In celebration of the 120th anniversary of Yasujiro Ozu's birth on December 12, 2023, Academy Award-nominated director Daniel Raim follows up his Criterion Collection Original Documentaries, In Search of Ozu (2018) and Ozu and Noda (2019), with a feature-length intimate portrait of the master filmmaker.
In the Footsteps of Ozu explores the great Japanese master's life and films, and the development of his unique aesthetic vision through interviews with Ozu's family members and key actors who worked in Ozu's films. The film's original narration includes Ozu's own words and memories from his journals, diaries, and rare audio interviews to bring home the tension between the director's individualistic life journey and the formation of his cinematic style.
The documentary goes into the archives that house some of the physical treasures at the core of Ozu's moviemaking. There is something profound when an archivist brings out an artifact relating to an artist's work. In our film, the unveiling of precious objects relating to Ozu's career: the red "teleporting" teakettle, a teacup, Ozu's specially designed tripod, or the director's signature white hat, will be like talismans that will help bring Ozu's artistic legacy to life.
The film will have a uniquely Western perspective and ask the question of why most of Ozu's films weren't widely seen until the 1970s – especially during a time in the 1950s/60s when there was a hunger for arthouse fare in America and Europe. While Ozu's films were not as formally challenging as Michelangelo Antonioni, Andy Warhol or Alain Resnais, what was the reason Tokyo Story (1953) didn't have its premiere in New York until 1972? Why did Shochiku think Ozu's work was "too Japanese" for Western audiences? How do films that were once characterized as "too Japanese" continue to impact filmmakers from around the world?
In the Footsteps of Ozu shines a light on Ozu's influence on world cinema through interviews with directors deeply influenced and inspired by the grandmaster. We hope to interview Claire Denis, Mike Leigh, Wim Wenders, Aki Kaurismaki, Terence Malick, Barry Jenkins, Jim Jarmusch, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Kogonada, Paul Schrader, and Kelly Reichard.
The tension between these two interwoven themes, tracing the origins of Ozu's unique filmmaking aesthetic, and his influence on contemporary filmmakers from across the globe, will help unlock the keys to Ozu's art. By tracing the circuitous Western distribution of Ozu's work, it will allow further understanding for Western audiences why it took so long for Ozu's films to make their mark internationally, but also, perhaps, how they imprinted themselves as seemingly timeless cinematic artifacts that found themselves unbound by time or fashion.
In the Footsteps of Ozu will be produced in conjunction with an exhibition of Ozu's life and career, featuring rare, behind-the-scenes photos from his films in the lobby of the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library, located in Beverly Hills in 2023. We hope that the film and exhibition will coincide with a film series of Ozu's work as well. Stay tuned.