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The 2010 Glen Workshop In Santa Fe, NM

Late Spring
Movie Poster for Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Produced by Shochiku Company
Written by Yasujiro Ozu
Kôgo Noda
Kazuo Hirotsu (Novel)
Music by Senji Itô
Cinematography by Yuuharu Atsuta
Editing by Yoshiyasu Hamamura
Release Date 1949
Running Time 108 min.
Language Japanese
Clips
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Late Spring
(Banshun)

Even the most attentive viewer may be forgiven for mistaking one Ozu film for another. During a 35 year career that spanned the silent, black and white, and color movie eras, Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu almost exclusively focused on the transitions of life: growing children, marriage, aging, and death. His characters were ordinary folk—archetypal mothers, fathers, and children—often played by the same actors and sometimes even with the same names from picture to picture.  

In addition, his movies tend to look much the same, possessing a uniquely serene style. With the camera placed 18-24 inches off the ground, the resulting angle of filming literally and figuratively elevates his characters. When conversations occur, we commonly see the speaker in full face view (instead of the conventional over-the-shoulder shot typically used in movie dialogues), such that we as viewers are placed in the role of respectful listener. Tracking or dolly shots are rare in his films, with the stationary camera often showing empty rooms and hallways before and after characters’ entrances and interactions. Adding to the contemplative nature of his work, interior scenes are cushioned by still lifes of common objects, empty urban landscapes, or calm views of nature. 

Late Spring, set in the postwar suburbs of Tokyo, concerns itself with society’s expectation that children will separate from their parents in adulthood, to start families of their own. Twenty-seven year old Noriko and her widower father Somiya contentedly live under the same roof, satisfied with their long-established routine. However, when a meddling aunt and Noriko’s divorcee friend persist in pressuring Noriko to marry, Somiya begins believing, too, that his daughter needs to leave home. 

Ozu succeeds in eliciting understated yet emotive performances from his oft-used leads, Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara (the latter is arguably the greatest actress in Japanese film history). A scene in which Somiya and Noriko watch a play in the centuries-old Noh tradition is especially memorable. When Somiya merely nods in greeting a middle-aged female spectator, we observe as Noriko’s placid enjoyment of the play is gradually replaced by a horrified realization that her strong, even jealous, attachment to her father may be threatened by this other woman. Poignant, too, is the depiction of Somiya’s loneliness when faced with Noriko’s absence. 

Although the transitions of life and the ephemeral nature of happiness remained ever-present themes for Yasujiro Ozu, there is wisdom and peace to be gained by attention to his work, not unlike watching the same yet not-same changing of the seasons, which figure so prominently in the titles of his films. 

—Andrew Spitznas

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