The Screening of Ozu’s Woman of Tokyo with live scored composed by Wayne Horvitz @ The World Financial Center, 2/11/10

After attending the second night of a three night event of films by Japanese director Ozu at the World Financial Center, I lamented the fact that I couldn’t attend all three. For one thing, the WFC’s Winter Garden is a great place to take in a film. The high glass ceilings and palm trees are meant to give it an outdoor feeling but what it really feels like is an Egyptian temple built to honor great art. Thursday night’s feature was Woman of Tokyo.

My experience with silent films is limited but I usually expect a melodramatic love story or slapstick comedy. This was neither. It was more a dark snapshot of the Japanese culture and mindset which examined the different definitions of what a woman of Tokyo is. To simply watch the film would have made for a wonderful night but what really made it special was the live performance of an original score. Composer Wayne Horvitz joked that he chose this film because “it was the shortest” but he took his task seriously and the results were perfect. Horvitz, on piano, was joined by a vibraphone player, a double-bassist, a drummer, and a man who played sax and bass clarinet. This combo played a jazzy score with a strong film-noir vibe that really informed the action on screen. It could have easily been set to somber music that accented the tragedy of the film but instead Horvitz chose to make it feel more like a mystery. Musical selections for one scene would often begin and the end of the previous scene with the effect of throwing you a little off kilter and building anticipation for what was about to come. The greatest moment of both film and accompaniment came when a character took a grave phone call in a room filled with chiming clocks. While the camera cut back and forth between the woman’s blank expression and the clocks on the wall the music dissolved into an eerie ambience. The drummer kept a steady tick-tock with a wood block while the vibes man played the edge of his instrument with a bow and Horvitz struck the piano strings at strategic moments. As the action returned so did the melody but the tick-tocking continued. I got distracted from the film because I was so intrigued watching the musicians and I almost missed one of the most important moments of the movie.

In fact that would be my one complaint if I had any. The presence of live musicians often took my attention away from the screen. But really, how often does one get to experience something like this. I wouldn’t want to see every movie with a live band but on this night it was something special and who would have thought that a place called the World Financial Center would be the perfect place for it.

Jonathan Zuckerman

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