While watching Yasujirô Ozu’s Late Spring, I initially was unable to engage with Ozu’s sparse and austere filmmaking. This is a film that’s much more about the relationships among the characters than about anything happening. Although I am no stranger to such an approach and like films that a lot of people would consider boring, I was not finding Late Spring particularly engaging. But by the end, I found myself quite moved by the film; its restrained style was winning me over even if I didn’t realize it at first.
The story, such as it is, revolves around a father, Shukichi (Chishû Ryû) and daughter, Noriko (Setsuko Hara). Shukichi is a widower and Noriko lives with him and takes care of him. In her late twenties, Noriko is past the age where people expect her to be married. One of the most vocal of those people is Shukichi’s sister, Masa (Haruko Sugimura), who warns Shukichi that he has an obligation to encourage Noriko to establish her own life because he will die one day leaving her alone. Noriko is reluctant to get married, so her father fabricates a story that convinces her and the film ends with her marriage.
Late Spring was made in 1949, shortly after the end of the war and Ozu had to navigate the censors of the Allied occupation. Fear of censorship compelled Ozu to present a more modern approach to Noriko’s marriage, downplaying the arranged nature of it and focusing on the personal nature of her decision. The film walks a thin line between traditional values and the modern world and does so in a subtle and deceptively complex way. I watched the film ignorant of the context in which is was made but was nonetheless fascinated by its portrayal of the young, modern and outspoken Noriko.
Late Spring has a deliberately slow pace with many long and beautiful shots. It depicts many aspects of daily life and much of the film transpires within the walls of Shukichi and Noriko’s home. Many important events happen off-screen and are revealed through the interaction among the characters. The viewer is challenged to interpret the reliability of the character’s explanations of what transpires. This is especially true of Noriko. We never see the man she is engaged to and can only wonder to what degree she is happy with her decision.
Because of my initial reaction to the film, Late Spring has been one of the more difficult films for me to assess in terms of the 50 Greatest Films of All Time. I watched this about a week ago and it has increased in my estimation over time. If I had ranked it immediately, it probably would have ended up farther down the list.
My ratings so far:
- Metropolis (1927)
- Citizen Kane (1941)
- The Rules of the Game (1939)
- Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
- City Lights (1931)
- Bicycle Thieves (1948)
- Late Spring (1949)
- The General (1926)
- The Man with the Movie Camera (1929)
- L’Atalante (1934)
- Battleship Potemkin (1925)
- The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Next Up: Rashomon