I find it sad that Americans care nothing for Japanese poetry and paintings, little for classic Japanese films and way too much for Japanese cartoons; because Yasujiro Ozu is a Japanese director (who for a while was considered too Japanese) who can give a person so much insight on the simple lessons on life, love and family. Yasujiro Ozu's Late Spring is one of the greatest films on the relationship and bond between a father and daughter. The father Shukichi is a professor, a widower, who is greatly absorbed in his work. His 27 year old unmarried daughter, Noriko, runs his household for him, and the both are them are perfectly content with this arrangement until Shukichi's sister declare's that it is about time her niece finds a suitor and gets married. Noriko is in her late 20s and in Japanese culture in 1949 it is not appropriate for a single woman to be still living at home. Shukichi's sister warns him that it is his responsibility to find his daughter a man who can support her because when he is dead his daughter will be all alone in the world. When Noriko opposes the idea of marriage, her father lies and tells her he is going to remarry, sacrificing his own comfort for the future of his daughter. What makes Late Spring such a deeply sad story is that the father and daughter are forced into doing something that neither of them want to do and because of that it will result in resentment and unhappiness for the both of them. Only the aunt will emerge satisfied, and quite possibly Noriko's husband, but Ozu purposely never shows him although the aunt describes him saying, “He looks like Gary Cooper, around the mouth, but not the top part.” To me, Yasujirô Ozu is the most curious of all directors because most of his films focused on family, marriage, children and weddings, when Ozu himself was a bachelor and lived with his mother his whole life, dying alone months after she died.
The film opens with the sound of a train as a widower professor Shukichi Somiya (Chishu Ryu), is at his home working on a manuscript while his only child, 27-year-old daughter Noriko (Setsuko Hara) arrives home after leaving her Aunts Masa's tea ceremony. "I'm Home" she says to her father who is presently with his assistant, Hattori. Noriko tells her father how she has to go to Tokyo the next day to go shopping and get some household items.
The next day during her shopping trip to Tokyo, Noriko encounters one of her father's friends, Professor Jo Onodera, who lives in Kyoto, and they go to a restaurant together. Noriko knows that Onodera, who had been a widower like her father, has recently remarried, and she tells him that she finds the very idea of his remarriage distasteful, even "filthy". She smiles and he laughs but she is really serious in what she said.
Later in the day she brings him back home and Onodera and Shukichi have sake together. Noriko was very sick for some time after the war and Onodera tells Shukichi how his daughter is looking much better. Shukichi says, "It was forced labor during the war that made her ill. Terrible times. How must she had suffered."
In a beautifully shot scene Noriko the next day is riding bikes with her father's assistant Hatorri. Shukichi and his sister Masa are at Shukichi's home talking about how decades have changed with marriage and people. Masa brings up Noriko saying, "Her health is better, right? She should have married long ago." Masa asks Shukichi to see how Noriko feels about Hattori and later that afternoon when Noriko returns home and tells her father about the bike ride she had with Hattori her father asks what she thinks of him. Noriko says, "Think of him? He's quite nice." When Shukichi asks her if Hattori would make a good husband she starts laughing. She tells her father, "He's already engaged. Has been for a very long time. She's very sweet and beautiful. Three years behind me in school."
Noriko's friend Aya comes by the next day to see Noriko and she even believes Noriko should get married and questions her on it. Noriko knows her friend is a recent divorcee and believes she doesn't think she's the authority on the subject. Aunt Masa tries to serve as her niece’s matchmaker and doesn't give up on the search. She invites Noriko over to her home one day to have a talk with her and says, "Isn't it time you got married? I have a fine prospect. Won't you meet him? His name is Satake. He studied science at Tokyo University. He's from a good family. He's 34. Just right for you. His office speaks highly of him. What do you say? He looks like that American. The man in that baseball movie."
Noriko guesses, "Gary Cooper?" Her aunt replies, "that's right, Cooper. Looks just like him. He has the exact same mouth. His top half is different, though." Noriko says she doesn't want to get married yet because it will cause all sorts of problems for her father. She tells her Aunt, "I'm used to him and can handle him, but you know he can be difficult. If I left home, father would be lost. I'm the only one who knows what he needs." Her Aunt Masa tells her she has to forget about her father and now worry about herself. Masa surprises Noriko by claiming that she is also trying to arrange a match between Shukichi and Mrs. Miwa, an attractive young widow known to Noriko. If Masa succeeds, Shukichi would have someone other than Noriko to care for him.
