A Dreamer Walking

Ikiru – Film Analysis – Part 1

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Scene Analysis, Screenshot Series by Jacob on April 1, 2019

NOTE TO READER:

This is going to be more messy than usual. I want to be clear, these film analysis’s are made so I could understand these films better. If you end up benefiting from them I simply consider that a added bonus. These will be long and at times grammar will be a problem. I am not going to show a frame from every shot of the film and at times I will use multiple screenshots from the same shot in order talk about movement or lighting change. Please do let me know if something is really confusing you. I am also totally up for hearing what people think of my analysis. These simply are my thoughts on what I am watching. Hope you enjoy!


Titles

Interesting start to the movie. Loud music playing, as if this may be an epic rather than a intimate tale of one man’s journey.

  • All of the titles seem to have a combo of soft and intense music. Hmmm…

Scene 1

Screenshot (66)

Unique first shot of the movie. This is not beautiful, it’s actually as far as you can get from it. We see this and are immediately told by the Narrator that our protagonist doesn’t know he has cancer. Kurosawa doesn’t care to be subtle about it, he wants to get to the point.


Screenshot (68)
Talk about a boring way to introduce a story. No big bang and no quick action. Simply a shot of a x-ray and then this static front on shot. The lens is long making our protagonist, Kanji Watanbe, feel extremely boxed in. Kurosawa is not interested in forcing entertainment on us, he is interested in communicating his story. This is a perfect projection of all the issues Watanbe is facing in this story. 

  • We see his low energy.
  • We see his work literally consuming him.
  • The image is even finished off by the title of “Public affairs Section Chief”. One of the most dull protagonist someone could think of.

Kurosawa does not wait too long to introduce some of the main narrative threads of our story. We see a woman talking about her kid being sick. We also hear her speak about the playground being something that would be great for the kids if they filled it in.

I love the demeanor of all the characters in the “Public Affairs” section. They all reek of being unmotivated. They reflect Mr. Watanbe, and maybe Kurosawa’s views on big government.


 

This is very interesting. First off at the beginning of this shot you can see the desk clerk is speaking to Mr. Watanbe without him even looking up to acknowledge his presence. Then we see the first camera movement in the movie. Kurosawa has cinematographer, Asakazu Nakai, do a slide into this medium shot.

  • The reason the camera movement in such a dull setting feels motivated is due to the narrator. The narrator is not burdened by the sad life of the government officials, thus when he speaks the camera is allowed to be more fluid.
  • The Narrator is also acknowledging the boring life Watanbe is living right now. “He’s not even alive”. Gosh Kurosawa, why don’t you just tell us everything!

First time Watanbe looks up is when Toyo Odagiri laughs. She is the only life in the whole building. Of course she reads a quote making fun of how worthless the department is. She shows a lot of energy and is clearly highlighted to be the most interesting aspect of the scene. Interesting that she is also the only woman in the group of a bunch of men. Why does she remind me so much of Shirley Temple?


Screenshot (71)

This is such a brilliant shot. The energy seen in the previous shots dies right down with this shot. You can tell Kurosawa most likely moved things from behind Watanbe, out of the way to achieve it. (One of my favorite directors, Peter Weir, would say you are cheating authenticity of the environment by moving things out of the way). Watanbe is the center piece. You can tell Kurosawa is going for some deep focus (like usual). Compared where Kurosawa goes in his future stories, the lens we see here is pretty wide, making Watanbe much larger in frame than those in front of him.

  • Although we just switched access from the last shot,. Kurosawa does a good job keeping Toyo in the shot (top right corner). She is distant from Watanbe right now, not yet really infecting him with her energy for life.

Narrator, “He’s been worn down completely by the minutia of the bureaucratic machine and the meaningless busyness of breeds.” Kurosawa is not trying to be subtle here… :/

  • Narrator, “The best way to protect your place in this world is to do nothing at all.” Geesh… talk about a statement!
  • So in the first 6 min of the story we are told the Thesis of our story. We know our main protagonists conotical state and even given a strong hint of what is to come.
  • Honestly I don’t know what to think about the narrator right now. He is basically telling us what to feel about the situation we are seeing. I  think most of that is communicated without hearing the Narrator. That being said the Narrator has some personality and he does give a much needed energy to the scene.

Scene 2 – montage

This montage is going for comedy, the music blaring, with more and more chaotic tones. Kurosawa uses sweep transitions (a transition he is known for) with each character saying basically the same thing, “We can’t help you. Take it to _________.” I like how the characters all say the same thing in slightly different ways. Kurosawa uses different angles at times but they are usually shot flat.

  • The montage may go a little long but it does communicate the point Kurosawa is trying to make about his frustrations with government offices and their lack of productivity.

 

Kurosawa does a great job punctuating the montage with this smooth slide and pan he does revealing the disappointed woman trying to get help from the officials of each department.  Observe how the official character is boxed in like most of the others, the box in front of him taking up a third of the screen. His glasses loose on his face and body language pretty dower. The slide reveals the woman who are higher in frame than the man. They are given prominence in this shot, our connection with their frustrations already well established.


1 of 2

The scene looks like it’s going to end in defeat and then we transition into this blocking. The woman come roaring back, criticizing the official for the whole institution’s poor services. Kurosawa is doing a lot in terms of setting up the need to “get that stinking cesspool of a location cleaned up”. This point will pay off in spades later on in the story.

  • Fantastic framing here. Yes the man is now higher than the woman, but he is almost completely boxed out of the frame and his body language clearly submissive. He actually does a great job keeping us focused on the woman; his gaze directs our eye right to the woman speaking.
  • Also, the woman coming back and the clerk standing up is when the fun quirky music is abruptly stopped. Another great way to emphasis this moment.

2 of 2

This is the same shot, it simply transitions into a pan following the official as he goes to his superiors. This shot takes up about a minute of time and communicates so much!

  • I LOVE the the expression of the man on the far right. He has the perfect sad face to communicate the surprise from the berating the woman and the depressing nature of the work they are participating in.

A good note is Kurosawa is not trying to make any of these frames “pretty”. He simply is interested in communicating the story through how he frames and lights his shots. Paperwork takes up so much of most of the frames, taking even more prominence at times than the actors. Actors are important, but they sure aren’t everything.


