A few observations on Ozu’s ‘Late Spring’…

late-spring-noriko-and-shukichi-watching-a-noh-play

The more I watch the exquisitely crafted, understated, finely balanced films of Yasujiro Ozu, the more enchanted I become.

Mark Cousins recently hosted a live messaging session on Twitter as Film 4 screened Ozu’s 1949 classic LATE SPRING. I unfortunately missed it, but managed to capture the chain of tweets here.

Reading all the comments inevitably led me to watching the film again. I have to say that when I first saw it, some years ago, this film did not have the immediate impact of say TOKYO STORY, but my admiration of it grows with each viewing, and it is now one of my favourite Ozu.

Gary Tooze, in DVDBeaver, thinks so too:-

One of the most powerful of Yasujiro Ozu’s family portraits, Late Spring tells the story of a widowed father who feels compelled to marry off his only, beloved daughter. Loyal Ozu players Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara command this poignant tale of love and loss in postwar Japan, which remains as potent today as ever—almost by itself justifying Ozu’s inclusion in the pantheon of cinema’s greatest directors.

 

For me “Late Spring” eclipses “Tokyo Story” as my favorite Ozu film. His continued style of the 180 degree cuts when there is conversation is so elegant, restrained and respectful. The emotion his films bring underplay the directors constant future theme of bridging of familial conflict, communication and unselfish love. One of the greatest films I have ever seen.

Roger Ebert is also a fan:-

“Late Spring” is one of the best two or three films Ozu ever made, with “Early Summer” deserving comparison. Both films use his distinctive later visual style, which includes precise compositions for a camera that almost never moves, a point of view often representing the eye-level of a person sitting on a tatami mat, and punctuation through cutaways to unrelated exteriors. He almost always used only one lens, a 50mm, which he said was the closest to the human eye.

 

Here he wordlessly uses time and space to establish the routine and serenity of the household arrangements between father and daughter, in a sequence showing them coming and going, upstairs and down, through the rooms and central corridors of their house. They know their way around each other. Late in the film, threatened by the marriage, Noriko keeps picking things up and putting them on a table, compulsively acting out her domestic happiness.

Ebert also notes:-

So much happens out of sight in the film, implied but not shown.

Ozu is often happy to leave events offstage, or simply implied via narrative ellipses. As Mark Cousins tweets about one key event:-

revelation of marriage – one of those great Ozu jumps across a story chasm.

Andy Moore, on the Howard Assembly Room website, looks at how Ozu treats another important scene:-

In one of the films most heartbreaking scenes, Noriko and her father Shukichi attend a Noh play. Noriko glances forlornly across the room at Ms Misa, the woman her father has claimed he will soon be marrying, jealous and devastated at the thought of the forthcoming loss of the most important person in her life. Through a series of straightforward cuts between the two women and Shukichi, Ozu manages to communicate the immense depth of Noriko’s dedication and love for her father, her profound sadness at the thought of leaving him and the exceptional closeness of father and daughter. The scene is a testament to both the extraordinary skill of actress Setsuko Hara and Ozu’s ability to say so much with so little.

 

Unhurried and masterfully controlled, this is a film of quiet, contemplative beauty and measured but devastating emotional impact. Late Spring truly deserves its reputation as one of the cinema’s most powerful and affecting dramas, a timeless meditation on love, loss and the strength of familial bonds.

This film has been linked to a more recent release by a filmmaker who is a big fan of Ozu. As Mark Cousins tweets:-

Claire Denis told me the apple scene at end influenced ending of Beau Travail

Which prompted @PhilB to say:-

Its worth mentioning Claire Denis “35 Shots of Rum” a retelling of #LateSpring

What a great double-bill that would make! I think I’ll need to find my copy of both these Denis films.

I’ll leave the last word to Mark Cousins, who started this off:-

I’m sticking to my choice of Late Spring as the greatest film ever. Timeless; pure, perfect cinema.

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