At a Noh performance attended by Noriko and her father, Shukichi smilingly greets Mrs. Miwa, which triggers Noriko's jealousy and she starts to get sad. "Today's performance was quite good," Shukichi says to Noriko after the Noh show. Still upset, Noriko decides to head to Aya's house for some time.
That evening when returning home her father says that her Aunt sent a letter and wants her to come by on Saturday. He then brings up the man Satake and says, "She told you about him, didn't she? Just meet him once. He'll be there." Noriko asks, "Can't I just refuse?" Her father says, "At least meet him. You can always turn him down." Noriko is about to leave the room very upset but her father demands that she sits and listens and he then tells her, "I'm sure you've heard about this Satake from your aunt. I've met him. He's a fine young man. I don't think you'll be disappointed. See for yourself. You can't stay here forever. You have to marry sooner or later. I think it's about time."
Noriko says to her father how she would rather stay there with him but her father says it's out of the question. "Of course, it would make my life much easier," he tells her. "But it's not right. I've let you take care of me for too long. I didn't want to give you up. For that I owe you an apology." She asks what will happen to him and Shukichi said he will manage one way or another. Noriko insists to her father that he would be helpless without her because he can't do simple domestic things without making a mistake.
Shukichi then decides to fib to his daughter and he asks her, "What if somebody else looked after me?" When Noriko knows he is probably talking about Mrs. Miwa and suggesting he marry her, Noriko gets angry and runs up to her room and cries.
The next day, Noriko reluctantly decides to meet the young man named Satake, and to her surprise, gains a very favorable impression of him. A week passes and Aunt Masa tells Shukichi on how she is impatiently waiting for an answer from Noriko as soon as possible if she would accept Satake's hand in marriage. Masa suddenly finds a change purse in the city near the temple and tells Shukichi that this is good luck; even though he believes she should turn it in to the police.
Noriko's at her friend Aya's and Aya is dying to know all about Satake. Noriko tells her that her Aunt thinks Satake looks like Gary Cooper but Noriko think he looks more like their electrician. Aya then asks if her electrician looks like Gary Cooper and Noriko says, "yes...very much so." Aya says Satake sounds perfect and for her to marry him but Noriko tells her she doesn't like arranged marriages. Aya tells Noriko that she isn't that bold to walk but to a man and just propose to him so arranged marriage suits her, because Aya's last failed marriage wasn't arranged. Aya tells her friend, "Men are no good. Their devious. Before marriage they only show their good side, but once they have you, everything awful comes out. Go ahead and marry him. If he's no good, leave him."
That evening Noriko arrives home to find her Aunt Masa there waiting to ask Noriko for an answer. When questioned on Satake once again Noriko unenthusiastically says she will marry him. Her aunt happily says she will notify the other family right away and when leaving she reminds Shukichi on the purse she found earlier at the temple; and how it proved her right. Shukichi humorously says to her before she leaves, "you should turn that in." That evening Shukichi makes sure Noriko is marrying not out of resignation or against her will and Noriko says to her father, "not at all."
Before the upcoming wedding Shukichi and Noriko decide to take one last trip before the wedding to Kyoto, where they meet professor Onodera and his family and spend the day together. After a long fun day in Kyoto Noriko changes her opinion of Onodera's remarriage when she discovers that his new wife is a nice person.
That evening before bed Noriko tells her father, "Father...I didn't know his wife at all...yet I said such terrible things to Mr. Onodera. They make a wonderful couple." Her father says not to worry and that Onodera never took it seriously. Noriko then says to him, "Father...even in your case, I found the idea really distasteful." Noriko looks over to find her father asleep and she smiles and then her expression turns to sadness.
The next day Mr. Onodera tells Shukichi how Noriko will make a good wife. Shukichi says to him, "you raise them and off they go. If they're unwed, you worry. Yet if they do marry, you feel let down." The next morning while packing for the trip home, Shukichi tells his daughter that he had a great time with her and they should have done this more often in the past because now when heading home she'll be busy with her Aunt working on the upcoming wedding.
