Video essayist Kogonada previously made some brilliant observations about the visual obsessions of some of cinema’s greatest formalists. Stanley Kubrick, as Kogonada elegantly points out, composes most of his shots using one-point perspective. Once called out, it becomes a motif that’s really hard to ignore. Yasujiro Ozu – a director who has more cinematic eccentricities than just about any other major director – had a fascination with windows, doorways and corridors.
For his latest essay, Kogonada takes on perhaps film’s most famous formalist working today – Wes Anderson. As you can see from the video above, Anderson loves to compose his shots with perfect symmetry. From his breakout hit Rushmore, to his stop-motion animated movie The Fantastic Mr. Fox, to his most recent movie The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson consistently organizes the elements in his frame so that the most important thing is smack in the middle.
Directors are taught in film school to avoid symmetry as it feels stagey. An asymmetrically framed shot has a natural visual dynamism to it. It also makes for a more seamless edit to the next shot, especially if that shot is another asymmetrically framed shot. But if you’ve watched anything by Anderson, you know that seeming stagey has never been one of his concerns. Instead, Anderson has developed his own quirky, immediately identifiable visual style.
When critics complained about Ozu’s proclivity for essentially making the same movie over and over again, he famously responded by saying, “I only know how to make tofu. I can make fried tofu, boiled tofu, stuffed tofu. Cutlets and other fancy stuff, that’s for other directors.” Anderson would probably not consider himself a tofu maker, but he would most likely appreciate Ozu’s sentiment.
Check out another Kogonada essay below about Anderson’s tendency for composing shots from directly overhead.