Scene 3

This is a very short scene where the colleagues talk about Mr. Watanbe’s absence for the first time in 30 years. Of course Kurosawa and Nakai frame everyone with paperwork consuming them. The paperwork actually is used as great framing devices all the way through the scenes in Government buildings.


Screenshot (102)

I really liked the last cut in the scene, we go from Toyo making a joking comment about Watanbe dying to a anomalous shot of the empty desk with two clerks in the distance highlighting the empty space through their gaze. This simply takes a “joke” and transcends it into something much more potent.


Scene 4

We get a very short montage of Mr Watanbe walking away from the x-ray room. Diegetic sound and the smooth moments of actor and camera really make this feel serious.


 

This is a brilliant series of movements. Composition #1 focuses the eye on the man in the middle of the frame. We had just run into him before when Watanbe was washing his hands. The Man with the Cane actually is seen moving from frame right to left to set up this first composition. The man in the middle sets up our narrative, he is the subject of talk in this scene. After fulfilling his purpose he moves out of frame and we transition into composition #2. The Man with the Cane takes prominent focus, Watanbe intentionally pointing away from us so we can easily concentrate on what Cane Man is saying. This is when the real dialogue begins. Cane Man begins to talk about the symptoms of stomach cancer he believes the person who just left has. Little does Cane Man realize Watanbe is dealing with the same kind of symptoms. He then warns about the way the Doctor will dismiss the symptoms if a man actually has stomach cancer.

  • Now, I think it is fair to criticize Kurosawa for using such a clear exposition device. Cane Man’s soul purpose is to give both the audience and Watanbe a hard dose of reality, telling is EXACTLY what Watanbe is in for. Is this realistic? Would someone just randomly get this blunt in front of a man waiting to be seen by his doctor? Likely not. However, Kurosawa makes it work. The drama is just too good.
  • Honestly Kurosawa doesn’t seem to mind giving exposition when it is needed, even though it feels pretty forced at times. He gets away with it because he makes the characters who are giving exposition feel real and usually the exposition is simply adding to a much more cinematic truth. The core of this scene is not spoken, it’s simply seen on Watanbe’s face in Composition #3.

As we transition into composition #3, all Kurosawa’s cinematic techniques flow to the surface. Music starts to come in; hitting the perfect dreadful tone. We get this extremely strong staging, with Watanbe in a close up his emotions being clearly communicated to the audience. Also, look at the relaxed body language of Cane Man. He represents a wonderful contrast to Watanbe, Which only seems to add to the horribleness of the diagnosis Cane Man is giving.

  • Of course we see Kurosawa’s common use of deep focus, the set probably very hot in order to make that work.
  • One of my issues when I first watched Kurosawa films is what I felt like was “overacting”. However the more you study old Japanese theater, especially the style of ‘Noh’, the more these broad performances make sense. A great benefit is the body language is so clear in almost every one of Kurosawa’s frames. In this scene everyone’s heads are fallen down and the shoulders all loose. This is not a fun place to be at. The audience immediately gets the essence of the scene before a word is spoken.
  • Another brilliant little detail in these shots is how Kurosawa transitions the shots from feeling like a ‘hospital” to a much more personal moment in the last shot, as if we’ve been transported into Watanbe’s psyche. For the last composition look how Watanbe blocks out the lady in Composition #2. The Man with the Cane also blocks people out, transforming the environment into a much more personal place.
  • Also a striking note is the wardrobe choice. In the first scene we see Watanbe with a white\gray coat. In this one it’s black, most likely to reflect the coming bad news.
  • Honestly, this 2 min and 20 second shot does wonders. I look forward how often Kurosawa simply uses staging to change the Mise-en-scène of his compositions to communicate deeper and deeper truths.

Scene 5

Screenshot (86)

This is such a brilliant shot. Talk about everything in the frame working to communicate the storyteller’s objective. Our protagonist is feeling completely defeated right now, scared to death at what news he might be receiving. We also know his impact on society is minimal and he is super isolated from everyone else. Having no other people in the frame might communicate that, but Kurosawa goes a different rout. Kurosawa uses the door to isolate Watanbe from the citizen on the right and uses the pillar to further separate him from the citizens on the left of frame. Having people in frame but distant communicates the point in a more potent way.

  • The distance is also communicated through the use of a wider lens. Kurosawa usually uses lenses that make the foreground and background feel closer to each other but in this one we can clearly see that Watanbe is much farther away then the others.
  • Wonderful use of lighting here. Look at the gray scale. Kurosawa is able to concentrate the eyes directly onto Watanbe with his lighting – leaving the man on the right in shadow and darkening all of the left side of the frame in order to pull the eye right to Watanbe in the back. Another thing that could of done this is the use of shallow focus, so Watanbe is sharp and the others much less. However Kurosawa seems to think seeing detail through out the frame is more useful.
  • Another great aspect of this shot are the lines. Everything frames our main character. Everything seems to be adding to his dower mood. I mean, look at the painting right above Watanbe! Why in reality would that painting be so crooked?! But for the purposes of this framing it works brilliantly. It looms over him, as if looking down in sadness, reflecting his posture. Of course the doors are the most helpful focus device, literally opening right up to Watanbe.
  • At this point the music is at it’s most dreadful tone. I also like how the voice from the speaker echoes through the halls waking up the frame a little. The beat where he doesn’t hear his name get called at first also works.

Scene 6

First thing you notice, the music has stopped. There simply is eerie diegetic sound; Some kind of CLANKING being the most prominent (very artificial and cold).


1 of 2

I find this shot to be an interesting intro. Kurosawa is intentionally putting a object in front of the entrance to the room. Right away it’s being communicated that this is an ugly place and Watanbe is literally being sliced up into several pieces. Yikes!

1 of 2

This is a composition from the same shot. I have seen Kurosawa use the technique of a slide and then pan a few times now. He has maybe six feet of track laid out and then he uses the middle nurses movement to justify the pan, now completely moving away from Watanbe.

