With one of the most distinct eyes in cinema, Wes Anderson has been gracing screens with his playhouse-styled, candy colored visuals for the past 20 years.
His films are wholly unusual concoctions and they have long been the source of fascinating discussions, many of which have come in the form of insightful visual essays.
As editor and narrator Anna Catley states, “An Ozu film is a quite, humble stream” to Anderson’s far more ornate, artificial streams. So how is it that we can find similarities between these two voices? In her video essay, “Ozu and Anderson” Catley examines how the emphasis on visual style in service of theme can be drawn from each of the two filmographies. Much like Ozu, Anderson places a great deal of reverence on the architecture of the family house and dissecting this architecture with his camera. Whereas Anderson travels through his sets to create “spatial awareness,” Ozu builds this geography through a lack of camera movement.
Anderson again takes inspiration from Ozu in his usage of symmetrical images and the medium close-up where the characters speak directly to the camera—almost toward and past the audience. Where Catley really ties the two filmographies together is in how these techniques are used to examine common themes: the strained relations between family members. Anderson’s families, like the Tenenbaums, function as something of a flipside to the family dynamics present in Tokyo Story, Late Spring and An Autumn Afternoon. Ozu also highlights the growing separations in the family unit, whether it be the children unwilling to take care of their aging parents or a father who is struggling with letting his daughter go. Anderson, on the other hand, works on building up these relations. He begins with conflict, a house divided, as in The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom, before working on repairing broken relationships and bringing family members back together.
Tradition and routine are also emphasized in Catley’s video essay. Whether it’s the Kabuki ceremonies in Late Spring or the exploratory run-throughs of procedure in Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Life Aquatic, both Ozu and Anderson display a workman-like precision in expressing human nature. Their characters are rooted in their ways and that plays an important part in how the two directors visually represent this and how their stories progress.
From Suzy’s soft, warm yellow dress in Moonrise Kingdom to Chaz’s dark red jumpsuit in The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson has gotten remarkable mileage out of the usage of these two colors. In this video essay from Rishi Kaneria, the use of red and yellow throughout Wes Anderson’s filmography is put under the microscope.
Max Fischer wears a red cap, the interior of the Grand Budapest Hotel is tinged with pink and red while each of Steve Zissou’s team members dons a red beanie. Red dresses Anderson’s sequences with splashes of vibrancy, not just from a visual standpoint but from a thematic standpoint as well. Red reminds us of why characters like Chaz Tenenbaum and Steve Zissou are grieving as well as signaling us to the mournful folly that is the Grand Budapest Hotel. On the opposite side of the spectrum are Margot’s bright yellow tent, the yellow-tinged skies of Fantastic Mr. Fox and the yellow bathrobes of the three brothers in The Darjeeling Limited. Yellow, as Anderson deploys it, is vibrant in a softer, warmer way. It doesn’t jump off the screen and grab us but, rather, works its way slowly into out minds, expressive of much gentler emotions.
The through line of the video is that yellow seems to be emotionally fulfilling for Anderson’s characters, while red is tinged with loss and heartbreak. Yellow is often draped over the sequences in which he exhibits his unabashed romanticism and sense of adventure. Red, on the other hand, accompanies many of his more dramatically charged moments. These two colors, together, much like the comparisons to Ozu, show exactly what you need to know about the stories that Anderson is trying to tell. His films are melancholic expressions of freedom, love and happiness without forgetting what makes these moments of elations so strong—the moments of unhappiness that punctuate them.
In this video, video essayist kogonda explores the overhead shots present throughout Wes Anderson’s films. A hand moves a needle onto vinyl, the Tenenbaum biography is laid down on a table and there are multiple scenes of food being laid out in front of his. Here we can observe Anderson’s obsession with detail, symmetry and precision, as each shot places us firmly into the point of view of the characters while also retaining something of a distance.
Yes, we are following these actions with the characters, but unlike the shots in which we can see their faces, we are not able to look into their eyes. These shots are about what action is being done and what this has to say about the characters we have been watching. We see Suzy’s collection of books from her perspective, but what does that say about her nature as a young girl? We see a yellow lizard crawling on Steve Zissou’s hand, but what does this imply about his relationship to wildlife?
The last shot in the video is one of the most impactful in Anderson’s entire career: Richie’s attempted suicide in The Royal Tenenbaums. This shot maintains the same precision and perceived distance as all of the other shots in the video, casting another light on an emotionally charged moment. Instead of being entirely present for Richie’s suicide, we are as he is—an outsider looking in on his own life. These overhead shots are often disorienting. Do they pull us further into the character’s mindset, or do they intentionally dive a wedge into this perception? When watching this video essay, it seems as if the answer might be both. In typical Anderson fashion, the sequence at once calls attention to artifice and deepens character dimension. MM