10 Classics list, is a beautiful and affecting reflection on inevitable life changes.
The movie, titled BANSHUN in Japan, was directed by Yasujiro Ozu, a filmmaker I've come to admire tremendously over the past 18 months. This was the fourth Ozu film I've seen and the first in black and white, as I started out watching some of his late-career color films. Although I missed the shiny pops of color from those later films, this black and white movie was beautiful in its own way.
Noriko, played by Setsuko Hara, is in her late 20s, and her father (Chishu Ryu) and aunt (Haruko Sugimura) feel it's time she marries. Noriko resists the idea, as she wants to stay with her widowed father, but eventually she is convinced to move on with her life and consent to an arranged marriage with someone who is said to be a fine man.
Noriko's father, who encouraged Noriko to marry with hints he is thinking of remarriage, returns home from her wedding to begin his new life living alone.
The reasons for Noriko's desire to remain with her father are never really made clear, although it's mentioned that she became ill during the war, perhaps as the result of overwork or malnutrition. Now that she is healthy again and living a life of quiet contentment in the postwar world, perhaps she is afraid to rock the boat with scary new life changes, especially having been through difficult times due to the war and, one assumes, the death of her mother.
The father's nobility, putting what he feels is best for his child above his own wishes, leads to a deeply moving final scene as he returns to his empty home and slowly peels an apple. For a parent such as myself whose own children are gradually moving out into the world, one can't help but be touched. The film then cuts to waves coming in and out at the shore, underscoring the inevitability of time passing and life changing.
Ozu's style is leisurely but never dull, and there are also nice bits of humor mixed in with the moving moments. Jovial Professor Onodera (Masao Mishima) provides nice comic relief, whether teasing Noriko or exhibiting his difficulty with directions in an amusing scene with her father.
Such small moments may not have much to do with the plot, yet they don't feel superfluous. Watching an Ozu film feels akin to reading a richly detailed novel, as we are there alongside the characters to observe moments big and small.
As with Ozu's other films, another theme is postwar Westernization. Noriko passes a big Coca-Cola sign, and the neighborhood boys are obsessed with baseball. Noriko's suitor is described repeatedly as being as handsome as Gary Cooper, the actor who starred in "the baseball movie." Noriko's friend Aya (Yumeji Kitagawa) lives in a completely Westernized home, in fascinating contrast to Noriko's own traditional Japanese home. The fact that a story of life changes is playing out against the backdrop of a changing Japan adds another interesting layer to the film.
LATE SPRING was filmed by Yuharu Atsuta.
This film is available on DVD or Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. There are many extras including a commentary track and a booklet of essays.
Previously reviewed Ozu films: GOOD MORNING (1957), EQUINOX FLOWER (1958), and LATE AUTUMN (1960).