Well, there’s a problem with perception here. Filmmakers like Ozu, Naruse, Gosho, Mizoguchi and others have all been held back by the Japanese because they felt these filmmakers were “too Japanese” for Western audiences to comprehend. While a filmmakers like Kurosawa has been called “too western” to be truly Japanese, but he asserts he’s never read a western critic that didn’t insert themes into his work, and he’s as Japanese as any other filmmaker.
Much of this comes down to ideas of the self and the community (‘giro’ and ‘ninjo’ in Japanese). Ozu, though an extremely individual formal style, is seen as celebrating the ideas of the “collective,” while Kurosawa is seen as a total individual.
In fact, filmmakers like Shohei Imamura and Yuzo Kawashima actual argue there is a perceptive Japan, one of quietness and contemplation and simple truths, and a “real” Japan, one of backsliding and betrayal and very human foibles, that they present. They argue that the perceptive Japan, the one the Japanese want to see themselves as, are very friendly to western audiences and explains the success of Ozu and Mizoguchi in foreign markets.
So, the question becomes more, “what do you perceive Japan as?” That must be answered first before we decide who is and isn’t Japanese.
Personally, I feel a great filmmaker presents a reality that is both specific and universal. So, I would argue great Japanese filmmakers are both very Japanese and very worldly (which definitely explains Ozu, Naruse, Gosho as well as Imamura and a bevy of others).
This is from one of my favorite members at Mubi. I quoted his entire comment because it is all brilliant, but the one point I wanted to focus on was the question “What do you perceive Japan as?” This question, and the comment as a whole, can be extended to any foreign cinema. The problem with the question is that we don’t address Japan (or any country really) on Japan’s terms. Rather, we project our own values and beliefs and then interpret whatever we’re discussing about their culture from our vantage point. To be as succinct as I can: That’s hustling backwards. What I find odd is how seldom this point is brought up in film discussion outside of Black Orpheus which is roundly criticized as being a tourist guide through Brazil and joys that poverty brings. My answer to the question would be that my perception of them is meaningless. They know themselves far more than I ever could. They are far more equipped to tell me about themselves than I am able to tell them about who they are.