My first time watching an Ozu film, and I started with one of his final ones where his style is the most pared down and 'pure', following the recommendation of the Guardian's John Patterson. And it's all there: the camera placed a little below waist-height rather than at eye-level (so we are always looking slightly up), the characters in mid-shot almost but not quite facing the audience, the deep focus compositions of frames within frames. And of course, the camera never moves. Ever.
The combined effect of this extremely particular style is worth thinking about. The tilt up from waist-height puts the audience in a humble position, close to the ground, reverential. The mid-shot portraits feel weirdly artificial – we're almost behind the eyes of the person being addressed, but the actors always look slightly beyond the camera. It's as if the audience slides literally in between the conversation (how the actors worked with a camera placed this way is really difficult to imagine). The layered depth of field isn't distractingly stage-y, but does enforce a sense of spaces sliding open and closed between the characters, invisible barriers only occasionally being lifted. The score is more conventional – accentuating moments of comedy but also supercharging melodramatic scenes.
While the plot and concerns of the film are minute – marriage, family and manners – the style in which they are presented does much to elevate them in the audiences eyes (Patterson's comparison with Jane Austen is a great way of thinking about it, and rubbishes the notion that these films are impenetrably Japanese). Ozu is supremely sensitive to the heroic sacrifices generations of women make, and the callousness of powerful men who meddle in women's lives for their own amusement. Throughout the film, Setsuko Hara grins maniacally, and a little bit scarily, through conversations with the male matchmakers. It ends with her alone, deprived of her daughter, but with a genuine smile on her face. The film is all about the conflict between public conformity and private happiness – all of which is captured in that sad smile.