Wednesday, 2 September 2020


I've been watching a lot of movies lately (well, three or four a week, which is a lot by my standards) through a British Film Institute subscription. This summer they're showcasing Japanese films, and I watched two of them back to back: Ghost in the Shell (1995), an animated cyberpunk film by Mamoru Oshii, and Early Summer (1951), a quietly understated household drama by one of my favourite directors, Yasujirō Ozu.

The movies couldn't be more different – science fiction versus domesticity, chaos versus order, fast-paced action versus a film where nothing much happens ("Plot bores me," Ozu used to say, and his grave bears a single character, 無 (mu) meaning nothing).

Here's a screenshot from Ghost in the Shell, taken from a 3½-minute montage of the futuristic city where the story is set. The sequence, which is fortunately on YouTube, has to rank among the best few minutes of animation I have ever seen. Its ostensible purpose is to set the tone – in a sense, the city itself is one of the principal characters in the movie – but I also get the sense that for a few minutes, the artists and animators were given licence simply to show off, like the solos at the end of Abbey Road.

And below is a still from Early Summer: a trademark tatami shot. It's a multi-layered composition with an abundance of objects, but somehow Ozu still contrives to make it look elegant and minimalist. How does he do it?!

I'm glad I can enjoy these two very different movies, with their very different aesthetics.