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.

“Will they lead the same sorry lives that we have?”

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The Eclipse box set title is “Three Family Comedies” but I’d forgotten that Ozu even made comedies until the opening titles played over a drawing of a kid holding his crotch. Then my realization “oh, this will be a zany comedy featuring kids doing dirty stuff” turned out to be off base. Sure, kids are the protagonists, and it features some comedy, but it all leads to the quote above (spoken by the kids’ father) which belongs firmly in drama territory.

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Dad’s got a new job so he moves the family close to work. Actually he moves ’em into the suburb where his boss lives, and it comes out later that dad is kind of a suck-up. The kids are intimidated by a pretty mild gang from their school until they learn to use their wooden shoes as weapons and they dominate the group. It’s kinda like the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey but with Japanese schoolchildren instead of apes.

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Most of the movie seems to be this low-key power struggle with the kids which includes searching for sparrow eggs to eat raw (to prove strength) and trying to get an ‘E’ (for ‘excellent’) in calligraphy at school. A scene at the boss’s house is the turning point. Everyone is watching the boss’s home movies in which our kids’ dad is making funny faces and cracking everyone up – everyone but his kids who are ashamed that their father is playing the fool. The older boy (Ryoichi) goes home, calls dad a yellowbelly and trashes the house until he gets spanked. Moods improve later and the movie ends with the kids relatively cheery again and getting along with the boss’s son (who dresses like Oddjob).

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One scene I didn’t get: the bully kids find a valuable coin, pool their money to make change, then hand over the change to a policeman and walk away bummed out. What happened?

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A scene in dad’s office where the camera follows a contagious yawn made me yawn too. Yes, there is camera movement in an Ozu film. Movie is obsessed with trains and streetcars too – there’s one passing behind the action whenever possible.

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Apparently Ozu’s Good Morning nearly thirty years later was a semi-remake.

TCM:

I Was Born, But…, which Ozu developed from his own story, is a social satire of comic delights and melancholy resignation to the innocence lost as the boys face up to the compromises that await them. The film won first prize at the Kinema Jumpo awards – the first of six such prizes he would eventually win – and is regarded as Ozu’s first genuine masterpiece.

Michael Koresky:

“I started to make a film about children and ended up with a film about grown-ups,” said Ozu, speaking to the film’s dark side. Because of this, Shochiku didn’t know what to do with the picture, even delaying its release for two months. This potent mix of comedy and pathos within the domestic space would, of course, continue to dominate Ozu’s oeuvre in the coming decades—and while the age disparity between the generations would grow smaller, the resentment gap would grow even wider.

My first mid-30’s silent film. Chaplin’s Modern Times doesn’t count, and the Russian Happiness was two years earlier. Japan still had union narrators in theaters, so their cinema stayed silent longer than most.

Traveling actor Kihachi brings his troupe to the town where his ex-girl and illegitimate son live. K. has made himself scarce, sending money whenever he can, so the boy (Shinkichi, now 20) could grow up without the burden of a no-good father, and whenever Kihachi’s in town he stays with the mother and sees the boy.

Kihachi’s current woman in the troupe suspects something is up, finds out the story through bribery and sets up younger girl Otoki to go after the boss’s son. The two fall in love, and Kihachi tries to break it up, leading to the revelation that he is Shinkichi’s father. Meanwhile, constant rain means the troupe can’t perform, and finally they’re out of work long enough to have to sell off their stuff and break up. After an emotional climax, the young lovers stay behind, and Kihachi and his girl make up at the train station, heading off to form a new troupe.

Great movie, slow-building, ends up as emotional and true-feeling as the other Ozus I’ve seen. I ought to watch at least one per year. They are refreshing. Kihachi somehow stays sympathetic even though he hits everyone in the movie at some point. That’s just how he communicates, I suppose. Definitely different kinds of families here than in Tokyo Story or Equinox Flower.

This was something like Ozu’s thirtieth movie, and it’s said to be the beginning of his mature style. It’s an uncredited remake of Hollywood’s oscar-winning part-talkie The Barker from 1928, which was also remade twice in Hollywood (with Clara Bow in ’33 and Betty Grable in ’45).

Half these actors had been in Ozu’s Passing Fancy the year before. The kid had later roles in Kon Ichikawa and Seijun Suzuki movies, and his father appeared in Ozu’s own 1959 color remake Floating Weeds. Maybe Katy will watch that with me next year – Masters of Cinema’s N. Wrigley calls it the most beautiful Ozu film.

This came right in between the two other Ozu films I’ve seen, around the same time as The Hidden Fortress, Underworld Beauty and Giants & Toys.

Ozu’s first color film (in a very nice looking print at Emory) and the handout told us to watch for the red teapot but didn’t say why. The teapot was often anchored in the corner of the shot, a helpful indicator of which way the camera is oriented in the room. Not too familiar with Japanese traditional housing so it confused me that there was a giant opening on both sides of the living room until I noticed the teapot. That probably wasn’t the intention.

Music is nice for the most part, but turns into an icky music-box score sometimes in the home scenes. Reading what I wrote about Tokyo Story, it says Ozu’s signature line is “it’s a beautiful day”… I remember it in this movie, though I don’t know if it was during the family outing at the lake or another time, because I wasn’t listening for it.

Stars Shin Saburi (from a few other Ozu films) as Hirayama, a man to whom everyone turns for family advice. He claims that happiness for the children is the most important thing, but when it comes to his own oldest daughter (Ineko Arima from Tokyo Twilight, The Human Condition and Late Chrysanthemums) he backs down and refuses to let her marry who she wants. Hirayama’s wife (Kinuyo Tanaka, star of Life of Oharu, Flowing, The Crucified Woman, Sansho the Bailiff) patiently waits it out as he wrestles with his daughter’s decision to marry without his consent, agrees to attend her wedding at the last minute, and finally goes to visit her new home in Hiroshima to make up for having never smiled at the wedding (final shot is his train leaving).

