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John

Late Spring

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Just caught this film for the first time and wanted to put down a couple of thoughts while still fresh in my mind. This is only the second Ozu I have seen, and while I appreciated the first (Tokyo Story), this film was more engaging on a first viewing.

First, the woman who plays Noriko (Setsuko Hara) was wonderful (as were all the actors). Her smile was radiant. Her simple joy through the early part of the film brought real life to their world. Which leads into one of the things I loved most about the film - its humor. Having seen Tokyo Story, which I don't remember having much humor, I was surprised to find how much of it there was, especially surrounding Noriko, whose carefree attitude seems to invite laughter.

Second, I am really impressed with the way Ozu is able to bring together so many different emotions into the climax of the film. As the last few scenes rolled by, I had a mixture of joy, sadness, fear, loneliness, anger, and who knows what else going through me. He set things up beautifully to communicate the complexities of the final big event.

Finally, I noticed the strange interplay between the modern and the traditional forms of life in Japan. Made in 1949, no doubt Japan was on the fast track to modernization, and it's interesting to see the interplay here. It doesn't seem to be as simple as "tradition=good, modern=bad," but rather a little of both. And the way he brings these things into our minds, through character motivations, actions, and simple shots of city and home life was well done.

What a wonderful film. I'm interested to hear the thoughts of others who've seen this. Glad to have found it through our Top 100 list. Of course, I plan to track down An Autumn Afternoon, also on the list, also from Ozu. No doubt, I'll be searching for more Ozu after that.

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Just got the Criterion newsletter, and was delighted to see that Late Spring will make its DVD debut this year. Good news.

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When I attended the Ozu Centenary NYFF sidebar a few years ago, I also sat through the Ozu symposium, and Professor Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto gave a particularly interesting lecture on Ozu's subversive use of coded images in Late Spring. Keep in mind that when the film was made in 1949, Japan was still under U.S./Allied Occupation and all films were subject to censorship for a variety of reasons, most notably, if they were deemed to have "nostalgic" content for the country's traditional (and inferentially, militaristic) past.

Yoshimoto's approach was to provide contextual examples (such as List versus Lizst) and to show frame-by-frame examples of Ozu's establishing "pillow shots", translating the various banners, advertisments, and other signs that appear in the frame to show us that if you follow a natural visual progression within a given pillow shot, such as from foreground to background, the arrangement of the signs do provide coded references to the war and to the Occupation. It was a fascinating lecture.

Edited by acquarello

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Since Christian highlighted Dave Kehr's review of the new Criterion DVD in the NYTimes, I thought I'd revive this thread. I particularly like Kehr's comment, "Ozu's pillow shots are meant to decelerate the viewer's metabolism." I've been reading Nathaniel Dorsky's thoughts on "devotional cinema," and the physiology of movie watching is a big theme:

"In Greek theories of medicine it was taught that illness came from a dreamlike absorption, a state of imbalance. The sanctuary of Epidaurus was created in order to let citizens realign themselves and awaken to the full energy of the present. Long periods of relaxation and sleep, called 'temple sleep,' were followed by theatre pieces, chanting, and poetry. All this took place within a setting of sublimely proportioned architecture. So art has a long history of being used as a healthy model. What is it about the nature of film that can produce health or ill health? It is film's ability to mirror and realign our metabolism."

First, the woman who plays Noriko (Setsuko Hara) was wonderful (as were all the actors). Her smile was radiant. Her simple joy through the early part of the film brought real life to their world.

One of the things that always strikes me about Hara's smiles are the way she manages to convey so many different emotions through them: joy, embarrassment, defiance, anger.

Which leads into one of the things I loved most about the film - its humor. Having seen Tokyo Story, which I don't remember having much humor, I was surprised to find how much of it there was, especially surrounding Noriko, whose carefree attitude seems to invite laughter.
The scene when Noriko teases her grumpy little cousin always makes me laugh.

Second, I am really impressed with the way Ozu is able to bring together so many different emotions into the climax of the film. As the last few scenes rolled by, I had a mixture of joy, sadness, fear, loneliness, anger, and who knows what else going through me. He set things up beautifully to communicate the complexities of the final big event.

This diversity of emotions actually builds up a particular kind of tension that is common to Ozu's films, a contrast between moods and inflections that build in intensity. In Schrader's book, he suggests that tension is usually resolved at an emotional breaking point, often with tears as it is in Tokyo Story. In Late Spring that tension seems to settle itself in the image of Chishu Ryu peeling an apple. The apple isn't a symbol of anything, it's merely the repository of the film's dramatic tensions. (Similarly the ocean waves that follow.)

Finally, I noticed the strange interplay between the modern and the traditional forms of life in Japan. Made in 1949, no doubt Japan was on the fast track to modernization, and it's interesting to see the interplay here. It doesn't seem to be as simple as "tradition=good, modern=bad," but rather a little of both.
This is a great observation and one of the tensions that is particularly acute in this film. I'm always surprised how much traditional Japanese culture is emphasized in the film, with its tea ceremonies and temples and rock gardens.

