Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Extras disks

Two of the three DVDs I borrowed from the Library last week had an extra disk with them, with 'additional features.'   I wonder how many people actually ever watch all these extras?   When we bought the DVD packs for the Lord of the Rings series I remember watching the additional material, though in fact a lot of it was excess to requirements: it added little to the movies, except for extreme film buffs (and I do enjoy background information about movies).  Some of these 'extras' are about as much good to me as Gurkha cigars.  Not that I've got anything against cigars, per se, but I've never smoked, and don't plan on doing it now, and cigars, Gurkha or otherwise, have no real appeal.  I actually quite like the smell of cigars (which for some reason my fingers insist on typing as cigards (?)) and I flatted for a while with a young man who smoked Gauloises, which have a distinctive smell of their own too, but I never fancied actually getting on and smoking them, just because I liked the smell.

Chishû Ryû on left 
Well, that was an interesting digression.  The extras disk that came with Tokyo Story included a documentary called Tokyo Ga by Wim Wenders, the German filmmaker.  It was interesting, but I got interrupted about half way through, and didn't go back to it, because while Wenders came at his visit to Tokyo in his inimitable fashion, he took his time about doing so, and there were long sections in the doco where very little actually happened.   Yes, it allowed us to just 'live' in the moment and observe, but it didn't really impact on Ozu's movie to any great extent, and sometimes seemed indulgent.  It did help in letting me know in advance what patinko is (it's a pinball game that's played obsessively in Japan) so that when it was mentioned in Still Walking,

I knew what they were talking about. And there was a scene where Chishû Ryû, who played the father in Tokyo Story (and also appeared in 52 out of the 54 films Ozu made!) went to Ozu's (anonymous) grave and poured water over the gravestone. I'm not sure what this signifies in Japanese culture, but the doing of it turned up again in Still Walking, twice.

Incidentally Ryû was only 49 when he played the old man in his late sixties in Tokyo Story. Apparently it wasn't uncommon for Ozu to use him to play men of a variety of ages. The interview with Ryû in Wenders' documentary is perhaps the most interesting thing in it; at least, it was the most interesting thing in the section I actually saw. Ryû came across as a surprisingly humble actor, a man who'd understood Ozu to be his mentor throughout his career (even though there was only a year difference in their ages), and whom he trusted implicitly. If Ozu said he wanted a scene played this way, Ryû would play it that way. He didn't ask questions about motivation or backstory, he just got on and did as he was told, and the result was always effective. Ozu seldom did many takes on a scene; he knew exactly what he wanted (he would even attend to the details of the set and the actors' clothing until they were to his satisfaction), and, somewhat like Hitchcock, he had the movie planned in his head long before filming actually began. What he 'saw' is what appeared on the screen. Nevertheless, for one scene in which Ryû appeared, he remembered that they had around twenty rehearsals, and some twenty takes. Ozu commented at the end that Ryû didn't seem to be quite on form that day, but it was said as a matter of fact rather than as a criticism. Ryû remarked in the interview that he wasn't that great an actor; he had none of Ozu's intellectual capacity.

So, yes, occasionally an 'extras' disk does have something of real value in it!  All right, I eat my words.
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