Friday, January 02, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Late Spring (1949)

LATE SPRING (1949), the seventh film reviewed from my 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.

That's pretty much the entire plot of this 108-minute film, but as with other Ozu films, that bare bones description doesn't come close to doing the film justice. What matters is how the story is told, and it's by turns lyrical, elegant, and moving, particularly the father's extended talk to the reluctant Noriko about choosing to be happy and building a new life with her husband.

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.

There's a red herring of a suitor, Hattori (Jun Usami), and we later realize that the reason Noriko enjoys his company so well is not because she's in love with him, but because she knows he's committed elsewhere; Hattori is thus not a threat as far as her life changing. (Even more curiously, it's implied that Hattori is carrying a torch for Noriko, though he never acts on it beyond trying to convince her to attend a concert with him.) Noriko's real suitor and eventual husband is never seen, only discussed by others.

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).


Blogger Kristina said...

Very intrigued by these Ozu pictures. It's so exciting to discover totally new (to me anyway) areas of film, especially when they come so highly recommended. Will definitely try to watch these soon.

6:14 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

This sounds fascinating. Love your description.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

My daughter and I shared the experience of this movie. We couldn't even discuss it fully, only sit holding hands quietly.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all for the comments!

Kristina, like you I so enjoy finding new areas of film to explore. For me in the last 18 months or so the big new areas have been Ozu (need to see more soon!) and British noir with American lead actors. :)

Jacqueline, I think you would really appreciate this in part for what it reflects about the culture of the time in Japan. Likewise his '50s films.

Caftan Woman, that ending really does engender a lump in the throat, doesn't it? Yet so beautiful.

Best wishes,

11:30 AM  

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