He then tells her that now her new husband can take her to the places they never got to go to. And yet Noriko looks sad and tells her father, "I...want us to stay as we are. I don't want to go anywhere. Being with you is enough for me. I'm happy as I am. Even marriage couldn't make me happier. You marry if you want to father. I just want to be by your side. I'm so fond of you. Being with you like this is my greatest happiness. Please father, why can't we stay just as we are? I know marriage won't make me any happier."
Shukichi looks at his daughter and says, "That's not true. You'll see. I'm 56 years old. My life is nearing its end. But your life as a couple is just beginning. You're starting a new life, one that you and Satake must build together. One in which I play no part. That's the order of human life and history. Marriage may not mean happiness from the start. To expect such immediate happiness is a mistake. Happiness isn't something you wait around for. It's something you create yourself. Getting married isn't happiness. Happiness lies in the forging of a new life shared together. It may take a year or two. Maybe even five or ten. Happiness comes only through effort. Only then can you claim to be man and wife. Your own mother wasn't happy when we married. For years we had our troubles. Many times I found her weeping in the kitchen. But she put up with me. You must believe in each other and love one another. All the love you've shown me must now be given to Satake."
Noriko asks her father to forgive her for being so selfish after hearing what her father had to say and still agrees to go ahead with the marriage. Noriko’s wedding day arrives. At home just before the ceremony, both Shukichi and Masa admire Noriko, who is dressed beautifully in a traditional wedding costume with Noriko holding a smile; but beneath it you can see there is sadness. Aunt Masa says, "Such a beautiful bride. I wish your mother could see you." Before heading to the wedding Noriko bows to her father and says, "Father. For your loving care these many years...I thank you." Shukichi smiles and says, "Be happy and be a good wife."
After Noriko's wedding her father and Aya are at a bar having drinks and Aya asks if Shukichi will be fine now being alone. "I'll soon get used to it," he tells her. When Aya tells him about how Noriko was worried about him remarrying, Shukichi confesses that his claim that he was going to marry Mrs. Miwa was a ruse all along and that he had never intended to remarry at all. He had said so only to help persuade Noriko to get married herself. Aya, touched by his sacrifice, promises to visit him often.When Shukichi arrives home that evening he wishes his maid goodnight as he sits down in a chair and peels an apple and sadly lowers his head in grief as he faces the quiet night all alone.
Maybe it is something to do with the sensual seductiveness of cinema: as new-millennium Americans, we care nothing for Japanese poetry, little for Japanese painting and fiction, and certainly too much for Japanese cartoons, and yet Yasujiro Ozu, the least sensational filmmaker of all time, remains on our docket, calm as ever, brimming with semispoken disappointments, visually blocking out Nippono-bourgeois life maps with guileless wisdom. By all rights, an Asian artist of such sublime restraint should have been long forgotten in our ethnocentric, hyperventilating, digital-viscera mind-set, but here he still is, evoking new scholarship, igniting theatrical retrospectives all over again, being lovingly and enthusiastically bronzed on home video, one precious film at a time.
An enormous amount of literature has been generated about Ozu’s work, but a few line items need to be reaffirmed: He is one of the very few cinema giants you could never accuse of pretension (Jean Renoir, Luis Buñuel, and Robert Bresson are the others). He remains movies’ most disciplined creative voice—a matter of no small magnitude in a medium naturally prone to the infantilization of noise, speed, and bright colors. Each film is a raw lesson—nearly perfect and resounding, if not terribly different from twenty others—intended to realign in our hearts what cinema is good for.
It’s a cliché now to posit Ozu as the “most Japanese” of that nation’s great directors, but it still seems true. His focus on the society’s transitional struggles, quotidian living spaces, and enjoyable norms was not only unflagging (more than fifty films in a thirty-five-year career) but embodied in the very shape of his compositions and in the reasoning behind his cuts. It’s not Japaneseness per se that draws us, though; why would it, after all? It is something more fundamental—a quintessential aspect of the medium, a breath-catching nexus of time elapsed and empathies shared. It just so happens that 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.
