SCSMI2017 Helsinki has ended
The annual conference of the Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image (SCSMI) welcomes you to the Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland, June 11th – 14th, 2017

SCSMI2017 Helsinki program is under construction and changes are to occur. Meanwhile you may complete your personal information with a photo and some tags, so the other attendees and speakers will get to know more of you and your interests, and vice versa.

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Monday, June 12 • 11:00 - 11:30
SP James Mairata. When Spielberg met Ozu: striking stylistic similarities between two directors from different eras, cultures, and industrial practices.

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It was in the mid-1970s, more than a decade after Japanese writer/director Yasujiro Ozu’s death that many western scholars turned their attention to a detailed consideration of style in his films. David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson, Edward Branigan, Stephen Heath, Donald Ritchie, Noel Burch and others noted Ozu’s seemingly unique visual style, most clearly evident in his later films. Having embraced the classical continuity system in his early career, Ozu gradually evolved a specific set of stylistic parameters that included the rejection of eye-line matching and camera movement while at the same time retaining classical “rules” such as match-on-action cutting. Of particular interest to many was how Ozu often constructed cinematic space by using a set of camera angles and 90 degree or 180 degree shot variations that resulted in a complete 360 degree vista of a location. This prioritising of space over narrative intent contrasted sharply to Hollywood’s seemingly traditional practice of never revealing the “fourth wall”.

The examination of Ozu’s style also presented an opportunity for some to attack Hollywood continuity editing, claiming it as restrictive when compared to Ozu’s “system”. In a comparison with Spielberg’s “Jaws” (1975), Stephen Heath (1976) complained in a scene from the film “The 180-degree line that the camera is forbidden to cross answers exactly to the 180-degree line of the screen behind which the spectator cannot and must not go…” (p88). There is a certain irony that Heath chose a Spielberg film to illustrate Hollywood’s apparent inferiority in depicting space because it is in Spielberg’s films (“Jaws” in particular) that numerous instances of 360 degree - Ozu like - scene constructions can be found.    

Through the comparative analysis of scenes from both Spielberg and Ozu I will demonstrate how both directors use similar, innovative strategies of shot construction to build a comprehensive depiction of space. While isolated instances of 360 degree construction exists in the works of other filmmakers, it is only in Ozu and Spielberg that they occur repeatedly and in the case of Spielberg – seen to be evident in even his earliest television work. I further argue that while Ozu’s strictly limited set of devices makes his style more distinct as a formal system – and therefore more self-conscious, Spielberg intentionally disguises his 360 degree coverage behind the veneer of classical practice. This is done to reduce stylistic self-consciousness, and permits him to remain true to the classical convention that style not overwhelm narration.

Despite the significant generational, cultural, and industrial divide between the two directors, I will illustrate how each director’s drive for more effective storytelling strategies guided them into independently modifying classical practice in a way that resulted in them both arriving at stylistic systems that were (and are) distinct within their own industries yet common to each other.   


James Mairata

Charles Sturt University
My presentation is derived from my forthcoming book Steven Spielberg's Style by Stealth, (Palgrave Macmillan). I teach narrative theory at Charles Sturt University in Sydney and have more than 20 years experience as a director and producer of television drama. Current research includes... Read More →

Monday June 12, 2017 11:00 - 11:30 EEST
A-301 Room, Töölö Campus, Aalto University (3rd floor) Runeberginkatu 14-16, Helsinki