Latour and Ozu

Tokyo Monogatari, Ozu Yasujiro, 1953

Lets start with a well-known anecdote that summarizes Ozus Yasujiros approach as a director. Ozu told his actors to act like vegetables. He would angle them at perfect 90 degrees to each other and tell them to behave like turnips.
This anecdote may sound slightly excentric. But it is also almost the only approach to make Ozus extremely socially conservative work in any way relevant for me. Because what his quiet fables of family values and unmarried and compliant daughters boil down to, are in essence the relations of things (vegetables included) to each other. Imagine the mute drama of impassible commodities frozen in still lives, represented by humans acting as vegetables. Most of these dramas revolves around a seemingly compulsory erasure of  subjectivity in one way of another – parents die, daughters are married off, life is disappointing. Interestingly the cinematic result of these processes is invariably a thing, or yet another still life. Lets say the story starts off with an unmarried daughter and ends with the still life of a vase, clock, lamp post or  telephone pole. Shots of such objects became one of Ozus ´trademarks and got called pillow shots. If we take away the cutesy from the term, then what is actually witness is a transition from human via vegetable to object.
As subjectivity is wrung from actors and characters alike, they first become vegetables and then perfect, empty and superficially compliant objects,  smoothly exchanged within patriarchal capitalist society. Something like a vegetable soup can. The transition runs thus from actors and objects to actants to pick up a Latourian notion, initiated by the semiotician Greimas.

Hara Setsuko in Tokyo Monogatari, 1953

Now this opens up interesting discussions about conformist and  gendered objects. Because what becomes apparent in Ozus movies is that not all things are created equally and that some things have to be polished and streamlined by social conformism  in order to become perfect commodities. The quiet, deadening and perfectly horrifying violence of the process of objectification is where Ozu´s work links to the present in a productive way.
(S.a. Ed Rushas admirable series: “Product Still Lives”)

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