Like many Ozu movies, Late Spring (1949) is a triumph of sympathetic, respectful clarity and a surgical strike at the heart, but it also stands alone as a turning point in his development as a sociopolitical artist. It is, first of all, the magisterial archetype for the shomin-geki—the “modern family drama”—a genre Ozu helped define and that remains his kingdom to reign. (To genre-ize Ozu at all seems peculiar, so intense is his formal signature. Even so, drama is the odd word out here; the textures of Japanese life and the rhythmic bolero of Ozu’s stories deliberately subsume the dramatic in favor of the internal.) But the family in that equation wasn’t exactly what it had been before the war, and Late Spring is the first of his films made after those horrors to try to imagine what Japanese domesticity might look like in this new world. Comparatively (and by an Ozu measure), Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947) and A Hen in the Wind (1948)—his first two postwar works—are scabrous portrayals of a corrupt, demilitarized, firebombed landscape that swallows the vulnerable. It was as if Ozu needed to drain the war’s pus from his psyche. With Late Spring, he dresses the wound and moves toward his true aesthetic protocol; life during the reconstruction is viewed by way of the quiet tensions of generational conflict.
The low-intensity but painful clash between domestic Japanese traditionalism and modernism and feminism—between the insecure old and the restless young—is Ozu’s range to patrol, and here it is realigned after wartime and complicated implicitly by signs of encroaching Americanization. (Was Ozu the first filmmaker to use the Coca-Cola logo as a symbol for rampaging Yankee capitalism? He certainly beat Jean-Luc Godard and Billy Wilder to the punch.) Indeed, postwar society (suggested further by discussions of treated anemias and glimpses of the Saturday Evening Post) lets Ozu raise the stakes. What had simmered as a timeless stew of generation-gap disconnect in his earlier films became, with Late Spring, a thunderously specific social dynamic. In the thirties, society was changing and westernizing at a familiar pace, but in the postwar world, as Ozu suggests in his inimitably respectful way, the old-fashioned lifestyle was under siege by commercialism, permissiveness, antimasculinism, and independent wives and daughters. Suddenly, the struggle to guide youth with ancient values wasn’t just a manageable matter of course but a project doomed to failure by progress itself.
Still, Ozu’s scenario isn’t a generational throw-down. What he depicts in this, his inaugural seasonal film, the first ideogram in a dozen-year exploration of parent-child relationships, is an altogether subtler dilemma. Loving, grown, contemporary-minded daughter Noriko (Setsuko Hara) lives with her gentle, if slightly distractable, professor father (Chishu Ryu); an irritating aunt (Haruko Sugimura) suggests the young woman should marry, and soon. (The matter of the father’s caretaker-requiring “eccentricity” is mostly taken for granted, although his capabilities as a scholar seem under question when he confuses Franz Liszt with economist Friedrich List.) Believing he is doing the right thing, and in order to allow his daughter to detach from him and his daily needs, the father begins talking about taking a new, younger wife. Despite Noriko’s self-reliance—an Ozu earmark from the thirties that became an axiom in Late Spring—the acquiescent, ever-smiling heroine’s desires are never considered; she explicitly asks why her contented life cannot just go on as it has been.
But can it? What would be the best path for her to follow? Far from a Manichaean take on the oppressive power of lingering social norms, 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.
Justly praised for his temperate, rigorous form, Ozu is actually something of a calculating whammy master, and Late Spring saves its crushing blows for the very last shots and the simple peeling of an apple. But Ozu’s methodology in Late Spring, which would become an almost ritualized discipline in his subsequent films, expresses so much more than mere character and narrative: the famous still-life cutaways (themselves a codex of Zen commentaries and signifiers) and tatami-mat-high point of view; the compressed depth of the family’s rooms (Noriko and company pass in and out of sight through doorways we cannot see, suggesting haunting layers of quotidian complexity); the fastidious commemoration of the uniquely careful Japanese living spaces (that no culture has thought as much about the composition and physical meaning of their dwellings is a point not lost on Ozu); the vivid manner in which the architectural precision expresses the controlled tone of relationships. There’s an acute sense of home here, happily inhabited, that is unaccented and yet fuels Noriko’s tragedy. (Contrast it to the ill-fitting urban rooms suffered by the elderly couple visiting their ruinous children in Tokyo Story, from 1953, or the inverse discomfiture of the visiting actor in the home of his former lover in 1959’s Floating Weeds. Ozu’s palette may seem uniform from film to film, but it often yields very different atmospheres.) Late Spring can be seen as Ozu’s first absolutely crucial work, a step toward understanding the ripple effects of the postwar age among ordinary citizens—or, if that’s not possible, then at least capturing them in compassionate amber.
