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Ozu in 2.5D

Ho Tzu Nyen & Clélia Zernik - Mar 22, 2023

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“Ozu’s films are comparable to deep, clear water, perfectly still.” (Maurice Pinguet). The simplicity of Ozu’s images is perfectly apparent. It is in the transparency of these lines that the true depth of his films is played out: Everything happens as if we were dealing with the most natural, most common world, and yet from the outset we notice a lapse—the characters move in an artificial way, their expression is always missing, they seem to float, between presence and absence.

This is an invitation to meditate at the borders between visual arts and the psychology of perception. To think this in-between, between the 2D of the image and the 3D of reality, the 2.5D can be understood both as a new approach to perspective construction and as a specific relationship to the world. In the sense of perspective, the Ozuian image does not seem to be constructed linearly according to the rules of the vanishing point that unify a homogeneous and structured space. Rather, it is constructed according to a principle of superimposed layers, like cartoons. The shows the passage from an image as a section of the real to an image as a recomposition of the real, from a conception of unified space to a conception of stratified space. Metaphorically, this in-between time of 2.5D reveals that behind the purity and serenity of Ozu’s images a form of drama is at play: the character haunts the world more than he inhabits it. He is in the lining. He is no longer a singular character in a fiction, but a prototype, an idea: There Was a Father, in reference to the title of another Ozu film. The procedure of the enables us to appreciate this disconnect of the real space and its substitution by an artificial and stratified image. It gives the impression of both looking at a fun flip book and facing a ghost, escaped from its body, lost in its own reverie. Between an amused tenderness and a sensory reflexivity, this is precisely where Ozu’s films take place, between the surface and the depth, between presence and absence, between the singular and the typical—in this in-between space of the 2.5D.


authors: Ho Tzu Nyen, artist and independent film maker & Clélia Zernik, Beaux-arts de Paris, PSL University
editorial mediation: Clélia Zernik
graphic designer: Arp is Arp studio (Dimitri Charrel, with Lorène Gaydon) and Joséphine Mas
photo credits: see “illustration rights and references” below
supported by: SACRe-PSL laboratory

references and rights

illustration rights and references

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Ozu, Yasujiro, Director. Tokyo Story (Tokyo Monogatari). Shōchiku, 1953. 136 min. In the public domain.  Digitally modified images.

bibliography and references

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Bordwell, David. Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988

Burch, Noël. Pour un observateur lointain. Forme et signification dans le cinéma japonais [To the Distant Observer]. French translation by Jean Queval. Paris: Gallimard, 1982.

Doganis, Basile. Le silence dans le cinéma d’Ozu, polyphonie du sens et des sens. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2005.

Lamarre, Thomas. The Anime Machine, A Media Theory of Animation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Pinguet, Maurice. “Transparence et profondeur d’Ozu,” in Pour un temps / Ecritures japonaises. Paris: Editions du Centre Pompidou, 1986.

Pinguet, Maurice. “Voyage à Tokyo d’Ozu,” In Le texte Japon, Introuvables et inédits, compiled and presented by Michaël Ferrier. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2009.

Zernik, Clélia. L’œil et l’objectif, La psychologie de la perception à l’épreuve du style cinématographique. Paris: Vrin, 2012.

to cite this article

This article is using Chicago format for its references

Ho, Tzu Nyen, and Clélia Zernik. 2023. “Ozu in 2.5d” .able journal:

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