Video Essayist Kogonada Makes His Own Acclaimed Feature Film: Watch His Tributes to Its Inspirations Like Ozu, Linklater & Malick

We’ve fea­tured the work of many cin­e­ma-lov­ing video essay­ists (myself includ­ed) here on Open Cul­ture, none of it more artis­tic than that of a man who goes by the name of Kog­o­na­da. Whether deal­ing with the films of auteurs like Stan­ley KubrickAndrei Tarkovsky, Alfred Hitch­cock, or Wes Ander­son, he finds new and strik­ing ways — often free of tra­di­tion­al nar­ra­tion, and some­times even free of spo­ken words alto­geth­er — to show us how their cin­e­mat­ic visions work, and in so doing to cre­ate new cin­e­mat­ic visions of his own. But when, we Kog­o­na­da fans have long won­dered, would this mys­te­ri­ous fel­low make a movie of his own?

The answer arrived at this year’s Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val in the form of Colum­bus, Kog­o­nada’s fea­ture direc­to­r­i­al debut. “Colum­bus gets its title from the city where it’s set — Colum­bus, Indi­ana, home to a remark­able col­lec­tion of renowned works of mod­ern archi­tec­ture,” writes the New York­er’s Richard Brody, one of the many crit­ics to have already lav­ished praise on the new­ly released pic­ture.

“Those build­ings pro­vide an extra­or­di­nary premise for the dra­ma, which is a vision­ary trans­for­ma­tion of a famil­iar genre: a young adult’s com­ing-of-age sto­ry. For once, that trope doesn’t involve a sex­u­al awak­en­ing or a fam­i­ly rev­e­la­tion; it’s the tale of an intel­lec­tu­al blos­som­ing, thanks to a new friend­ship that aris­es amid trou­bled cir­cum­stances.”

Those trou­bled cir­cum­stances have to do with the par­ents of the two main char­ac­ters: Casey, a recent high-school grad­u­ate who’s stayed in town to care for a moth­er try­ing to kick a metham­phet­a­mine habit, and Jin, a fortysome­thing trans­la­tor who’s flown in from his home in Korea (birth­place of both the Mid­west-raised Kog­o­na­da and the film’s Los Ange­les-raised star John Cho) to watch over his father, an archi­tec­tur­al the­o­rist plunged into a coma by a stroke. “These par­al­lel lines meet when Casey offers to show the stranger her town,” writes Rolling Stone’s Peter Tra­vers in his review. “ ‘Meth and mod­ernism are real­ly big here,’ she tells Jin, as he becomes increas­ing­ly intrigued by this girl who sees the art and the human­i­ty in build­ings.”

Soon Jin and Casey take “baby steps toward a rela­tion­ship, in a man­ner that recalls Richard Lin­klater’s Before Sun­rise.” That film, and its suc­ces­sors Before Sun­set and Before Mid­night, fig­ure heav­i­ly into Kog­o­nada’s video essay on Lin­klater, “On Cin­e­ma & Time.” Oth­er influ­ences, cit­ed by crit­ics as well as Kog­o­na­da him­self, include Ter­ence Mal­ick, whose way with the ele­men­tal he exam­ined in “Fire & Water,” and Yasu­jiro Ozu, whose films got him think­ing about cin­e­ma in the first place. As he put it to Indiewire, he start­ed by think­ing he would “try to fig­ure out what it is about his films that ini­tial­ly felt very unim­pres­sive, but kept haunt­ing me,” to under­stand why Ozu “isn’t easy to just reduce to some­thing — he cer­tain­ly is not this sort of tra­di­tion­al­ist, he’s cer­tain­ly not a west­ern mod­ernist, he is some­thing else and what­ev­er he was explor­ing and offer­ing felt so rel­e­vant, even today.”

Kog­o­nada’s video essays “Way of Ozu” and “Pas­sage­ways” reveal not just the Japan­ese mas­ter’s use of archi­tec­tur­al spaces, but Kog­o­nada’s inter­est in such spaces. Colum­bus brings the depth of that inter­est to the fore: “The direc­tor pro­vokes aware­ness of the Mod­ernist Colum­bus by treat­ing it as one of the film’s char­ac­ters,” writes Archi­tec­tur­al Record’s Dante A. Ciampaglia. “It’s both pro­tag­o­nist and neme­sis for Casey and Jin as they wan­der the city, explore its archi­tec­tur­al boun­ty, and find it both reflect­ing inner strug­gles and inspir­ing epipha­nies.” As Kog­o­na­da him­self puts it, “I think that’s the thing that inter­ests me, the rela­tion­ship between emp­ty spaces and life itself.” May he find many more oppor­tu­ni­ties to explore it onscreen.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Per­fect Sym­me­try of Wes Anderson’s Movies

“Auteur in Space”: A Video Essay on How Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris Tran­scends Sci­ence Fic­tion

The Eyes of Hitch­cock: A Mes­mer­iz­ing Video Essay on the Expres­sive Pow­er of Eyes in Hitchcock’s Films

Cin­e­mat­ic Exper­i­ment: What Hap­pens When The Bicy­cle Thief’s Direc­tor and Gone With the Wind’s Pro­duc­er Edit the Same Film

How Richard Lin­klater (Slack­er, Dazed and Con­fused, Boy­hood) Tells Sto­ries with Time: Six Video Essays

Sig­na­ture Shots from the Films of Stan­ley Kubrick: One-Point Per­spec­tive

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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