  • At 17 seconds I think this is the longest shot of the scene. Kurosawa will start to use rapid cutting to heighten the tension.
  • Very distinct difference between screenshot #1 and screenshot #2. The nurses white outfits really stick out here.
  • Watanbe is screen right, notice how no one is looking at him as he comes into the room.

 

We go from a medium close of the Doctor looking at x-rays to Composition #1 above. We can see the Doctor is caught off guard and then we see Composition #2 of Watanbe. We immediately go back to the Doctor. There is a fair bit of subtle acting but more than anything Kurosawa is using the Kuleshov effect based off of what we have already learned. In other words, Kurosawa knows less is more here and the core of the emotion in these three shots comes from the audiences projection.


Composition 1 of 7

Composition 2 of 7

Composition 3 of 7

Composition 4 of 7

Composition 5 of 7

Composition 6 of 7

Composition 7 of 7

This is a series of potent beats. The camera pans, following Watanbe into composition 1. Notice how he is yet again cut into several pieces by the shelves in front of the camera. We then hear the news, “it looks like you’ve got a mild ulcer”. These are the very words we heard the Man with the Cane say about the other guy who had cancer. The quick cut to the coat dropping tells us everything we need to know. It’s the shortest shot in the whole scene, but along with the music coming in the shot makes for an extremely strong emotional beat. From here on out there is a steady music beat, very much emphasizing the sad emotion of the scene. In this way Kurosawa is not trying to be subtle.

After that we have Composition 3, a medium wide shot of both the Doctor and his assistant looking at the coat and then up at Watanbe. Deep focus is really strong here, Kurosawa is fine with us deciding whose emotions to concentrate on. Then we cut to Composition 4. Kurosawa uses the assistant and nurse as reflections of what we are feeling right now. The assistant is turned away from us, his little head movement toward the conversation, from 4 to 5, communicating volumes.

The last shot is extremely well composed. Kurosawa cuts the bodies off of both Watanbe and the Doctor. This is not supposed to feel comfortable, they are intentionally being squeezed into the frame. The nurse is positioned in the middle breaking up the frame. The Doctor lies to Watanbe but as his head is bowed the Doctor’s look to the nurse, in Composition 7, tells us the truth. There is nothing too flashy in any of these shots, just great beats.  

  • It’s interesting how the nurse and the assistant’s body language communicate very different things. The assistant is very empathetic, the nurse cold.
  • The last shot has stuff piled in front of the camera, blocking our view from our main character and the Doctor. This further crunches the shot, making it all the more uncomfortable.
  • I think these are longer lenses than the scene before. The last shot especially feels like it’s making the nurse and characters on the sides feel closer than they really are (I may be wrong).

I really like how the Doctor acts throughout the scene. He embodies a balance between the assistant and the nurse. He is blatantly lying to Watanbe, but you can tell he doesn’t feel good about the deception. This doesn’t excuse his actions but it adds to the sadness of the news.


Scene 7

Screenshot (101)

I will be honest, I am not a huge fan of this scene. I kinda feel like Kurosawa is trying to push the message a little too much. Is this really needed? It’s about a minute long and basically conforms that the Doctor was lying to Mr. Watanbe. His dialogue of, “What would you do if you had only six months left to live, like him?” is a bit on the nose… don’t you think?

  • Like usual Kurosawa knows what he is doing in his composition. So much is communicated simply through the body language. Kurosawa has the “angel and devil on your shoulder” theme going – the assistant representing the angel and the nurse the devil. Again, deep focus so everyone could be ready clearly.
  • Kurosawa is also known for having few woman in his story and when he does most of them are very cold, like the nurse (Toyo being the exception, not the rule). The nurse might have the coldest line in the film. After being asked what she would do with a six months to live diagnosis she states, “The barbiturates are over there.”. YIKES!

Kurosawa punctuates the nurses comment by cutting to a medium close of just the assistant. He looks at the x-ray and then we leave on a close up of the x-ray. The sound of the x-ray machine being very eerie. Kurosawa really does know how to use sound.


End of Part 1: (17 min into movie)

Akira Kurosawa – An Observation – The Innovator

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on November 18, 2014

Kurosawa #1Akira Kurosawa is one of the most highly acclaimed filmmakers of all time. He put Japanese cinema on the map with Rashomon (1950). He created a movie many consider the greatest of all time with Seven Samurai (1954). And at a time most directors are long washed up he made a masterpiece in Ran (1985). These movies are great because he constantly worked to innovate the medium of film. Kurosawa was an innovator from the very beginning of his career to the very end. His crew attested to his willingness to go against the grain and try new things even on a movie like Kagemusha (1980); where he had gone five years without making a film and was in danger of his career ending if the movie was not a success.

I am interested in understanding how Kurosawa became one of the great innovators in medium of film. What makes one so great? Is it natural talent, luck, or strength of will? I think most would agree it takes all these things. Kurosawa was truly lucky to be in the right place at the right time when he first got into the film business. He had a natural eye for composition and a strong intuition for story structure. And I do not think there was a man with a stronger will to put his vision onto the screen then Kurosawa. However, what made Kurosawa able to be confident in taking the risks needed to be one of history’s greatest filmmakers was something more then talent, luck, and strength of will. What gave Kurosawa the confidence to do things never done before was an unbelievable understanding of all the aspects of filmmaking. In his book, Something like an Audiobiography, Kurosawa defined exactly what he felt made a great film director,

Unless you know every aspect and phase of the film-production process, you can’t be a movie director. A movie director is like a front-line commanding officer. He needs a thorough knowledge of every branch of service, and if he doesn’t command each division, he cannot command the whole.

This vast knowledge of the medium of film did not come to Kurosawa overnight. In the mid 1930’s Kurosawa was hired by P.C.L. (Photo Chemical Laboratory) Studios to be an assistant director. In Japan during this time the assistant director’s job was to help in any aspect of the production that was running behind or overwhelmed with work. Kurosawa needed to have a thorough understanding of location scouting, costume design, set dressing, editing, and camera operation. He also needed to understand how to communicate with the people who worked in these areas so he could get them to do precisely what the director needed.

