both? Also take a look at how the „exploding“ subjects and the background of the world they are situated in obviously interfere with each other. Both figurative and abstract art. The architecture in those works is meanwhile intact, and the world seemingly a safer place.

 In addition to that, Duncan Wylie presents himself in a new fashion with his engravings „(Various) Disasters for Democracy“: Drypoint etchings thar are reminiscent of Alfred Kubin and seem to refer to the „demonic“ in the world – does Duncan Wylie also explore the possibilities that lie within surrealism? Duncan Wylie´s art remains – what is rarely the case in our days – universal, with messages of universal significance and validity. Nothing escapes its focus, in the hope that is transmits there is admonition, in its admonition there is hope.

Philip Hautmann (b. 1977 in Linz, Austria), is a writer and philosopher and lives in Vienna

Duncan Wylie, Contemporary Metaphysical Painter