Late Spring

A highlight of Ozu's post-war work, and rather more didactic than the late films I'm familiar with. There is apparently a lively discourse over the extent to which Ozu is critical of the painfully arranged marriage the film ends on. Noriko is in the late spring of life – 27 and unmarried, happily living with her widowed father in a state of arrested development. Eventually her father puts his foot down and explains to her the necessity of leaving home and starting her own family. Ozu will abandon such lecturing in future, but here his thinking is very plainly spelled out. Noriko's situation is unnatural. Her devotion to her father, while honourable, is also self-serving. She is comfortable and content, but her duty is to work at creating her own happiness with a husband. Noriko assents and admits that she has been selfish.

I don't think Ozu ultimately wishes to question the demands that tradition places on people. They are a source of pain that must be endured. The father is left bereft by his daughter's marriage – there will be no one to look after him in his old age. Likewise Noriko must try to build a relationship with a man she barely knows. These are wrenching transitions, but the naturalistic title of the film implies that they are inevitable parts of the cycle of life, and must be borne with fortitude and determination. Happiness requires work. You can't just coast on the achievements of your parents.

The film is humane enough to linger on the melancholy and bitter emotions created by the necessity of marriage. The famous scenes – at the Noh play, the empty vase – are showcases for Noriko's jealousy and shame. The interesting thing about Late Spring is that future films will valourise the Noriko character's attachments as signs of overbearing loyalty rather than selfishness. Ozu keeps returning to the archetype of the dutiful daughter and her slightly warped attachment to the old ways (where remarriage is unaccountably a filthy thing to do), but he will become more tender in his portrayal of her.

Noriko's vivacious best friend is a sign of things to come – a less conservative film-maker would have made her the hero. She has taken advantage of the freedoms after the war to divorce the pig of a man she married, and is making her own money as a stenographer. Noriko is attracted to the independence of not having a husband, but unlike her friend she buys this by looking after her doddery father who she can wrap around her little finger. Tellingly, even her entirely modan gaaru best friend insists that Noriko should get a husband already. It's a part of growing up and becoming your own person, even if it's still couched in the traditions of marriage and male authority.

The film established Ozu's famous late style. A rigidly, almost obsessively, static camera – which doesn't move even when the characters are on bikes. The low angles which position the audience as reverent observers of the quotidian interactions of middle-class families. The ambiguous pillow-shots, which sometimes serve to establish a setting, sometimes as moments of reflection, or in the famous example of the vase, to show time passing between Noriko's change of mood. The film opens on the image of a train station – perhaps a symbolic suggestion of the journey out of the family home Noriko must undertake. It ends on footage of waves on the beach – an image grounding the action of the film in the timeless movements of nature. It's a masterpiece, but Ozu's themes are still rather close to the surface. He will become subtler and more ambiguous as he continued to revisit these stories in the films that followed.

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