17 May 2016

Translation: Flavor of Green Tea over Rice

Excerpt translated from French from "L'Elégance du Hérisson" by Muriel Barbery, Gallimard edition, p. 186-188. 

Two reasons, both related to Ozu’s films. 

The first rests in the sliding doors themselves. Since I saw my first film, “Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice,” I have been fascinated by space in Japanese life and by those sliding doors that refuse to slice through the air, sliding gently on invisible rails. When we open a door, we transform our surroundings in tiny ways. We introduce an obstacle into their full extension and an ill-advised breach of inadequate proportions. If you think about it, there is nothing uglier than an open door. Like a rupture, it introduces a provincial interference in the room that breaks the unity of the space. In the adjoining room, it foments a depression, a gaping yet stupid fissure, lost in a section of wall that would have preferred to have been whole. In both cases, it disturbs continuity without any other benefit than the ability to circulate, something that is possible through other means. The sliding door avoids pitfalls and glorifies space. Without altering its balance, it allows for its metamorphosis. As it opens, two places communicate with one another without offending each other. As it closes, it restores integrity to each. Division and coming together take place without intrusion. Life is a calm promenade, whereas otherwise, it resembles a series of break-ins.        

“It’s true,” I say to Manuela. “It’s more practical and less brutal.”

The second reason comes from an association that led me from sliding doors to women’s feet. In Ozu’s films, there are numerous shots where an actor pushes aside a door, enters, and takes off his shoes. The women, especially, demonstrate a special talent as these actions unfold. They enter, slide the door along the wall, and in two small, rapid steps inch their way to the foot of the elevated space found in living rooms. Without bending over, they remove their laceless shoes and, through a gracious and fluid movement of their legs spin around after having climbed the platform they approached with their backs turned. Their skirts swell lightly. The bending of the knee, necessitated by the ascension, is energetic and precise. The body effortlessly follows this pirouette performed on the feet. As if the ankles were tied together, a curiously broken gait ensues. However, while usually, impeded gestures evoke a sense of constraint, the small steps animated by an incomprehensible halting gait grant the seal of a work of art to the women’s feet as they walk.  

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