- Jun 5, 2015
Although slightly after time, this gives an idea of the classes held over three sessions from 7-8 May by Professor Clélia Zernik. Their title was "The phenomenology of cinema: Merleau-Ponty on Japanese films".
The first class looked chiefly at the paper, "Cinema and the new psychology" included in Merleau-Ponty's Sense and non-sense of 1948. We should note here that he talks about "new psychology" (Gestalt psychology), rather than phenomenology. In general, in Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, when we understand something, we think of the subject and object as not being independent, but as being influenced by each other, and working ambivalently. Similarly, when we perceive something, even if it is concentrated in one of the senses - for example it only seems to be sensed through the ears - Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology insists that, in fact, the other senses are at work and it is sensed from various directions. However, in the case of cinema, the situation is a little different. Perception is obscured by frames, and there is less intertwining "chiasm" between the subject and object, and between the several senses, than every-day perception. Cinema, then, necessitates explanation through a "new psychology" that differs from the simple phenomenology used to describe every-day perception.
The second session turned to Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo monogatari" (Tokyo story). Yasujiro Ozu created magnificent works through camerawork from a low position that sees through the eyes of the subject - the methodology known as "Ozuism" - with perfectly arranged composition, which exerted great influence upon the world of film. We were introduced to some scenes in which symmetry and perspective are used; we saw how composition upon these principles actually affected our perception. As an example of this, we were shown a picture that had two ways of looking at it (a visual illusion), and we all guessed at what we thought the picture presented. Such a psychological method is effective in interpreting Ozu films.
The third class focussed on those who succeeded Yasujiro Ozu. In particular, the films of Akira Kurosawa were raised in relation to how they differed from "Ozuism". In the intital scene of "Rashomon" that witnesses a murder, the camera remains directed on the hands of the victim, while the heart-in-mouth expression of the witness appears on screen. We also referred to others among his films, including "Seven samurai", "Stray dog" and "Dreams". In the case of Ozu's works, a splendid form is maintained throughout that is like a single photograph, and the audience is left to itself to concentrate on observing the story, whereas Kurosawa's works set forth initially depictions with much impact that draw the audience into the heart of the story. The boundaries between subject and object are broken down. Here, then, methods of phenomenology prove more appropriate. Yet, as Professor Zernik remarked during the class, "Toshiro Mifune always stars in Akira Kurosawa films". Similarly, Yasujiro Ozu had Setsuko Hara; this use of a fixed cast, I felt, was one way that Kurosawa followed "Ozuism".
I am ashamed to say that this class was the first occasion I had ever seen "Tokyo story". In the last scene, the family has left, and the protagonist spends a quiet time in the room with his memories; in contrast the brightness of the day streams in. I was caught unprepared by this, and had to try hard to hold back the tears whilst watching the film during the class. I shall take this as an opportunity to discover more of these works.