Hirayama’s younger daughter was Miyuki Kuwano, only 16 when this came out, starred in Oshima’s Naked Youth two years later. The family’s giant-mouthed friend from Osaka with health problems, Cheiko Naniwa, appeared in Mizoguchi’s The Crucified Woman. Hirayama’s good friend (whose daughter leaves home and marries against his will, working at a bar which Hirayama visits) is the great Yoshiko Kuga, main guy from Tokyo Story and everything else, appearing in 180 films, 32 of them by Ozu.

Everything works out in the end. Hirayama is on the train, his friend is seeing his own daughter again, and the big-mouthed woman’s daughter is thinking of marrying. All the men have lots of daughters in this film – there’s a theory presented for that, but I think it was just meant for laughs. The scenes at the bar with Hirayama and his employee are pretty funny, too – I’d forgotten that Ozu was sometimes a humorist. Ozu had a co-writer, and it’s based on a novel – not trying to credit the director with every line of dialogue, but he embraced it at least.

Senses of Cinema explains the style: “There are no long takes or are there any very brief shots in his films. Each character’s contribution to a dialogue is delivered in a single shot. This technique is not however, to be confused with television dialogue where one actor looks left to the other actor looking right. Ozu’s performers are centrally placed, looking at the listener, and, at the audience. Between each dialogue scene, there is an establishing shot. These are held longer than establishing shots are in other filmmaker’s works, and they contain very little movement, or if movement is present, it occurs in the distance, often at the junction in a long corridor framed either side by the walls.”

And: “Ultimately Ozu’s films are observational. The Osaka woman may be the most annoying and irritating individual in Equinox Flower, yet she is not judged by the film. Hirayama, in his stubbornness towards his daughter and in excusing himself to escape another conversation with the Osaka woman demonstrates his human fallibility. Ozu easily identifies his characters faults, but he readily understands and forgives their foibles. Along with Renoir, he is one of the great humanists of the cinema.”

Ozu’s final film, released less than a month before he died. Only my second, after Tokyo Story. Another film about family life, with emphasis on the play between generations in the same family and neighboring families. I know, that’s what they say all of his films are about.

It again stars Chishu Ryu (star of most late Ozu films, who lived through the 90’s and appeared in Kurowawa’s Ran) as a father (Hirayama). His wife died young, oldest son is married (and having money trouble), younger son lives at home, and daughter is marrying age but stays home to take care of her father and brother. Hirayama’s friends tell him that he should marry her off before she gets too old, and learn to take care of himself. He soon sees the wisdom in this, and tries first to pair her with a boy she has a crush on, the older brother’s friend. But when the boy turns out to be engaged already, the father goes to a guy his friend had in mind (who I don’t think we ever see).

Some post-war bits (we find out Hirayama was in the army when one of his former soldiers recognizes him in a bar). Oh, and he goes to the bar because the barmaid looks like his late wife when she was younger… would be a sorta sad scene, him drinking alone and gazing at this woman, if not for the soldier distractingly (comically) playing battle hymns and marching/saluting along.

Apparently this was the part of Ozu’s career when he had started to sympathize with younger generations, instead of showing them to be lazy and disrespectful (see: Tokyo Story). Didn’t sympathize TOO much though, as the oldest son is spoiled and irresponsible, taking money from his dad and blowing it on golf clubs. Even only having seen one of Ozu’s films before, I was startled when the movie began because it was in color… I think of him as a black-and-white filmmaker. So happy to see that Ozu is the Master everyone says he is, that his movies are so heartfelt and wonderful to watch. I get that Jean Renoir feeling of well-being afterwards, even though Tokyo Story (and The Lower Depths) was mostly depressing. Looking forward to his other 40+ features!

After a decade of slow self-education in cinephilia, I’ve finally sat down and watched an Ozu movie.

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These happy folks are travelling to the city to visit their children and grandchildren. It’s implied that they won’t make the trip again, then right after they get home, the wife dies. The kids aren’t very receptive, can’t be bothered to break away from their daily lives and jobs and make time to treat their parents with respect and attention. Their daughter-in-law, though, wife of their deceased son, takes them in, takes time off work to entertain them, and is the one who seems saddest at the wife’s funeral.

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Nicely paced, very well told story. Liked it surprisingly well… figured it’d be an overlong slow-paced thing full of symbolism I don’t understand… but it’s just a modern family story. Apparently all of Ozu’s films are modern family stories, each just like the last, and all just as good. Looking forward to finding out for myself.

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Listened to thirty minutes of the commentary before my burned DVD crashed the computer and I gave up. Remember allll the shots have those low camera angles demonstrated by the cinematographer in Tokyo-Ga. He says something about ellipses in continuity, how actions are implied but not shown and how characters names and positions are slowly revealed instead of being explained up front… viewer has to pay closer attention than usual to figure out what’s happening. Says Ozu’s signature dialogue is “It’s a beautiful day”, said twice in this movie. Setsuko Hara (the daughter-in-law, above) was “one of the genuine superstars of Japanese cinema”. Wenders’ Until the End of the World is a tribute to Ozu (maybe I won’t hate it next time after I’ve seen a few Ozu films). Tokyo Story is sometimes seen as a remake of Leo McCarey’s Make Way For Tomorrow. And Ozu makes “mini documentaries of Japanese middle-class life”.

Katy didn’t watch it. Can’t even guess if she would’ve liked it or not.
EDIT 2015: Katy liked it.