giovedì 12 dicembre 2013

Ozu's Memories

Yasujiro Ozu, my favourite Japanese film-maker, died 50 years ago today, December 12.
For a weird coincidence, this was also the day he was born, 110 years ago.
I have always been in love with his cinema, since the first time I saw Tokyo Monogatari (1953), one of his masterpieces, when I was very young.
His cinema is made of very few elements: simple stories, essential dialogues, many moments of silence and minimal camera movements.
Ozu’s movies are basically the opposite of many today’s movies, where everything is going fast, camera movements are hectic, dialogues are excessive and very often stories are over complicated and also extremely stupid. Ozu’s understatement is proverbial: the expression “less is more”, could have been invented for him.

Tokyo Monogatari (1953)
During my last trip to Japan (at the end of October, beginning of November), I decided to go to visit Ozu’s grave in Kita-Kamakura, a small city not far from Tokyo (just one hour by train). 
I didn’t know much about it, just that his tomb was located inside the Engaku-ji, one of the five most important Buddhist temples of Japan. I was sure to recognise his grave, though, because I saw it in Tokyo Ga by Wim Wenders (a movie entirely dedicated by the German film-maker to Ozu) and also because on the grave the only visible thing is one of the most beautiful kanji (ideograms) of Japanese language, MU (NOTHING):

What I didn’t expect, that lovely autumn afternoon entering the gate of the splendid Engaku-ji, was how difficult it would have been to find Ozu’s grave...
The entrance of Engaku-ji, Kita-Kamakura

The woman who was selling the entrance tickets gave me few indications, in Japanese, that I managed to understand (believe it or not). At that stage, I thought it would have been super easy. I started walking on the right side of the park, as she told me to do, and then I started climbing some stairs. Apparently, the grave was somewhere there. In fact, there was a small space with few tombs. I looked at them, one by one, but no sign of Ozu’s one. Going up the hill, I realized that there were many of those little spaces full of graves and I started to have some serious doubts about the possibility of actually find the one I was looking for. The truth is, I wasn’t finding the grave but I was finding so many amazing and beautiful places that I wasn’t too worried about it:
But eventually I said to myself that I had to find a solution, and quickly. 
It was at that right moment that I saw two old Japanese women walking towards me. I approached them and I explained what I was looking for. It was one of those moments where the fact of having studied Japanese for five years at the age of 20 looked like the best idea one could ever had in life.
They understood me and they told me they knew, more or less, where the grave was. After 5 minutes walking, we arrived in front of a chart full of small drawings. It was a chart of the graves and each one of them had the name of the dead inside. The two women, after a while, recognised the kanji of Ozu’s name and then they showed me the way. Of course, without those two lovely women, it would have been impossible, for me, to find it. I immediately thought that Ozu himself or some weird cinema god sent them to me. When we arrived in front of it, they waved good-bye and they left me, with one of those marvellous gestures Japanese culture is full of. Like in a Ozu’s movie, they used a simple tact: they understood that was a special, intimate moment, and they left me discreetly. Oh, I’ll never forget them! And so, there I was, at last, on the grave of my favourite Japanese film-maker:

I stood there for a while.
Mentally saying silly things to Ozu. Very silly things like: “Hey, I came to see you! From Paris! It is a long, long way, you know? I hope you appreciated. Oh, and, by the way, you deserve this trip because you have made some of my favourite films of all time. Thank you! Thank you so much, Ozu-san!"
Yes, this is a confession, I say things like that in front of film-makers graves. This is what people mean by being a cinema freak. A real one!

Happy like a child, I kept walking into the temple’s park, out of joy for that moment near Ozu’s grave but also out of joy for the beauty of every single thing I could set my eyes on in that amazing place:
When I saw those monks passing by, I really thought, for a moment, to join them: I just wanted to live there, to stay there for ever, near Ozu, surrounded by the peace and the splendour of Japanese nature. But then I had a doubt: Can Buddhist monks go to the movies? 
Not knowing the answer, I preferred to take the train and go back to Tokyo.

Grazie a Flavio Parisi per avermi suggerito di andare a Kita-Kamakura, a Takuji O'Hara per avermi dato tutte le indicazioni per arrivarci (e avermi detto la traduzione di "tomba" in Giapponese), e a Giorgio Amitrano per l'amore che condividiamo per questo regista.

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