The man most responsible for training Kurosawa in all the details of filmmaking was Yamamoto Kajirô, but more on him in another post. Suffice to say Kurosawa hit the ground running when it came to being a assistant director. He quickly climbed ranks from third assistant to chief assistant behind Yamamoto. And even with his overloaded schedule Kurosawa somehow found a way to write. He studied the emotional beats of the literature he read. He kept journals on the big and little things that emotionally resonated with him. Kurosawa claimed those who say they don’t have time to write “are just cowards”. No matter how long the day was Kurosawa made himself write at least a page of a script before he went to bed. As Kurosawa said, this might not sound like much but at the end of the year he found he had a 365 page script written.

Yamamoto also allowed Kurosawa into the editing room where the young pupil truly flourished. Many film historians today consider Kurosawa the greatest editor to ever live. If you study his movies you can tell Kurosawa had a deep knowledge of Sergei Eisenstein’s montage theory; where the edit wasn’t about matching action to obtain the seamless cut as much as it was about triggering emotional responses through the cut. He learned to cut film like a poet. And like any poet Kurosawa developed a fundamental understanding of his film’s language in order to master it.

During his career Kurosawa broke many established rules of filmmaking. Pointing the lens directly into the sun, using multiple cameras to capture a piece of drama, and shooting pieces of action in slow motion are just a few of the countless ways he revolutionized the language of film. What sticks out the most to me however is his stories and how fearless he was at saying exactly what he wanted to say with them no matter how politically incorrect or noncommercial the ideas were. This confidence came because of Kurosawa’s deep understanding of each aspect of the film medium. He was a prime example of someone who knew the rules so well he could break them at will. And through the breaking of many of these rules he made some of the most innovative movies in the history of cinema.

Christopher Nolan – Director – The Dark Knight

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Screenshot Series by Jacob on September 9, 2014

Chrostopher Nolan

Here we have one of the most iconic images from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Each superhero movie needs it’s “hero shot” and this is Christopher Nolan’s version.  Nolan shoots Batman at a lower angle and has him standing on top of the rubble, as a sort of pedestal. Yet, the cold blues devouring most of the shot and the empty space around Batman seems to be saying something more.

It’s obvious Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer Wally Pfister knows how to work with light. The cold and warm colors create a wonderful complementary color scheme. Just enough light hits Batman in order to have him stick out so we understand his emotional state. This shot takes place right after Batman loses someone dear to him and saves someone who he believes is important to the city. Through this shot Nolan is showing the conflict between the two actions. The burning building is being used to reflect the inner battle Batman is going through. We are looking up to Batman in this shot and he is intentionally put on top of the rubble to suggest he is rising above the destruction. Yet, because of the blues, Batman’s stance, and the emptyness around him we do not see this as a triumphant shot. Instead it communicates a deep conflict between the hero Batman is trying to be and the inner conflict going on inside.

The reason Nolan’s Batman series rises above (excuse the pun) other superhero movies for me is because of shots like this one. All superhero movies show physical conflict but rarely do I see the emotional conflict in a superhero movie treated with such potency. For Nolan this movie was all about questioning our views on what makes a hero. And like the shot above Nolan leaves us with a a hero, but not the one we are so used to seeing. Instead, he turns our concept of what makes a true hero on it’s head and goes into a direction that forces us to see the “superhero” as a human being not immune to the evils of the world he fights in.

The Piano – Scene Study – The Beach

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Screenshot Series by Jacob on July 6, 2014

Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993) is a dark and complex tale which had a hard time connecting with a broad audience. I however found the film to be full of interesting dynamics. The film was also beautifully shot. I especially appreciate director/writer Jane Campion’s unwillingness to simplify the narrative in order to be more politically correct. In essence we are given a love story without a prince charming. There are two men who fight for the main character Ada’s affection and both characters are full of flaws and bring to the for front the kind of sexism woman have struggled with since the beginning of humanity.

The Piano was chock full of wonderful scenes where the visuals were constantly used communicate narrative and emotional points. I wanted to concentrate on one of the scenes I believe best expresses just how much meaning Campion was able to imbue into each one of her shots.

This scene takes place during the transition from the first act of the movie to the second. The main character Ada and her daughter are able to convince George Baines to go back to the beach so she can play her piano. George is falling in love with Ada despite her already being married. It’s here where we truly get a feel of George’s affection and begin to understand just how much the piano means to the story.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 9.52.27 PM

We first have this master shot with music playing in the background. The shot starts out with Ada and her daughter Flora walking from screen right to the piano. The emphasis is put on Ada’s need to play the piano. However, a second or two later George walks into frame connecting him to Ada and her piano. I think it would be easy to compare George to the rock on the horizon line; an object that is quite distant from the mind of Ada at the moment.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 10.03.15 PM

The second shot is a pan starting first on the piano and then quickly revealing Ada playing the music we have been hearing in the background. This of course directly links the piano to Ada. Also the close up of the hands is a key element; making a point that the hands are what is making such beautiful music. Ada’s hands become a crucial plot point in the third act of the movie and they already being set up here. By having this be the second shot after the master Campion is communicating Ada’s playing is the focus point of the scene.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 10.12.03 PM

This is part of the same pan shot. Campion is  directly connects George to Ada and her piano playing. This is one of the first shots showing George’s obsession of Ada and the piano. It helps to set up the idea of him wanting her to play for him later in the movie.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 10.21.04 PM

The pan cuts to a close of Ada alone. It is key that the shot starts alone because it gives clarity to exactly what George is looking at. However, shortly after we see Ada’s daughter Flora run into frame and hug her mom. This moment represents Ada at her happiest. A long time goes by before we see her close to as fulfilled as we see her here.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 10.27.45 PM

This cut of the daughter dancing expresses the spiritual connection between Ada’s music to her daughter. Jane Campion holds the shot for a good amount of time, trying to show how in-sink the two are at this point in the story.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 10.38.36 PM

We have this cut to medium close up of George who in his own way is going with the music. The key is to show how Ada’s music is effecting George emotionally.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 10.44.40 PM

