Sunday, 10 July 2016

Kurosawa & Framing

Happy 18th Birthday to me I guess! Thanks to all who've read thus far- now get ready for a clunky picture post that would work a hell of a lot better in video format. Over the next few months, that might just happen... ;) 
Ever since seeing Rashômon as a 'youngin- I've always adored Akira Kurosawa's framing. Before I was conscious of what it meant, or even that there was a pretty important concept we call 'cinematography'- I've loved the way he composes shots and scenes. Why? The power of action and re-action...

Take a look at this shot from Yojimbo:


Notice how the three faces dominate the frame. In any other film, most notably American cinema, the style of capturing conversation is done through shot...


...and then reverse shot...


...to present people spouting lines on cue and then others' reactions to them. Except in Kurosawa's shot, we see the reactions of a family unit shift in unison. Not only does this obsolete any clunky cuts from shot-to-reverse, it also allows us to acutely measure the inter-play between these characters in real-time. To explain: One person says something- and we can immediately note its impact upon the listeners. When a line changes a relationship, or several, Kurosawa can show us all at once and in doing so create a powerful shot of both action and re-action. Its simple, efficient and never overpowering because we immediately recognize the nature of the conversation from the framing and don't have to spend time adjusting.

Par examplé: That first shot involved three faces crammed into the same frame. Its intense and intimate, implying a shift in the power dynamics integral to Yojimbo's plot. 


But here ^ the characters wander to create space- reflecting their lack of control or comprehension in the truth of Rashomon. In this we see Kurosawa's framing create an exquisite visual sub-text that, like video-games, can actually relate the theme to audience on more than an artificial level. 


And then here ^ The conversation that is about to take place is dangerous. Any slip will result in devastating consequences and, well, it does. Notice how Kurosawa lays out a group of onlookers with pointed hats- almost functioning as a 'spike-pit' to spear those who fall during the exchange.  Those who interpret the shot this way will have their experience of it enhanced- given the constant visual danger it evokes. Kurosawa cuts back to this at the end to reinforce the deadly consequences the conversation resulted in. 

In the end, not everybody is going to 'get' your big philosophical statement or intelligent undercurrent of subtext in every (or any) scene... But what I love about Kurosawa is that  instead of forcing it upon the audience a-la Von Trier- he underplays it. We can notice these things if we want to... and that's precisely the point.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy the post? Leave it a +1. Better yet, a comment: Do you admire Kurosawa's framing, think there's a better way, or just want to talk about movies? Let me know below.

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