Last month, we featured Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou’s series of video essays examining the filmmaking techniques of directors like Martin Scorsese, Edgar Wright, Steven Spielberg, and David Fincher. His newest piece looks at just one element of just one scene, but one directed by one of the highest figures, if not the highest figure, in the cinematic pantheon: Akira Kurosawa. Zhou, as any cinephile might expect, has a full-length examination of “the Emperor” of Japanese film in the works, but for now he’s put out a short video essay on the geometry of a couple minutes from The Bad Sleep Well (1960).
That 1960 release, a non-period piece not quite as well known as Kurosawa films like Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and Kagemusha, tells a Hamlet-like tale against the cultural backdrop of postwar Japanese corporate corruption.
Despite its non-epic nature, it has drawn my own attention again and again over the years, just as it seems to have drawn Zhou’s. Here, he uses it to illustrate Kurosawa’s penchant for constructing scenes not out of, as Hitchcock once put it, “photographs of people talking” — a dull practice that more than persists on screens today — but out of geometrical shapes.
You might like to compare this brief study of Kurosawa’s geometry with video essayist Kogonada’s look at the geometry of Wes Anderson’s movies. Just as you can’t watch the Every Frame a Painting mini-episode on The Bad Sleep Well without looking for shapes in the next Kurosawa pictures you watch, you can’t watch “Centered” without drawing a mental line down the center of your next screening of Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, or their Andersonian successors. Zhou says he feels bored when subjected to the undisciplined visual composition in most major films, but here we have two filmmakers one can always rely on for the antidote.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.