Ozu’s “Late Spring”

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In Ozu Yasujiro’s 1949 film “Banshun” (Late Spring; the first part of the Noriko Trilogy that included “Early Summer” and “Tokyo Story”), 27-year-old Noriko (Hara Setsuko, dubbed “the eternal virgin” who remained unmarried offscreeen and retired following Ozu’s death) wants to continue taking care of her 57-year-old widower father, Professor Somiya (Ryû Chishû). As in many Ozu films, the father drinks heavily with work associates and enjoys a stable domestic life with an uncomplaining quasi-servant woman relative (daughter here, wife in other films) and is at least unconsciously jealous of suitors for the daughter he monopolizes (with no visible resentment from her).

In other Ozu movies, a mother guarantees continuity and gently pushes her husband to accept that their daughter is grown up and should have her own life. In “Late Spring” it is the aging girl’s aunt Masa (Sugimura Haruko) who pushes, not for independence, but for a change of dependence from father to a husband for Noriko.

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Without the pressure from his sister, Somiya was quite content with the status quo. Given Setsuko’s ability to smile bravely, it is not possible to gauge if she is so uninterested in marrying as she seems and says she is. There is no indication that she wants sex. She does not discuss that with her divorced friend or with her relentlessly if gently pushing aunt. Her father tries to reassure her that she will become happy and come to love the husband selected for her. (Though he does not intend to marry again, he tells Noriko that he is going to marry the widow Miwa (Miyake Kuniko) to allay Noriko’s fear that he will have no one to serve him once she leaves.)

Even on their last pre-wedding trip to Kyoto, she pleads to continue her happiness living with her father, as he dutifully pushes her away, as convenient as her familiar services are to him. Unlike Hara, whose sad eyes often contradict a forced smile. Ryû smiles with his eyes.

Not only is the wedding not shown (though Noriko has a scene in her bridal dress—with her father and aunt), but the groom to whom Noriko is being consigned is never shown.

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Although there are many prototypically Ozu static shots down a corridor into a room (with people bowing and bowing and bowing) and shots of people moving through (and, often enough, out of) the frame, and even a sequence of shots in which a train passes through the frame, followed by another one in which a train passes through the frame, there is at least one tracking shot of the train. And there are more exterior shots (many without people in the frame) than in other Ozu films shot entirely on the Shochiku Ofuna lot. The movie ends with a lingering shot of very gente waves coming in to the shore (not like the surf pounding in “From Here to Eternity” that clearly signals sexual intercourse!).

It came in 38th in the most recent (2009) decennial Kinema Junpo ranking of the 100 best Japanese films of all time (Tokyo Story topped the list: see http://letterboxd.com/mongoosecmr/list/kinema-junpos-greatest-japanese-films/).

Ichikawa Kon remade the black-and-white “Late Spring” in color for Japanese television as “A Daughter’s Marriage” in 2003 commemorating the centennial of Ozu’s birth.

Goto Daisuke claimed that his 2003 softcore erotica film “A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn” (Chikan gifu) was heavily shaped by “Late Spring.” Also in 2002 Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien (who adopted the static camera setups from Ozu) made a 21st-century update “Café Lumière” (Kōhī Jikō) for Shochiku.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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