This is one of the most interesting shots of the scene. Campion breaks the rule of thirds and frames Ada so the head is in the middle of frame. This is a wonderful example of a closed frame; nothing is important but what we are seeing in frame. The shallow focus stops the background from interfering in the shot; Campion wants us to only be seeing how Ada is reacting to the music. The rest of the world and all other sounds have faded away.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 10.51.33 PM

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 10.52.36 PM

I show two frames from this shot because the action inside the shot is what is really important. We first get this look from George as if he is entranced with the way Ada is being moved by her music. However, by turning his back George is in a sense denying that allure.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 10.59.08 PM

Yet, in the end he turns back, unable to resist his need to see Ada playing. This is a wonderful foreshadow of what is to come between Ada and George.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 11.04.24 PM

Here is another close up of Ada’s hands. Again, driving home the idea Ada’s hands are what are giving us this powerful music. The other important factor is seeing Flora playing with Ada. Right now in the story the two are working together, both are being physically and emotionally connected to each other with this shot.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 11.10.35 PM

This is from the same shot, Campion goes all the way from the close up of both Ada and Flora playing to this wide where we get a feeling of a sort of distance between the two characters. I feel like Campion is making a comment about things to come.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 11.16.18 PM

This last god’s eye point of view shot might be the most telling of the whole scene. It expresses the journey of the story. We first have Ada walking her own path. Flora quickly fallows and George contemplates for several long seconds before he chooses to follow suit. The shot is communicating whose story this is and the rout of some of the main characters who end up going on the journey with her.

Akira Kurosawa – Director – Kagemusha

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 1, 2014

Kurosawa #1

This might be the most beautiful shot I have ever seen of Akira Kurosawa’s. And believe me there have been plenty of beautiful shots in this old legend’s career. Kagemusha (1980), which means “shadow warrior”, is chock full of great shots. The movie is Kurosawa’s third venture into filming with color and I believe his best. It is pretty amazing this is only his third film made in color since it was made in 1980 and Kurosawa had been making movies since the 1940’s. Those who don’t know Akira Kurosawa is a director from Japan and considered one of the greatest filmmakers to grace this earth. His movie Seven Samuri (1954) is hailed by many to be the greatest movie ever made.

With the movie Rashomon (1950) Kurosawa was able to put the cinema of Japan on the map after the movie won Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951. The movie was one of the first time a filmmaker ever shot with the lens looking directly at the sun. Before this many thought film would burn up if you shot directly at the sun. However, after Rashoman the sun became a big theme in Akira Kurosawa’s work.

Getting Kagemusha made was extremely difficult. Kurosawa painted hundreds and hundreds of storyboards. He knew almost every shot of the movie before he even started shooting. He was just waiting to get backing for the project. Sadly at this time in his career the film industry in Japan was at a all time low and many considered Kurosawa to be passed his prime as a filmmaker. Thankfully however two successful young filmmakers from America, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, stepped in and helped finance the picture. This might have suggested to Akira Kurosawa there was some hope for the next generation. Though his industry might have given up on him, there was dedicated group of young filmmakers from the 60’s and 70’s who considered Kurosawa a legend in the realm of filmmaking.

In some ways I feel this shot is melancholy in nature. The troops in shadow look tired and defeated. Where during 1950’s Rushomon Kurosawa shot directly up into the sun that was in the middle of the sky, the sun now is setting representing and end of a way of life. Yet, the picture’s beauty is overpowering and the image of troops marching onto battle is quite inspiring. The deep oranges you see in the picture don’t feel like they represent doom as much as it represents a sort of beautiful momory Kurosawa wants us to keep a hold of.

Akira Kurosawa was a huge admirer of John Ford and Ford was known as the king of the master-shot. Ford told a very young Steven Spielberg that if he could learn why a shot is better when the horizon line is on the top of the screen or at the bottom of the screen instead of in the middle, you might just become a good filmmaker. As you can see Kurosawa places the horizon line at the top of the screen. There is no vast open space in this master shot. The world once full of possibilities is now coming to a close. This is an end of an age. In the movie it represents the ending of the Samurai. However, for Kurosawa I believe it means the moving on of an age in filmmaking. His light is about to go out, there are only a few more movies left in him.

Toy Story 3 – Film Study – Color and Lighting

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 25, 2014

Toy Story 3 #1

Many call it the last great Pixar movie. I personally think Toy Story 3 is a fantastic completion of a wonderful trilogy. And, though you could make an argument Toy Story 3 is a little repetitive and less original then the first two movies, I think the film stands out as the most visually bold film of the trilogy. Simply put, Pixar was running on all cylinders when they made this film. From the refined Pixar storytelling skills to the huge advancements in technology Toy Story 3 was able to expand its universe while keeping a firm grasp on what made the first two films so loved by the first generation of Toy Story fans.

Let’s talk about the color pallet used to tell the story of Toy Story 3. Toy Story has had a  distinct pallet from the beginning. The colors are usually extremely saturated and there are few scenes where you see the whole gambit of the color wheel. Instead, each scene usually consists of one to three key colors to establish an atmosphere. The goal isn’t to be subtle with the colors, but rather use color to drive the emotional arc of the movie. With Toy Story 3 the brilliant art director Dice Tsutsumi took the helms of this beloved franchise and gave us a pallet of colors unmatched in animation. He was in charge of creating the color script for the movie, which consists of dozens of impressionistic paintings plotting out the general emotional arc of the movie through the use of color and lighting (check out part of his color script here). Dice Tsutsumi said, “The color script sets the tone of the film: how color and atmosphere and lighting will carry the story and the characters throughout the film”. The color script is started towards the very beginning of pre-production and isn’t finished until lighting for the movie is finalized. I believe Toy Story 3 is the best example I have ever seen of the emotional impact color and lighting has on a film. The actual images you will see here comes from the final film. The director of photography for Toy Story 3 was Kim White and she and her team were responsible for bringing Dice’s paintings to life. Animation is the ultimate collaborative medium. The sad part is though most of the artists go unnoticed. So, though I will mostly reference Dice Tsutsumi and Kim White in this post the results you see are made possible by the whole Toy Story 3 team. I am using eleven images from the film. As Dice said in an interview, “One of the things Ralph (the original Toy Story art director) said was to pick ten or fifteen key moments and see if you can describe the color flow of the movie with just those images”. This is my attempt to describe the color flow of the movie with just a few handfuls of images.

