Yasujiro Ozu's LATE SPRING, about a widower trying to get his devoted daughter to leave home and marry, is one of the master's great films, generally acknowledged as representing the start of his cycle of stylistically spare, beautifully observed classics examining strained filial
relationships in middle-class Japanese families.
Noriko (Setsuko Hara) lives with her father (Chishu Ryu), a widowed professor named Shukichi. She's content to fix his meals, sew his clothes, and take care of him, but her aunt Masa (Haruko Sugimura) decides that it's time she should get married and talks her father into letting her fix Noriko up
with a man named Satake, whom she says looks like "the American from that baseball movie--Gary Cooper." Noriko tells her she could never leave her father, but Masa tells her not to worry because she has a woman for him to marry, and he has given his approval. Noriko and her father go to a Noh play
and they see the woman whom her aunt wants him to marry. On the trip home, Noriko gets mad, but won't tell her father why, and she runs away to see a friend, whom she also has a fight with. Later, her father tells her it's time for her to leave and that it would upset him if she didn't marry,
especially since he's now going to remarry. He says that his life is coming to an end and hers is just beginning. She reluctantly agrees to meet Satake.
A week later, the aunt is still waiting for an answer from Noriko whether she'll marry Satake. Noriko discusses it with her friend, who tells her to do it even if she doesn't love him, because they can always get divorced. Noriko goes home and tells her aunt that she'll do it. After the wedding,
Shukichi goes to a sake bar with some friends and tells them that he won't be getting remarried, that it was just a ploy to get Noriko to agree. He goes home alone into an empty house and starts to peel an apple, then begins to cry. Outside, the waves break onto the shore.
Made in 1949, LATE SPRING wasn't shown in America until 1972, when Ozu was still an unfamiliar name to all but the most knowledgeable cinephiles. His masterpiece TOKYO STORY (1953) had just finished a long run in New York, but the majority of his work was still unseen in the West. LATE SPRING
confirmed that Ozu, considered to be the "most Japanese" of Japanese filmmakers, was indeed one of the world's great directors, and the complete opposite of the better known Akira Kurosawa, both in style and content. LATE SPRING was one of Ozu's own personal favorites, and it's easy to see why.
All of the key ingredients we now associate with the classic Ozu style are first seen here in perhaps their quintessential form. The use of trains and train stations; the complete absence of fades, dissolves and other transition devices; the long static interiors of people talking, with the camera
always placed just above floor level, alternating with brief exteriors and still-life tableaux of flowers, trees, and clothes blowing in the wind. The only time there is any camera movement whatsoever in LATE SPRING is when a character or a vehicle travels outdoors. There are a couple of shots
taken from the side of a train as it moves down the tracks, another one where Noriko goes for a bicycle ride at the beach, and finally when Noriko and her father walk home from the Noh play and we see the father's POV as Noriko runs away from him. Ozu wanted nothing to get in the way of character,
and that's what his films are really about: the revelation of character and the universality of human emotions, regardless of time or place. His serene camera style and meticulous mise-en-scene, involving painstaking placement of actors and inanimate objects within the frame, as well as strictly
controlling the performances so that one should not stand out from another, are designed to cut through the ephemera of contemporary existence to reveal a deeper reality. The rejection of fades, dissolves, or flashy editing also serves to create a sense of life unfolding without any distractions
and distills the essence of emotional truth. One is left with an overwhelming sense of knowledge about these characters and of human nature, and finally, a recognition of the profound sadness of everyday life. LATE SPRING is truly transcendent.
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- Review: Yasujiro Ozu's LATE SPRING, about a widower trying to get his devoted daughter to leave home and marry, is one of the master's great films, generally acknowledged as representing the start of his cycle of stylistically spare, beautifully observed classics… (more)