An NYR Daily series
Night of the Living Dead was a triumph for low-budget, regional, independent filmmaking. A piecemeal production, made with pooled savings, shot in black-and-white on weekends and between jobs, that ultimately took the better part of a year to complete, it demonstrated the power of outré independent films to provide new social metaphors and outgroup fantasies.
Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952) was the first film I saw after I moved to Japan in 1987. I recall how, whenever I’m asked why I left my secure-seeming life in New York City to move to a small room on the backstreets of Kyoto, I say that I didn’t want to die feeling I’d never lived. Perhaps something in me was already moving toward Ikiru even then. I chose Japan as the place to move to in part because it seemed to be a quietly realistic society inclined to see life within a frame of death.
What a lot of the current rumination about the Star Wars franchise misses is the way the original movie stood out from the rest of Seventies filmmaking. All we knew was that we’d just seen something amazingly fresh and we left the theater feeling mysteriously liberated.
Noriko, in Ozu’s Tokyo Story, is the quintessential Setsuko Hara character: she’s the archetype of the post-war, modern young woman. Yet she also embodies the virtues of the traditional Japanese woman: loyalty, self-sacrifice, suffering in silence; she’s the perfect daughter, wife, mother. She was utterly real, yet she represented an ideal…the ideal.
When I attempt to describe my years in Paris, no one believes me, I can tell. It was too Hollywood-dream perfect. Here is Nadja coming out of the student restaurant, minding her own business, and who should appear next but Eric Rohmer and within minutes he wants to make a film about her life.
There were years when I went to the movies almost every day, around the time of my adolescence. Those were years in which cinema was my world. It satisfied a need for disorientation, for shifting my attention to another place, and I believe it’s a need that corresponds to a primary function of integration in the world, an essential phase in any kind of development.