There are three major themes in Late Spring: Marriage, Modern Culture and tradition. Late Spring is specifically about marriage and it was a topical theme for Japanese of the late 1940s. On January 1, 1948, a new law had been issued which allowed young people over twenty to marry consensually without parental permission for the first time. The Japanese Constitution of 1947 had made it much easier for a wife to divorce her husband; up until that time, it had been "difficult, almost impossible" to do so.
Several commentators have pointed out that one reason why Noriko is still unmarried at the relatively late age of 27 is that many of the young men of her generation had been killed in the Second World War, leaving far fewer eligible potential partners for single young women. Despite the marriage theme, the film is not preoccupied with the traditional Japanese family system. In Late Spring Noriko's father never orders her to marry. Even when he pleads with her to agree to meet Satake, he assures her that she is free to decline.
Marriage in this film, as well as many of Ozu’s late films, is strongly associated with death. Prof. Onodera's daughter, for example, refers to marriage as "life’s graveyard." Geist writes: "Ozu connects marriage and death in obvious and subtle ways in most of his late films… The comparison between weddings and funerals is not merely a clever device on Ozu’s part, but is so fundamental a concept in Japanese culture that these ceremonies as well as those surrounding births have built-in similarities… The elegiac melancholy Ozu evokes at the end of Late Spring, Late Autumn, and An Autumn Afternoon arises only partly because the parents have been left alone… The sadness arises because the marriage of the younger generation inevitably reflects on the mortality of the older generation."
The tension between tradition and modern pressures in relation to marriage and, by extension, within Japanese culture as a whole is one of the major conflicts Ozu portrays in the film. Noriko is the 'quintessential modern girl' that populates Japanese fiction, and really the Japanese imagination, beginning in the 1920s onward. Throughout most of the film, Noriko wears Western clothing rather than a kimono, and outwardly behaves in up-to-date ways. However, Noriko can be looked at more old-fashioned than her father, believing he could not get along without her and resenting the idea that a widower might remarry; finding it 'filthy'.
The other two important female characters in the film are also defined in terms of their relation to tradition. Noriko’s Aunt Masa appears in scenes in which she is associated with traditional Japan, such as the tea ceremony in one of the ancient temples of Kamakura. Noriko’s friend Aya, on the other hand, seems to reject tradition entirely. Aya had taken advantage of the new liberal divorce laws to end her recent marriage. Thus, she is presented as a new, Westernized phenomenon: the divorcee. The Westernized look is also shown in everyday Japanese society: for instance the Coca-Cola logo during Noriko and Hattori's bicycle ride and glimpses of the Saturday Evening Post. Ozu’s films, both individually and collectively, are often seen as representing either a universal human life cycle or a portion of such a cycle.
Kogo Nada was Ozu's main screenwriter collaborator on more than half his films which besides Late Spring included, Tokyo Story, Early Summer and Floating Weeds. Yasujirô Ozu’s films usually follow a similar theme and some critics even used that as a criticism of Ozu’s work, but I don’t see it that way. Most great directors use personal themes over and over just with a different context. Sure, you can say films like Early Summer, Late Spring and An Autumn Afternoon were all about a daughter who is pressured within the family to find a suitor and be wed off. But each film had different family members with different personalities and different character traits. Then there are the films that don’t involve that similar storyline, like Floating Weeds which was about a father returning home to see his son who he thinks is his uncle. And finally there’s Tokyo Story — which is considered by many to be Ozu’s masterpiece which tells the story of grandparents that visit Tokyo to see their children; but their children can find no time to spend with them.
