Wes Anderson, one of modern cinema’s most talked-about auteurs, has been compared to a few other great directors who came before him. His early work was said to resemble the melancholy humanist comedies of Hal Ashby, while later pictures like “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” were often mentioned in the same breath as Francois Truffaut and Ernst Lubitsch (respectively). One film great that Mr. Anderson has decidedly not been compared to, however, is the one and only Yasujiro Ozu.
There’s a reason for that. Ozu, a titan of mid-century Japanese cinema whose fabulous body of work can currently be viewed via The Criterion Collection, was one of the art form’s most singular practitioners. His films are wholly and totally his, and could almost never be mistaken for the work of another director. Many too have argued that the same is true of the idiosyncratic Anderson, although a new video essay by Anna Catley argues that the two directors are actually far more similar in their preoccupations than they initially appear to be.
For starters, both Ozu and Anderson are clearly concerned with aesthetics. Indeed, Ozu’s trademark style is remarkable for what it doesn’t show. The director was fond of carefully composed images, most of them captured with a largely stationary camera that was always placed roughly two and a half feet above the ground. Anderson’s signature touch, meanwhile–a grab bag of whip-pans, medium wide shots and Futura Bold font placement, as well as clever use of both montage and outright visual homage–may be a touch more kinetic and less contemplative then Ozu’s. That being said, the inherent focus on style as substance is unmistakable. Both directors also tend to rely on a recurring roster of actors–Chishu Rya and Setsuko Hara for Ozu, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson for Anderson–and both employ a selection of choice, period-appropriate pop music in their films in order to elicit sensations of nostalgia and longing.
The similarities aren’t all surface-level, though. The stylistic approaches of both directors don’t always overlap, but the thematic concerns most certainly do. Although they’ve both made a wide variety of pictures, both Anderson and Ozu are most known for their warm, quiet, delicately observed studies of families in crisis. In his masterpiece “Tokyo Story,” Ozu dissects the generational rift between a pair of loving parents and their cruelly indifferent offspring, while practically every Wes Anderson film–perhaps “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Darjeeling Limited” most overtly–is fundamentally about a family of outcasts, real or makeshift, who are struggling to stay afloat in a world that’s even crazier than they are. Both directors also tend to view young children as being more noble and brave than the adults that surround them–said adults are often portrayed as petty, self-serving or flawed in some way or another (this is particularly true in Ozu’s wistful “Good Morning” and Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom”). I must confess, as a pronounced super-fan of both directors, I had never consciously thought of any connective tissue (creatively speaking) between the two, but the video below makes what Ms. Cross might call “a very convincing argument.”
What do you think? Do you see the similarities between Ozu’s austere chamber dramas and Mr. Anderson’s more fanciful vision? Check out the video and sound off below. [via Open Culture]