‘there is so little love in the world… and yet so much’

Ozu and Kurosawa were the first Japanese directors to enter the American canon, and to some extent I think that was because they corresponded to American preconceptions of what Japanese culture was about (Buddhism and the samurai). It’s only been later that people have been paying attention to filmmakers who go against stereotypical conceptions of Japanese culture (Masaki Kobayashi and Takashi Miike, e.g.).

In the same way, and in the present day, you’ve got to wonder whether Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta are having such an easy time becoming popular because their movies are colorful, earthy love stories, which I think correspond with American conceptions of Indian culture. (This isn’t to say that their films are without intrinsic interest, of course)

Relatedly, this makes me think about who differentiates between legitimate and illegitimate characteristics of a culture. I’m tempted to say Indian culture is characterized by a certain fondness for color. I had a friend who would’ve claimed that any essentialising characterization of culture is illegitimate, but I just can’t buy that. Who is justified in saying which aspects of culture are characteristic, and not stereotypical? A member of the culture?

At any rate, I was reminded of Nietzsche’s dictum that greatness springs from cultural and racial collision the other day when I was watching ‘The Thin Man’, and just blown away by James Wong Howe’s cinematography.


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