A certain pattern of shots is repeatable within an Ozu paragraph, a certain pattern of Ozu paragraphs is repeatable within an Ozu film, and a certain number of Ozu films are repeatable within an Ozu career.
Ozu cared a great deal about visual style and made up the picture in his head before a shoot. Since composition was his foremost consideration, performances were required to fit into his compositional scheme.
Similarities … are many, and differences few in the extraordinarily limited world of the Ozu film. It is a small world, closed, governed by rules apparently inflexible, controlled by laws that are only to be deduced.
— Donald Richie, Ozu: His Life and Films
Generally speaking, Ozu’s corridors are just corridors, and his bar signs are just bar signs, but they still fulfill multiple roles within his films. At the most basic level, they transition from place to place or character to character. They are also visual signals for recurring locations, which is why Ozu sometimes walks through similar sequences of shots several times to create an association between a location, its surroundings and the emotional undercurrents of that place. And in the tensions Ozu sets up between the different elements that he places so carefully within the frame, the tensions of the narrative are often worked out in miniature.
What I respect most is that Ozu never needed to use murder or violence to tell everything that’s essential about human life.
I’m fascinated by how frequently Ozu shows a vacant room – even if just for a second – and feel it adds space and interest to the rhythms of his storytelling. I find myself obsessing over the compositions of these shots; not that they’re “complete” without the presence of his actors, but I do see something really beautiful there.
Nothing is “unimportant” in Ozu’s view. The story is not meant to stand as an “exceptional” dramatic incident, but rather as part of the context of the ebb and flow of life. “Unimportant” people and actions are part of this ebb and flow. In fact, so are the places and inanimate objects surrounding them.
Empty rooms, uninhabited landscapes, objects (rocks, trees, tea kettles), textures (shadows on shoji, the grain of tatami, rain dripping), play a large part in Ozu’s world, and the extreme simplicity of this view is matched by a like simplicity of construction once the film has begun.
Ozu’s shots show a visual language. This language is clearly related to that of modern abstract art. The establishing shots differ from much 20th Century painting, however, in that they emphasize the 3D quality of the buildings they depict. There are abstract painters whose work is 3D: one thinks of El Lissitzky and his Prouns, and the American painter Emil Bisttram.
If [Ozu’s] shots seem to lack depth, that is simply because they look like pictures – landscape photographs, still-life paintings, and portraits. The shots are so intricately composed, so much the result of idiosyncratic, purely pictorial artifices like the low camera position or “picket-fence” linearity or sojikei arrangements, that they achieve an autonomous splendor that becomes the culmination of Ozu’s search for a cinema of the absolute image.