Monday, June 24, 2019

Tonight's Movie: An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

In his 2011 review of Yasujiro Ozu's AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON (1962), Robert Ebert wrote "From time to time I return to Ozu feeling a need to be calmed and restored."

Over the last few years I've become familiar with that feeling, and when I felt the need for a cinematic "palate cleanser" after the sordidness of THE TARNISHED ANGELS (1957), Ozu was the first thing which popped into my head. I know any one of his movies will be peaceful and soothing, while simultaneously causing me to Think Big Thoughts about life, and watching AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON was really the perfect choice after the previous movie.

AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON, known in its native Japan as SANMA NO AJI, was sadly the director's last film; he died in 1963. It follows the pattern of a number of his earlier films, in which a parent (Chishu Ryu) must part with a beloved child (Shima Iwashita) when she marries.

Ozu's films are slow yet never dull, taking the viewer on a naturalistic journey through the characters' lives. A series of circumstances convinces the widowed Hirayama (Ryu) that it's in his daughter's best interest to marry so that she can have a home of her own and not spend the remainder of her life caring for him, ultimately to be left alone.

There is heartbreak -- a hoped-for match which is not to be, a father beginning life alone the night of the wedding -- but also comedy and great beauty. Some of Ozu's trademark static shots of signs and objects made me sigh with bliss, appreciating the bright pops of red against the pale backgrounds, and the first shot of Michiko in her wedding dress is exquisite.

Again like some of his previous films, Ozu uses an elliptical style which sometimes omits important moments. Just as EQUINOX FLOWER (1958), to name one example, skips the daughter's wedding, in AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON we never once see the bridegroom! I regretted him not appearing in a single scene, but it was an interesting choice.

I always love the baseball scenes in Ozu's movies, and there's a marvelous sequence where a game is being watched in a bar; I love the familiar rhythms of the game described in Japanese. Also fun was a rooftop driving range and Hirayama's son (Keiji Sada) being obsessed with MacGregor golf clubs.

I was intrigued by a discussion about what life would have been like if Japan had won the war, with Hirayama ultimately saying he thinks it's good Japan lost. Fascinating stuff.

There tends to be much drinking of sake in Ozu's films, but I felt that the drinking seemed to be rather overboard this time around, especially as Hirayama repeatedly runs into his old teacher (Eijiro Tono), who now runs a noodle shop and gets blitzed every time they get together. There were times I really wanted to take the bottle away from the fictional characters I was watching! But while they tend to drink much too much, it doesn't mar the film; I suppose it just makes them human.

Most importantly, the deceptively simple story causes the viewer to contemplate family, relationships, and the circle of life. While there are surface differences between life in the U.S. and Japan, starting with arranged marriages, the big issues of life are universal.

AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON runs 103 minutes. It was written by the director and Kogo Noda. The movie was filmed by Yuhara Atsuta.

I watched AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON on Criterion's DVD. The extras include a commentary track by Donald Bordwell.

Previously reviewed Ozu films: WHAT DID THE LADY FORGET? (1937), LATE SPRING (1949), EARLY SUMMER (1951), FLAVOR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE (1952), TOKYO STORY (1953), EQUINOX FLOWER (1958), GOOD MORNING (1959), LATE AUTUMN (1960), and THE END OF SUMMER (1961).

Related review: IN SEARCH OF OZU (2018).


Blogger Lee R said...

I always love reading your takes on Ozu films. Sometimes I will tell people I envy you for just now discovering so & so after a particular long time favorite subject of mine is new to someone else, be it books or films. Well, while it's been a few years now since I discovered Ozu I still consider myself fairly new to the classic Ozu's from the late '40's and all the '50's films but I have seen them all at least once now. But where I am a total newbie are the early Ozu's from the '20's to '30's. I'm still watching these for the first time. Recently saw Brothers & Sisters of Toda Family, An Inn In Tokyo, There Was A Father (pretty sad) & Where Now Are Dreams of My Youth. All an experience, some were funny, some were even odd and some were portends of the future for future Ozu's of the '50's and '60's. All of them have been interesting at the very least.

I still have some more early Ozu's to watch yet, starting with Lady & The Beard, Walk Cheerfully & Woman of Tokyo. I'm not sure if I'll keep up with watching these early Ozu's (there are still a few I haven't seen) because I'd much rather return to his masterpieces of the late '40's to '60's. But I'll watch these 3 more before I go back to the goodies. Even the corny silent comedy Ozu's are still interesting and usually have another side to them too.

But really, I must say none of them comes close to the quality of those of Ozu's of the '50's and '60's including a special mention should be made of another Ozu great from late '40's A Hen In The Wind, really absorbing. These were all masterpieces. As is the film you wrote of today, Autumn Afternoon. I especially like Ryu's performances of the older reflective father. He truly looks like he's thinking of his daughter's welfare while at the same time acknowledging to himself his own future loneliness. A self-less act of any good parent.

I'm also in total agreement with you statement about Ozu often will not show you the very subject of which his movie is concerned (a wedding, a groom). I have felt cheated when you don't get to see this, but it's what makes the Ozu experience that more unique.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Lee, thank you so much for your comments including your takes on various Ozu films, I enjoyed it! I still have a few of his films to experience for the first time, along with his early work -- the earliest Ozu I've seen to date was from 1937. It's kind of nice knowing some of those first-time experiences are still ahead of me to enjoy!

I enjoyed comparing notes!

Best wishes,

2:00 PM  

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