The new DVD includes Wenders' Tokyo-Ga essay film about mid-'80s Tokyo and the spirit of Ozu that is also well worth a look.

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The reviewer seems upset by the flicker levels, which are fairly subtle and have more to do with dated and inconsistent film emulsions than any digital transfer issue--the Criterion, in fact, looks much better than any other version on DVD at the moment. It also looks much better than the Criterion Tokyo Story (because that film's negative was destroyed in a fire and all copies have been struck by duplications).

Incidentally, I wrote the liner notes for Tartan's Ozu box set #2, but after seeing their mediocre transfers, I told them I'd only continue working with them if they improved their images. I don't know if that had an affect, but the transfers for box set #3 are greatly improved; Good Morning looks much better than the Criterion version, one of their worst transfers ever. So you'll find my notes with that set, too.

Edited by Doug C

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I'm having a mini-Ozu fest this weekend, having already watched Tokyo Story and Late Spring, now taking a short break from The End of Summer.  I love this quote from the anthology The Hidden God, from Phillip Lopate's essay on Late Spring:  "Formal rituals of Japanese culture and religion - a tea ceremony, a visit to a temple, the preparation of a wedding dress - merge casually into the rhythms of everyday life, while such daily gestures as sewing, brushing one's teeth, or clipping one's toenails are given an unhurried presentation in real time that elevates them to the status of religious rites."  Yep...for me, one of the great things about Ozu is how he imparts a sense of wonder, reverence, and beauty to the everyday.

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On 12/21/2005 at 11:59 AM, John said:

Finally, I noticed the strange interplay between the modern and the traditional forms of life in Japan. Made in 1949, no doubt Japan was on the fast track to modernization, and it's interesting to see the interplay here. It doesn't seem to be as simple as "tradition=good, modern=bad," but rather a little of both. And the way he brings these things into our minds, through character motivations, actions, and simple shots of city and home life was well done.

Having placed Late Spring on our Top 25 Films about Growing Older list, this quote from the original post on this thread ties in wonderfully to the film's high ranking. The father and daughter are both growing older and doing so together. Their relationship is one of the sweetest yet most honest I've ever seen in the movies. Despite their extreme closeness, each has a different vision for how he/she wants growing older to look like and how he/she wants the other to grow older. The father's is traditional, going to great lengths to ensure his daughter is married even though that will mean great sorrow to him. The daughter's is modern, not seeming to care about marriage but preferring to continue on the same path she and her father have always been on. When the traditional way wins out, it's neither a praise nor a condemnation for either the traditional or the modern. It's simply the way things work out and the means through which the two not only grow older but also wiser and more compassionate. Their ultimate decisions are not based on what's traditional or modern but on what they genuinely believe is best for the other.

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I returned to Late Spring in the wake of the 2019 Top 25 list, only to find myself as the outsider looking in. 

I am heartened in this thread by acquarello's post which suggests to me that there is, indeed, more at play formally in the film than an average viewer circa 2019 might catch without some assistance. But absent a decoding map lecture, I find the film less than satisfying: https://1morefilmblog.com/2019/07/15/late-spring-ozu-1949/

Still, if one is going to take issue with Ozu at a site called "Arts & Faith," one has to expect some critic shaming, so I'd be happy to hear from others who both esteem and enjoy the film. (I assume you are out there, given the film ranked #2...)

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I'm curious:  do you feel this way about Ozu's films in general, Ken?  I haven't watched Late Spring for a few years, but it seems to me that one could've picked any Ozu film from 1949 onwards, and it would've been an equally apt choice for our Growing Older list.  They're all about intrafamilial dynamics and transitions, which Ozu invites us to observe contemplatively and mostly non-judgmentally (you've watched more Koreeda than I have, but there seems to be a parallel process with both directors in this respect).

I recall perceiving beaucoup affection between father and daughter in Late Spring, if not in the huggy, emotive, demonstrative way that we Americans do it.  I disagree that Noriko could just as easily be a housemaid.

In your review, I read of your preference for films where Growing Older means maturation and not simply aging.  But being a mere two years behind you in age, I recognize that each passing year means less opportunities for me.  Much as I would've loved to, I'm probably not going to get the chance to live in France or Central America; too many responsibilities now with parenting and caring for aging relatives.  So, growing older also means closing doors and regret (as in Late Spring), as well as growing wiser and imparting wisdom to younger generations (as in Kurosawa's Madadayo).  And as an atheist, I accept that I don't get an afterlife for do overs; the fact that Ozu's tombstone contains the single character meaning "nothingness" suggests that he felt the same way about this single life we get on earth.

I also think back to earlier decades when a dear, well-intentioned family member counseled me not to go into psychiatry (it's disreputable!), not to get married so young (well, maybe they were right on that one), and not to get divorced (back to being wrong).  This person was the Shukichi to my Noriko, but I love them just the same and don't doubt their good intentions.  That Ozu prompts me to think about such interactions in my own family history makes me love him and his films all the more, apart from their unique formal beauty.  

