Ruth L. Ozeki was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut, by an American father and a Japanese mother, both of whom taught at Yale University. She graduated summa cum laude from Smith College with degrees in English Literature and Asian Studies, then received a Japanese Ministry of Education fellowship and emigrated to Japan to do graduate work in classical Japanese literature at Nara Women's University. She worked in Kyoto University before realizing that none of these were viable long-term career options.
Ozeki returned to New York and began a film career as an art director for low-budget horror movies, making sets and props for films with names like Robot Holocaust, Mutant Hunt, Breeders, and Necropolis. She then switched to Japanese production work, trading blood and prosthetics for the more subtle horrors of network TV. After several years of coordinating and directing "documentary-style" television programs, she started making her own films. Body of Correspondence, made in 1994, won the "New Visions" Award at the San Francisco Film Festival, and was screened at the Sundance Film Festival and on PBS. Her most recent film, Halving the Bones (1995), traced her mother's Japanese roots and offered an exotic portrait, partly factual and partly speculative, of her maternal grandparents and their lives in Hawaii. Variety described it as "an intensely personal and lyrical exploration of family history... Roots with a little Joy Luck Club thrown in," and it aired at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the 1996 Asian American Film Festival in San Francisco, the 1996 Sundance Film Festival, and many other venues, as well as being shown on PBS.
During an interview at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival, a journalist remarked, "So I suppose you've always dreamed of becoming a filmmaker?" to which Ozeki replied, "No, I've always dreamed of becoming a novelist." That year, dead broke like her hero Jane, she started writing My Year of Meats. Ozeki says that she "was testing a hunch that even in literature, point of view, as we traditionally experience it, has been turned on its ear by MTV, editing, and multiple camera angles." She is very interested in the cross-over between documentary and fiction, paralleling the subjective/objective shifts in voice that occur in her novel. "I have worked in commercial television long enough to know that these are somewhat specious distinctions," she says. "In order to 'work' in a visual medium, issues must be so radically edited and simplified as to belie complex truths, as though the introduction of images switches off the intellect. I wanted to make a book that could really exploit what a book could do: it could be full of complexity; it could shift points of view even while it talked about shifting points of view; it could transgress simple categories; and it could travel around the world and have a big cast and lots of interesting locations, without costing a fortune."
Currently Ruth is working on a second novel, and divides her time between New York City and an island off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia. (09/09)
Halving the Bones
A film by Ruth Ozeki, 1995, 70 min., Color/BW
Skeletons in the closet? HALVING THE BONES delivers a surprising twist to this tale. This cleverly-constructed film tells the story of Ruth, a half-...