Toy Story 3 #3

Most will recognize this shot from the intro of the film. As you can see there is a complementary color scheme at work here, blue and deep orange/brown. Not only does this really make things stick out, it establishes Woody and his owner Andy’s relationship. Andy has always been represented with blue in the Toy Story movies. Woody is dressed in mostly worm colors and is a cowboy which makes this terrain fit perfectly with his character. He also has blue jeans which connects him visually to Andy. The shot here comes from a high stakes adventure taking place in Andy’s imagination. There is a tremendous amount of open space. The creators want to create a world here where you believe anything is possible (I mean come on, there is a huge Pig Ship taking up a chunk of the screen). We are at the height of Andy and Woody’s relationship reflected vividly through the deep saturated blues and oranges. Through out the film you see Art Director Dice Tsutsumi save deep colors for solid emotional connections.

Toy Story 3 #5

This is defiantly Andy’s room, reflected by the overwhelming amounts of blue in the image. The moment takes place after Andy has grown up and is about to go to college. The colors are less rich then the last frame and Woody doesn’t seem to belong as much. Woody and the rest of the toys’ marginalization is seen in specific and broad strokes. The Buzz Lightyear poster is mostly covered up in the corner. Woody is the only toy in sight. And, the stars representing Andy’s childhood are almost completely covered by posters and other “grown up stuff”. One other thing I want to point out in this image is the outside colors. The bright green colors you see from the outside actually look much more inviting then anything we see inside. This green actually represents someone we will meet later on in the film.

Toy Story 3 #9

Wow look at the difference here. This looks like a place where toys belong. Here is the first of several images I will post of the Nursery, where most of the movie takes place. The next few images will express just how much control the Pixar artist have over the power of lighting and creating atmosphere for a scene. Andy’s toys left Andy’s house and found themselves here in Sunnyside Daycare. This is the first time the toys are introduced to this nursery where in just a few minutes kids will come and play with them. Andy’s toys are excited because this will be the first time in years they are played with. You can’t get much more inviting then this. It’s clear the artists want to create an attractive environment for audience as well as  the toys. Look at the designs of the objects you see in frame. I guarantee you the nice comfy chair and beanbag were strategically placed to help soften the imagery. Round designs are always more inviting then designs with sharp angles. We also see Director of Photography Kim White use soft lights to create an inviting environment. There are no harsh shadows and the nursery almost seems to glow. An analogous color scheme is at work here, ranging from light red to light green. There are no deep colors either, which might be a sign from the creators that though this is an inviting environment it has little depth to it. Unlike with Andy there are no owners in a nursery. As inviting as this might be within minutes the nursery seems to be transformed into a completely different environment.

Toy Story 3 #12

Yes this is the very same place you saw in the last frame. Look, you can see the nice soft chair and beanbag at the top of the frame. However, they don’t look as inviting now for some reason. This moment in the film takes place after the toys have been brutally played with by toddlers who Andy’s toys quickly realize are not old enough to handle them properly. The environment goes from a paradise to a foreign wasteland. The feeling of uneasiness is only enhanced by the extreme angle director Lee Unkrich’s uses. He places the camera so it looks directly down at the setting. We are not used to seeing images from this kind of position and it helps to established the discomfort of the situation. The toys are meant to look pathetic from way up here; as if the environment has completely overpowered them. Also, check out the lighting. There are no more soft lights in this image. Harsh shadows stream across the frame making for a much more menacing composition. And finally, we get to the color. The shades of red do more then anything in terms of changing the environment to a uninviting place. Red has always been used to represent danger and destruction and we are only getting a taste of it compared to what we see at the climax of the film.

Toy Story 3 #15

The nursery has gone from an unfriendly environment to an out-and-out prison. This shot is from the same environment as the last two yet looks like a completely different location. This is an example of the power animation has to push lighting to extremes in order to enhance the emotional impact of a scene. The character Andy’s toys once thought was good, Lotso, has shown his true colors and locked Andy’s toys up. Look at the light source here. The shadows are extremely defined and most of the color is actually sucked out of the picture. There are no round objects in sight and the picture is framed from a straight on angle which helps create a formal mood. It’s as if all the humanity has been sucked out of the Toy Story world and all we have left is a evil pink teddy bear who is determined to stay on top. So where is our hero? Where is WOODY?!

Toy Story 3 #11

There he is! Woody was picked up by a girl from the nursery named Bonnie. Just like the original nursery image, this feels like a inviting environment. Again Kim White uses soft lights to take away the shadows. Here we see a pretty broad analogous color scheme at work with a good amount of green. Wait, didn’t I talk about the color green before? That’s right! This is the character I was talking about earlier. Through out the movie Bonnie is represented by the color green and her room reflects this. However, Woody can’t stay in a wonderful place like this when his friends are stuck in a daycare prison. He returns to the daycare and helps break Andy’s toys out of Sunnyside. The problem is he doesn’t find himself in any better of a place.

Toy Story 3 #20

Well shoot! This takes place toward the climax of the film and art director Dice Tsutsumi begins to use monochromatic color schemes. Doing this he is able to overwhelm the image with a singular mood. Woody and the rest of Andy’s toys find themselves at the dump and director Lee Unkrich pushes the imagery to the max in this sequence. The lights shoot directly into the face of the audience. Unlike in Sunnyside we no longer have the claustrophobic feel of a prison, rather we get a wide angle shot of trash as far as the eye can see. It’s a different kind of hell we find ourselves in. The yellow green gives the environment a sickly look and we are deeply worried for Woody and the rest of the toy’s well-being.

Toy Story 3 #22

Well, things haven’t seemed to get any better. Woody and the rest of the gang are looking into an inferno and there seems to be no way of escape. The screen is completely devoured by red. In fact, the red light source is so strong it has seemingly changed the toys colors to shads of red. This shot represents the most dyer situation in the movie. Director Unkrich doesn’t want anything to get in the way of our connection with the toys here. He uses a shallow focus and makes sure there are no distractions in the background. There is only one light source in this shot and it is completely overpowering. The creators want us to think this might be it for the toys. The sequence is sort of a rebirth for Woody and the rest of the toys. In this moment all of them embrace each other and are ready for the next chapter in their lives.

