Late Spring (1949, Yasujiro Ozu)

First of three Ozu movies within a few years in which Setsuko Hara is named Noriko. Here she’s a young woman (but not so young anymore) living with her absent-minded professor father (Chishu Ryu of Tokyo Story), refusing thoughts of marriage so she can take care of him. She hangs out with Aya, a cousin about her age, and her dad’s assistant Hattori, who is already engaged to another woman. Elder relatives meddle as usual: an irritating aunt (Haruko Sugimura) insists Noriko should marry, and twice-wed uncle Onodera offers a different perspective on marriage. Finally Noriko’s dad forces her hand, lies that he’s marrying an aquaintance so she’ll leave home and live her own life. It’s a movie full of very small revelations, building to a huge emotional moment. The movie has told us that Noriko will adjust to married life and grow to love it, though she seems unhappy on her wedding day, and her dad has said that he wants only what’s best for his daughter, but he cries when he’s finally alone. Most relationship movies end with a wedding, but this one has a very different take.

The meddling aunt starred in Naruse’s Late Chrysanthemums (not this one), also in the final segment of Kwaidan, and uncle Onodera was in Pigs and Battleships. This was Hara’s first film for Ozu, having previously starred in Kurosawa’s No Regrets For Our Youth. Katy liked, but can’t figure out its top-twenty placing in the Sight & Sound list.

M. Atkinson for Criterion:

Ozu’s Zen-infused sensibility translates on film to something like the art form’s nascent formal beauty: patiently watching little happen, and the meditative moments around the nonhappening, until it becomes crashingly apparent that lives are at stake and the whole world is struggling to be reborn. … Late Spring is a hushed battlefield where no one is right or wrong. We watch the infliction roll out inexorably, wishing there were a cheesy, American-style resolution somewhere on the horizon in which all of the well-meaning characters could be happy. But that’s not Ozu. Ozu is the natural energy of Noriko’s generous grin, dispensed selflessly in all social situations, until she realizes where her life is helplessly headed – and the blood-cooling shock of seeing that resilient smile finally drop.

“The turning point is the uninterrupted, eight-minute performance of a Noh drama during which Noriko suddenly becomes aware of her father’s apparent interest in an attractive widow and realizes he may not actually need her after all.” From a good James Williams article in Film Quarterly on the influence of Late Spring on Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum:

Certain episodes correspond exactly: for example, the Noh play and the Nightshift sequence, the final trip together to Kyoto and the journey to Lubeck (both feature a scene where the pair sleep side-by-side like lovers), an abortive concert, and the focus on preparations for mar- riage rather than the ceremony itself … What particularly interests her in Late Spring is its representation of the “strong yet awkward” father figure that resonates so powerfully with her own family background.

Related posts