Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Only Son/There Was a Father

It was a real thrill to get the chance to work with Adrian Tomine on The Only Son/There Was a Father. He really "gets" Ozu, and of course his line is absolutely gorgeous.

Interestingly, Ozu seems to be a favorite filmmaker of a LOT of cartoonists--I know at least Tomine, Seth, and Chris Ware are all big fans. I wonder if maybe that's because his frames are so often static, and so artfully composed, so you can almost see it rippling out as panels in a graphic novel… (For the record, that's my observation and not Adrian's--he just thinks Ozu is one of the great filmmakers, which, of course, is also true.)

Anyway, the easiest thing to do, I think, is just to reproduce the text of the note I sent to Adrian at the beginning of the project:


As I think will be obvious to you, the important relationships in both these films are parent and child: in The Only Son it’s Mother and Son, in There Was a Father, it’s Father and Son. Those are definitely the relationships we’d like to focus on for the covers—probably to the exclusion of any other characters.

The shot that sticks out to Kim (the producer of this disc), is this moment from about halfway through:

This is a great mother/son moment, and the smokestacks in the background also do a lot of good work, hinting at the city/country contrast, and also emphasizing the working class roots of these characters (which are of course a big driving force in the story.) Here’s a better shot of the smokestacks:

So that’s one idea that we’d love to see you try, plus anything else that suggests itself to you, keeping that focus on mother and son in mind.


Again, the main thing is the Father/Son relationship. A recurring motif in this film is the father and son, shot from behind at a distance:

Kim is very drawn toward that kind of visual (particularly that first iteration there, with the two walking together away from their house, the son with his school bag being a nice touch), and would love to see something like that in a cover. But again, that’s just one idea to try, we’re open to others.


The most difficult part of any set like this is the slipcase cover, as we’ll need to somehow serve both films well without privileging one over the other. Here’s one idea that Kim has suggested, which I think could work pretty well: She’s imagining an empty room, lovingly composed with the shoji screens Ozu was so fond of, seen from the low, straight-ahead angle that Ozu loved to use. In the foreground, we see the red teapot that Ozu used in so many of his films. Here’s a shot of the teapot, and another (better composed, in my opinion) shot of an empty room--the teapot’s in there, too, but less prominently:

The idea being, it’s a domestic scene that’s entirely about the absence of characters, just as parent and child are physically distant from each other in both films.

One possible variant on this idea, if the empty room is feeling too spare, might be to include hints of parent and child, cropped just outside of the frame (so that hopefully the figures can be obscured enough to stand in for either parent/child combination): parent in the foreground, child in the background (i.e. the next room), to symbolize their separation from each other. This kind of relationship:

Or as I say, if you have another idea--maybe even something as simple as a dyptich, with one image from each film—we’re all ears.


As we move further into the packaging, we can stray a little further from the “high concept” stuff that tries to encapsulate the entire film(s), and toward some smaller moments. I’d like to use those opportunities to create some fairly straightforward appreciations of Ozu’s compositions--almost, as you suggest, like film stills.

For example, there are a number of shots of laundry hanging on lines, flapping in the breeze, in The Only Son--I’d love to see something like that spread across the inside of the DVD wrap (underneath where the disc goes). If we don’t wind up using the smoke stacks on the cover (or even if we do, I suppose), an image of those would make a great disc label. Or, in There Was a Father, the images that immediately jump out to me are the umbrellas leaned against the wall and the lake where the boy drowns, or maybe some of the buddhist symbols Ozu keeps cutting away to. (I’ve included some images of all of that with this note.)

As you look through the film, keep an eye out for any of those kind of shots that speak to you, anything that you can visualize as a drawing. Jot down the timecode or a quick description of the shot and I’ll get you high-res stills as soon as the new master is ready.

While we do want to be respectful of Ozu’s compositions, I don’t think we need to be too slavish—obviously, we’ll be working with different size “canvases,” so the important thing it to be true to the spirit of the thing, while giving you some room to add your own artistry to the project.


I completely agree with your instinct to aim for a limited color palate on these. I probably wouldn’t want to go strict black/white/grey, though: in the context of our collection, where we deal with so many black and white films, I like to make a distinction between films where the black-and-whiteness is part of the essential character of the films (i.e. most Bergman), and those where it’s more simply a function of the technology of the time. I think these films stradle the line a bit--we probably wouldn’t want to see any bright bold colors, but pale muted tones feel kind of right, somehow. I think those are the kind of palates you seem to gravitate towards anyway, so I trust your instincts on that.

Re: design, I’m imagining things fairly simple: full bleed images, plain unfussy type. I’d like to let the images speak for themselves, without too much “design-y” mediation. But again, if as you’re working some more overt structure seems to present itself, I’m flexible on all this.

Adrian's work on this was pretty spot-on, so there wasn't a lot of back and forth in the sketch stage. The only thing we asked for was to move the father and son figures back in space a bit (i.e. make them a bit smaller). But aside from that, they were pretty much great from the get-go.

We picked our favorites from the smaller sketches, and Adrian finished up the art:

Finally, here's a few options I did for cover typography:

And here's where we finally landed:

Thanks again to Adrian for his amazing work!


Jordan Gray said...

there's been an embarrassment of riches lately on this blog. Excellent post. incredible post/artwork.

Jason said...

Another really interesting piece. Tomine and Phillips seem perfect for the respective jobs they did, while Clowes and some others not as immediately so. Despite some of the grumbling, I'm a fan of the illustrated covers.

I'm curious at what point in the process you decide to go with an illustration as opposed to a photo/still, and how soon you decide on an artist once that decision is made. Also, does the idea of matching a favorite illustrator to a certain filmmaker ever precipitate an illustrated cover over a photo cover? Thanks.

Tim said...

Thank you for sharing!

martyalen said...

Thank you. It's great to see Ozu's legacy lovingly preserved and honored. Great job!

Jeff said...

I'd love to see a post about the Blow Out cover.

emmanuel said...

Wonderful Work !

Eric Skillman said...

Thanks for all the kind words, everyone!

To Jeff: if I can manage to keep this pace up, Blow Out will almost certainly merit a post at some point (though, it'll probably be a pretty short post).

To Jason: interesting question! My answer was getting a bit long for a comment, so I'll give it a post all its own on the main page...

Also, if you're not immediately seeing the Clowes/Fuller connection, I'm guessing you haven't read Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron? ;)

Michael Lehane said...

Wow, thanks for sharing in such detail, what a dream brief!