MadInkBeard by DerikBadman

This blog is now in archive mode. For redirection to newer content, go to the homepage.

Ozu, Sekiro, LeGuin

Late Autumn, Dir. Yasujiro Ozu (1960) and In Search of Ozu, Dir. Daniel Raim (2018)

I suscribed to the new Criterion Channel (so maybe I’ll be writing more about movies?), and my first watch was a documentary on Ozu, one of my favorite directors, and one of Ozu’s later color films (those are the best ones). In Search of Ozu is a good short doc focusing on objects, featuring many scenes of a museum curator unwrapping objects from an archive: Ozu’s low tripod (from which he shot his signature low camera angle); Ozu’s white hat that he always wore on set; a number of pottery pieces that feature prominently in the films (including the red teakettle I mention in this post). We also see images of his diaries, scripts, and the storyboards. Apparently he drew his own storyboards, just one of the many examples given of how much he was in control of his films (even the art in the backgrounds of scenes was picked by him).

Late Autumn starring the wonderful Setsuka Hara (who was in many of films over the years) is one of Ozu’s late color films. For a directory who worked for decades in black and white, when he shifted to color the effects were pretty much immediately impressive. The story is one of Ozu’s common family dramas about generational difference centered around marriage. For one of the older generation Ozu seems strongly sympathetic to the younger generation in his films, often poking more fun at the grown-ups than the children.

As I watched I was thinking about how limited Ozu’s use of setting is. Almost all his films shift between home, work, and bar/restaurant, usually a limited number of each. We rarely see events happening outside (perhaps he could not control those settings enough for his liking). Generally, we see the primary family’s common room (with a table at which they talk amongst themselves or entertain guests), the offices (usually just one room each) of various primary characters, and then a couple bars/restaurants at which the characters regularly patronize. In a way it is much like a play in that regard.

Ozu’s shots and cuts are often quite comic-like, I wonder if he read comics when he was younger? Or even if comics did the sort of scene setting panels that remind me of his shots. Adachi often uses those in his manga (later than Ozu’s work). I wrote about an Adachi example and also Ozu here and here.

In this particular film there early on there is a beautiful scene transition (around the 8 minute mark) that utilitizes light reflecting of water in the background of the images as a repeated motif, first in a few shots inside a Buddhist temple, then there is a shot of the outside, then another interior show with the water reflection, but this time inside one of the protagonist’s home.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (PS4) (From Software, 2019)

I give up. From Software makes video games with amazing world building, a mix of fantasy and weird horror, that are fun to explore and filled with secrets, mysterious NPCs, oblique stories hidden in item descriptions, and unusual creatures. But, dammit, they are hard. I generally play games on normal or casual settings, depending on the game. From offers no settings, and their default is HARD. I got to the end of Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 primarily by heavily relying on online sources for maps and tactics and because in a lot of the hard boss fights (god, I HATE boss fights in video games) you can get an NPC to help you out. I got to the end of Bloodborne through lots of online sources and because I picked an ending that didn’t involve a final boss fight. I got through a few bosses in Dark Souls 3 and then finally just gave up after endless failed attempts to defeat a boss that was the only path through the game.

With Sekiro, I managed to get through, let’s see… 1 boss fight, and I had to reply it a ton of times. And I’ve now gotten to a point where all the paths open to me are just too hard. I’m blocked every way I go and fuck it, I give up. I want to see what the rest of the world looks like and learn more about the story, but I can’t, because I just can’t stand redoing the same fight endlessly until somehow I manage to win. And then a little while later having to do it all over again with the next one.

This game, compared to their previous, adds a lot of cool elements like sneaking and verticality (via a grappling hook) that allow for differing play than the Dark Souls games (sneaking was never a reliable option in those games, and verticality tended to only work as a way to descend to new areas), but none of those options work for the boss fights, you just end up back at grinding away on some foe who is crazy tougher and faster than you.

Hainish Novel & Stories v.2 by Ursula LeGuin (Library of American, 2018)

I came to LeGuin later in life, even though I read the Earthsea trilogy at a pretty young age, I never looked into any of her work until much later. This two volume set covers a long period of her work (from her first novel in 1966 to a later novel from 2000), many novels and a bunch of short stories all taking place in a loosely limned science fiction universe centered around the people from the world of Hain, that in one way or another are responsible for most of the other humanoid races on various planets (including Earth). Most of them involve ambassador/observers from a Hainish organization, either as a protagonist or a secondary character. The "science" is these stories tend to be more about soft sciences than hard, LeGuin is primarily interested in the sociological type of science fiction, where created societies act as a lens on which to view our own. Many of these stories start with an idea about a planet/society’s differing way of organizing gender, family, or religion.

While volume contains more of her well known and highly praised novels like the Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, I found the later work in the second volume to be stronger. The story suite "Five Ways to Forgiveness" takes place on a world that was largely made up of owners and slaves, and addressed the before, during, and after of a revolution that overthrows that system. The loose connection between the stories allows LeGuin to look at different character’s roles in the society, providing a fragmented view that builds up to a greater whole as one reads through the stories. A number of the short stories in this volume similarly take place on a world where men and women and strictly segregated and women have all the power and jobs, while the men are used for little more than entertainment and breeding.

This is long, dense collection, but it was well worth the time it took, and certainly something I will be returning to. LeGuin was not only thoughtful author but also a skilled stylist. If you haven’t read her work, or only read a very limited part of it (like the Earthsea books for interest, or one or two of her more famous science fiction novels) this set is a really great way to get a broader look at her fiction. I’m looking forward to more of these Library of America volumes (there are already 2 other similar collections).