Edited by Andrew

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Ozu remains a mystery to me in some ways; I find that I appreciate his films more than I enjoy them, and even that appreciation is usually muted. But I keep going back to Ozu to see what I may be missing, and Late Spring did affect me. Ken, you mentioned preferring Tokyo Story to this film, and I had the opposite response--despite their similar themes and the obvious Ozu aesthetic, TS just didn't resonate with me, but LS definitely did. The advice about happiness being created, not something that just happens from waiting around--that simple-yet-profound wisdom is something that only comes from and can be appreciated by a certain age or maturity. You have to be on the far side of that happiness creation--or have experienced the loss of it--in order to make such an observation, at least with the strength of experience behind it. I appreciate what Andrew said above, that the film prompts reflection about one's own family history. For me, it also prompted reflection about the numerous families I've counseled as a pastor, the youth and young adults who needed to grow up, as well as their parents (who often needed to do more "growing up" than their children!). For all of its distinctly Japanese cultural dynamics--and critique of American cultural influences--there's something universal about its theme of how families change and grow over time.

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Thanks for some interesting replies.

Quote

I'm curious:  do you feel this way about Ozu's films in general, Ken?  I haven't watched Late Spring for a few years, but it seems to me that one could've picked any Ozu film from 1949 onwards, and it would've been an equally apt choice for our Growing Older list.  They're all about intrafamilial dynamics and transitions, which Ozu invites us to observe contemplatively and mostly non-judgmentally (you've watched more Koreeda than I have, but there seems to be a parallel process with both directors in this respect).

I will confess to being lukewarm on Ozu overall, though I'm slowly starting to appreciate his films more than I thought I could. A key point was a couple of years ago when I was able to admit that coming to Ozu primarily through Schrader's Transcendental Style in Cinema caused me to frame my expectations in such a way that the films didn't meet. I was expecting something and having trouble approaching the film on its own terms. (To a lesser extent, I ran through the same issue with Dreyer, though I never had the same problem of accepting his films on their own terms even if they were very different, stylistically, from Bresson's.) I very much honor and appreciate Schrader's book, and I think it has been enormously influential in an historical sense, but I also tend to think (oversimplification) that he largely conflates the effect three different filmmakers have on him with the styles or approaches they use to engender that effect.

FWIW, my second favorite TIFF Q&A occurred at Still Walking (I think it was) when a commenter prompted Koreeda to say (not quite verbatim) that he didn't know why everyone insisted in comparing his characters to Ozu's and that he felt his films had more in common with Naruse's. (Of course, Wikipedia's entry on Naruse says he is most often compared to Ozu, so...) One could write many a tome comparing Koreeda's films to Ozu's (and it's times like this that I am sad the proposed Koreeda anthology didn't generate enough submissions to move forward), but for me Koreeda's films are less pessimistic, the struggles of the characters against society and their expectations more explicit and externalized. At times, not always, I think there is transcendence, the individual finds authenticity and actualization in the process of struggle regardless of the outcome. I tend to think of Koreeda's films as adopting a point of view which is more judgmental but doesn't give itself over to judgmentalism. I think, for example, the films allow us to be critical of the dead father in Our Little Sister or the mother in Nobody Knows while also trusting us to temper that judgment with an understanding of their situations that may go beyond what those suffering as a result of their decisions are capable of grasping. In the case of Late Spring, Noriko understands Shukichi's situation pretty well. She's an adult, even if her illness has made her, perhaps, emotionally regressed. 

 

Quote

The advice about happiness being created, not something that just happens from waiting around--that simple-yet-profound wisdom is something that only comes from and can be appreciated by a certain age or maturity. You have to be on the far side of that happiness creation--or have experienced the loss of it--in order to make such an observation, at least with the strength of experience behind it. 

Yes, I suppose this speech is at the heart of any positive reading of Shukichi. (It reminded me in some ways of the defense of arranged marriage in Ghandi.) I guess for me, this would have had a stronger effect if I believed he believed it. Since the end reveals that Shukichi is not beyond lying to Noriko (for her own good, of course), I confess I heard this speech as empty words. Who cares if you don't love him? I didn't love your mother when we got married. It'll be fine, you just have to decide that you'll be happy and eventually you will be. Your happiness isn't as important as...other concerns. And if the woman's happiness is not a material consideration in who she marries, when could it ever be?

I am not saying there isn't some truth to that speech in some situations. There is. But......I guess I'll just say that in the very long history of marriage, the number of women who have had little to no say into who they married has probably not been statistically insignificant, and of those who somehow managed to buck social expectations and express their desire not to get married (or their desire not to marry the particular person their parents chose), I imagine a fair number of them have heard some version of that speech. So maybe we are in "Yellow Wallpaper" or "Boy Erased" territory. There is something horrific about watching someone do or say something that they sincerely think is said/done in love but which we feel (based on hindsight, progression of values or whatever) to be exactly the wrong thing. 

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