Toy Story 3 #24

Lets just thank the gods the next step wasn’t incineration. Woody and the rest of Andy’s toys survive and are taken by Andy to Bonnie’s house. Here we see Andy giving Bonnie his toys. Andy is in his classic blue clothing and the rest of the frame is consumed by Bonnie’s green. We can see the storytellers are embracing Bonnie here by using deep green colors. We see just as vivid of greens as we did blue at the beginning of the movie. The visuals are supporting the idea of the passing of the torch. Andy’s story is done but we have new adventures to look forward to with Bonnie. This is beautiful imagery. It almost feels as if we have been transported into a wonderful memory. For the last time Andy plays with Bonnie and his toys before he leaves. His blue fits wonderfully with Bonnie’s green.

Toy Story 3 #26

The movie ends with this shot. I think it is a wonderful salute to Andy’s story. A blue sky filled with clouds is what the very first Toy Story movie opens with and it’s only fitting we end with it as well.

Steven Spielberg – Director – Saving Private Ryan

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 4, 2014

Spielberg #1

Saving Private Ryan is one of Steven Spielberg’s greatest films. This film revolutionized the war and action genre . It brought a grittiness to the World War II scene not seen before in cinema. There is no attempt by Spielberg or Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to glamorize the action depicted in the movie. In fact, Spielberg and his crew worked extra hard to take away the glamorization of war in the the film by showing the drastic consequences of the fighting. They made us feel as if we were in the midst of the battles taking place and they forced us to witness the casualties along with the successes of war. Spielberg wasn’t afraid to linger on the moments most audience members would like to bypass. We saw soldiers with limbs blown off. We observed characters die slow deaths. And most importantly we were made to care about most the characters who ended up making the ultimate sacrifice. After watching a movie like Captain America: The Winter Solider I get the feeling the only characters who are allowed to die in today’s blockbusters are the characters who have no sentimental value to the audience. The heroes in the pictures are always going to make it through no matter how bad the scenario gets. They need to for the sequels, right? However, the problem with this lack of consequence is we begin to stop caring. No matter how great the visuals the suspense has been taken away because we know everything will be fine in the end.

Now back to Saving Private Ryan. I wanted to concentrate on this moment in the film because I believe Spielberg does something here few directors are capable of doing. He has the patience and faith to slow things down. This scene takes place towards the very end of the movie. These two characters, Captain Miller and Private Ryan, are listening to music and having a casual conversation about home life. Slowly during the conversation we forget about war and the improbable situation the soldiers are in. Instead, thanks to a superb performance by Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, we are transported back home. Spielberg doesn’t use flashbacks; he has faith in his actors. He gives Damon’s character the time to relate a fun story about when he last saw all his brothers alive. Private Ryan is only introduced towards the end of the second act of the movie, but this moment allows us to completely buy into his character and root for his success.

The visuals you see in this frame actually make for a good contrast of the story Private Ryan is telling. There is no questioning these two characters are soldiers in the middle of a war. The costuming, scenery, and body language all say as much. I love how Captain Miller looks more battle weary then Private Ryan. Ryan just looks a little more headstrong then Miller – where we see Miller sitting back Ryan sits forward. The story Ryan tells is also upbeat where in the past when Miller told about his background it was told in a more somber tone. All this is setting up the last act of the movie. Spielberg is allowing the story to breath before he throws us into the climax of the film. After Ryan’s story is done everything has been set up. We have had time to take a break from the war scene. The connection between Miller and Ryan has been set. And we the audience have a new found appreciation for Ryan and the kind of guy he is back home. This scene just goes to show Spielberg understands if we don’t care for the characters it doesn’t matter how magnificent the action is we will simply not invest.

 

Adam Kimmel – Cinematographer – Never Let Me Go

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Scene Analysis, Screenshot Series by Jacob on March 24, 2014

Never Let Me Go 1:4

Here are a series of shots from a scene in the movie Never Let Me Go (2010) I wanted to critique. Kathy, our protagonist, just over-heard her closest friend, Ruth, and the boy she loves, Tommy, having sex and and chose to listen to a piece of music to take her mind off of what what is going on. The thing is she is listening to music Tommy gave her so we know her mind is still on Tommy. Her body language says a lot as well. She is almost hugging the tape recorder as if she wishes the take she is playing was Tommy himself. Notice how cinematographer Adam Kimmel and director Mark Romanek frame Kathy. They are using the rule of thirds, placing her eye line just at the top left third of the frame. This is known as an effective harmonizing way to frame a character. Usually the face is the center focus of a picture. If Kathy’s head was too high or there was a lot of empty space at the top of the frame the audience would be thrown off because the image wouldn’t feel balanced. Her face is lit with a nice warm light from the right. Though it is a dark scene we get the sense of peace and calmness Kathy must feel listening to Tommy’s song. Kathy opens her eyes and we cut to this next image.

Never Let Me Go 2:4

Talk about a haunting image. This is Kathy’s friend Ruth standing in the doorway. Right away the eyes is thrown off because the director and cinematographer go against the rule of thirds and place Ruth’s head at the very top and too far toward the middle of frame. Yet the eyes do instantly go to Ruth. The doorway is a great framing device and the top of the dresser and the wall frames direct our eyes to her position. The filmmakers hide Ruth’s face which throws us off even more because we can’t get a good read on her emotions. The wallpaper to the right and shambled looking robe Ruth is wearing only adds to the dark mood. From this image we can tell Ruth isn’t here to befriend Kathy. She is like a dark spirit from nightmare. Lets fast forward a few shots.

Never Let Me Go 3:4

Ruth has begun to talk to Kathy about how she will never be with Tommy. She is hurting Kathy at her core and the imagery reflects as much. Again the filmmakers put Kathy’s face in a much more balanced place then Ruth’s. Ruth’s face is completely in shadow and her head partly cut off at the top of the frame. The filmmakers are not afraid to work with darkness. The focus point of the image is Kathy’s eye. The light hits it just right. The eyes are the mirrors of the soul and we sense the effect Ruth’s cruel words have on Kathy emotionally. The only real color shown in the frame comes from the green wallpaper. The green compliments the toxic words spouting from Ruth’s mouth.