Everyone understands what it is like to have a family. Yasujirô Ozu was a man whose films made you feel what it’s like to be part of a family. Most of his films focus on domestic family life and how changes within that family change relationships between each other forever. It's amazing that in several of Ozu's films he uses the same actors and actresses and switches there ages and positions around within the family; and yet how he does it so convincingly is beyond me. In Late Spring, the actress that played Aunt Masa played Chishu Ryu's sister and yet in Tokyo Story she plays Chishu Ryu's daughter. Ozu is considered one of the most Japanese of all Japan’s directors and he was considered so Japanese, in fact, that his films were hardly seen outside Japan until after his death. To me, Yasujirô Ozu is the most curious of all directors because most of his films focused on family, marriage, children and weddings when Ozu himself was a bachelor and lived with his mother his whole life, dying alone months after she died.
Ozu's style is very legendary because many believe he didn't have any style at all. Most of his shots were low and stationary shots and his visual strategy was very simple; which some critics consider profound. His camera is usually three feet above the floor and he almost never moves it, while using a slow evenly paced track or pan, and a 360 degree axis of action with changes of angle in 45, 90, and 180 degree increments only, resulting in frequent breaks in continuity. Every single shot has an intended composition and the only movement you see in most Ozu's films is characters walking in and out of rooms, not the camera itself. I also notice when most of Ozu's characters talk to each other they talk straight into the camera with almost no use of over the shoulder shots for one-on-one conversations. Ozu's films consist of several cutaways and transitions to dramatic action, which are a series of images which usually consist of the city with smoke, banners in the wind, clouds, empty streets, small architectural details, and clothes hanging on a line; which many call 'pillow shots,'
The relationship between Shukichi and Noriko is very interesting and somewhat complex. In many ways Noriko is Shukichi's wife, mother and daughter all in one. She seems to do all the domestic house work and it seems he either isn't reliable on doing those things or isn't very good at doing them. Noriko expresses jealousy about her father remarrying and she expresses her deep love for her father and how she would be happier living with him them being married. A few critics were looking at the theme of this film as repressed incest but I do not see it as that at all. For instance, Noriko expresses much disgust with the professor Onodera for remarrying as well. I believe she has more traditional morals on the laws of sex and marriage in which is why she doesn't like the idea of her father remarrying. Noriko and her father were also survivors of World War II and probably witnessed many deaths and atrocities within their family. With the death of Shukichi's wife and Noriko's mother; these two have been through so much emotional pain and turmoil together. It is even hinted how Noriko suffered so much during the war that she got severely sick years afterwards. And yet the two of them have this naturally strong bond for one another and are willing to stay by each other's sides to the very end. But unfortunately their culture looks at it much differently because an older unmarried woman living with her father is improper. One of the main themes in Late Spring is how the older traditional values for Japanese women are rapidly changing within the culture. I do believe in some ways Noriko is a symbol for the strong modern woman who doesn't believe in arranged marriages and can prove she doesn't need a man to make her happy. In the 2012 Sight & Sound poll, published by the British Film Institute (BFI), Late Spring appears as the 15th greatest film of all time. Late Spring is a very gentle film and yet somewhat a bleak and cautionary tale on forced and unhappy marriages. In one of the most interesting scenes of the film, Shukichi tries talking his daughter into marriage and ironically describes his past marriage with her mother as very sad and miserable. When he describes to Noriko on how it might take 5 or 10 years before she truly feels love for the man she is going to marry or the story on how Shukichi would occasionally find her mother weeping in the kitchen; is very sad. Marriage isn't meant for everybody and it seems arraigned marriages usually have people end up in loveless and unhappy marriages. Both characters in the film lie to one another and sacrifice their happiness believing they will make the other happy. Noriko lies through her fake smiles on her arraigned marriage but is truly not happy. Her father lies when telling her he is going to remarry so she will go out and get married. Times have now changed and what can make a woman happy has gone beyond the simple women romances of a Jane Austen novel. Many women today are past their 30's, not married and are extremely happy and content; some even believing marriage is not and will never be meant for them. If Noriko was born in a later generation she sadly wouldn't have married or at least with it being forced upon her and she clearly would have been happy being single and taking care of her father. Unfortunately it didn't work out that way and now Noriko will end up like her mother, in an unhappy loveless marriage, with her father now alone with no one by his side to take care of him until his death.