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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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