Never Let Me Go 4:4

The filmmakers cut to this shot while Ruth is still in frame. They get closer and closer as Ruth’s words become more and more painful. But we linger on Kathy after Ruth leaves. The darkness surrounds Kathy more then ever now. We can see the effect Ruth has had on her. Again Kathy’s eyes are able to say so much. She has been completely destroyed with Ruth’s monologue.

These represent a very effective set of imagery and the music and dialogue only enhance the scene. It is a good study on the effectiveness of limiting the lighting in the scene. As good as the production might have been we don’t need to see all of it. Our eyes are allowed to focus on the important parts because the other areas are shaded. This is the darkest scene dramatically in the movie. Kimmel and Romanek want to express the darkness visually and in every shot they do so.

(Visiuals courtesy of EVEN E RICHARDS)

Anthony Dod Mantle – Cinematographer – Slumdog Millionaire

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on March 17, 2014

Slumdog Millionair Title shot

Slumdog Millionaire is completely full of fantastic imagery. However, I thought I would concentrate on this one because it is quite literally the only time Danny Boyle chooses to dwell on a moment and freeze the frame.

There are a few things about the Cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle, you might find interesting. First off Mantle was one of the first to start experimenting with digital filmmaking in Hollywood. He took on digital filmmaking in the 1990’s, far before it was a popular choice. He even said he resided himself to never get nominated or win an award for cinematography because the media industry was so against digital filmmaking at the time. Some big Hollywood names still refuse to got to digital (Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, and Joe Wright to name a few).

Lucky for Mantle there were two filmmakers who jumped the boat quickly in terms of digital filmmaking; one was Lars von Trier and the other Danny Boyle. After his huge flop, The Beach (2001), Boyle was looking for something to reinvigorate him in terms of filmmaking. He began to look into digital film. He sought out Mantle and they have since become one of the greatest collaborators in the film industry. The point and shoot quality that comes with digital filmmaking was perfect for Boyle’s loose ‘shoot on the go’ style of storytelling. Slumdog Millionaire (2008) was the perfect kind of subject matter for both Boyle and Mantle to exhibit their skills they had been developing since they first shot together on the movie 28 Days Later (2002).

With this shot particularly we see how the quality of digital film has advanced since the 1990’s. There is no grain in the picture and the colors are extremely vibrant. The title is introducing us to the world of the movie. Even though the boy you see is not the main character Jamal, he is representing him symbolically. Jamal is in fact the “Slumdog Millionaire”. However not everything in the frame is supposed to represent Jamal. The yellow you see actually represents Latika, the girl Jamal falls in love with. I think the yellow sun represents her spirit and the yellow font suggests she will end up falling in love with the “Slumdog”. If you don’t believe me in terms of the color, just look at the color of Latika’s dress when Jamal has his flash backs of her at the train station. Or look at the scarf she is wearing at the very end of the movie. Already the two characters are being connected symbolically. The last thing I want to highlight is the action. Even though this is actually a still image in the movie, it does imply action by having the boy be in the process of throwing the ball. This is an action film in the purest sense of the word. Almost all the narrative and characters emotions are communicated through their actions rather then duologue. From here on Boyle will be going a hundred miles an hour and rely on the audience to keep up. It is one wonderful ride.

Oh ya, I almost forgot. One of the greatest trivia facts about Slumdog Millionaire is it was the first time a digital film won best Cinematography at the Academy Awards. Congrats Anthony Dod Mantle!

Emmanuel Lubezki – Cinematographer – Gravity

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on March 2, 2014

Gravity #1

Whether you were put off by the less then par writing or didn’t really like the oversimplified plot, it is undeniable Gravity was one of the best looking movies to come out last year. Every frame is beautiful and even 3D haters needed to say the movie worked well in the questionable format. Gravity represents the continueation of the collabortation between Emmanuel Lubezki and Alfonso Cuarón who have been working together since collage. Indeed, Gravity represents the third time Lubezki has been nominated for best cinematography for a Cuarón picture (the other two being A Little Princess (1995) and Children of Men (2006)).

After the critical and personal failure of their movie Great Expectations (1998) Cuarón and Lubezki chose to go with a new more gritty style of filmmaking for their next film, Y Tu Mamá También, and have stayed with that style ever since. The signature piece of this new style is the long shot. For this movie and Children of Men Lubezki and Cuarón have gone minutes at a time without any clear cuts. Cuarón has said he does this because he wants to have the audience inhabit the world and get lost in it. The cut has the tendency to release tension and distance the audience from the action of the movie. So with Gravity Cuarón chose to start the movie out with a twelve minute opening shot. In this shot we are sucked into Cuarón’s world and even at one time given the main character Ryan Stone’s point of view. These long shots were never meant to be showy. Lubezki said he didn’t want to do them in order for people to be impressed. In fact, if they were doing their job right nobody would know how long the shots were they would just be completely consumed in the story.

The shot you see above represents the key theme of Gravity, rebirth. In the movie Ryan is forced to learn how to let go of her past so she can embrace her future. This shot is made during the transition into the second part of the second act of the story and represents exactly where Ryan is at. She is in the process of being reborn. She has been forced to literally let go of her securities and take on the rest of her journey by herself. There is a lot of journey still to go and a lot of growth she needs to go through. I love every aspect of this shot. Lubezki and Cuarón center Ryan in the middle of the frame. She takes on the fetal position and you even have the tubes representing the umbilical cord. The ship represents the womb and you can see the outside world eliminating the heart of the frame and directing the eye to it’s center. The round door frames Ryan’s character and creates a sense of harmony. This shot allows for a the audience to have a short rest before we are thrown into the next part of the story.

Gravity is a truly explosive film made to be experienced in the theater. If you watch it on DVD or blu-ray I suggest you find as good of a viewing experience as possible. I also believe after six nominations this will be the movie that gives Lubezki his first Oscar for best cinematography.