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Related Reading: Ozu by Donald Richie, Japanese Film Directors by Audie Bock, Reframing Japanese Cinema: Authorship, Genre, History edited by Arthur Nolletti Jr. and David Desser, and Nippon Modern: Japanese Cinema of the 1920s and 1930s by Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano.
Related Notes: Yasujiro Ozu: International Perspectives Conference - The Place of Ozu Within Japanese Film History.


Umarete wa mita keredo, 1932
[I Was Born But...]

Sugawara/AokiMr. Yoshii (Tatsuo Saito), an office clerk, has moved his young family into a new neighborhood in the suburbs, strategically located just a few blocks from his employer, Mr. Iwasaki (Takeshi Sakamoto). One afternoon, while playing outdoors, Yoshii's younger son, Keichi (Tomio Aoki) catches the attention of the neighborhood children, among them, Iwasaki's son, who proceed to tease him. His older brother, Ryoichi (Hideo Sugawara), comes to his rescue, but soon, the two find themselves outnumbered, and only narrowly escape when Mr. Yoshii passes by on the street. Fearing retaliation, the brothers decide to become truants, but are sent back to school by their father with the stern reasoning, "Don't you want to go to school and become somebody?" Unable to escape their inevitable encounter with the school ruffians, Keichi befriends the delivery boy from the sake shop (Shoichi Kojufita) and persuades him to confront the gang's self-appointed ringleader and teach him a lesson. After the bully runs away in tears, the other children soon turn their allegiance over to the brothers, who are quick to test their solidarity by having them obey a "resurrection" command. Soon, the vanquished boy returns with his father, and the children begin to argue their respective cases on whose father would be best suited to challenge the bully's father. However, the brothers' idolatry for their father is tested when they visit the Iwasaki home, and find their father as the subject of home movies playing the clown in front of the camera for the amusement of his boss.

Yasujiro Ozu creates a comic, witty, and incisive portrait of hypocrisy and social inequity in I Was Born But.... In contrast to the more distilled gendai-geki (contemporary life portrait) drama that would characterize Ozu's later films, I Was Born But... is rooted in the children's learned social behavior and acceptance of compromise in a non-ideal environment: the delivery boy's refusal to censure Iwasaki's son because of his family's patronage; Mr. Yoshii's doting attention to the young boy as he keeps interrupting his sons' attempt to "resurrect" him; the father's clownish behavior in the home movies. As the boys' attitude towards their father turn from magnanimous hero to embarrassing fool to sympathetic human being, Ozu presents a subtle, yet poignant observation on the children's rite of passage as they move away from the safe and predictable rules of home life towards the illogical and often unjust hierarchical social customs of the real world.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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Tokyo no onna 1933
[A Woman of Tokyo]

Okada/EgawaIn a poor, working class district of Tokyo, a woman named Chikako Shimamura (Yoshiko Okada) shares a modest apartment with her younger brother, Ryoichi (Ureo Egawa). Despite seemingly insurmountable economic hardship, Chikako has managed to make ends meet, working every day in her full-time employment as an office typist, and every evening on commissioned translations for a university professor. Her constant toil, filial devotion, and personal sacrifice afford Ryoichi the privilege of devoting himself completely to his studies without the financial concerns of eking out an everyday existence. Chikako manages the household affairs, pays for Ryoichi's school tuition, and even provides him with an allowance to court a young woman named Harué (Kinuyo Tanaka), enabling him to invite her to the movies despite his lack of income (note Ozu's homage to Ernst Lubitsch by showing a Lubitsch-directed vignette entitled The Clerk from If I Had a Million). However, Chikako's character soon comes under scrutiny when a police inspector pays an unexpected visit to the office one day and summons the personnel manager to inquire about Chikako's employment record. The nebulous and undisclosed nature of the investigation lead to speculation, and rumors begin to surface about Chikako's disreputable conduct by working as a cabaret hostess in the red light district. In an attempt to mitigate the embarassment of the brewing scandal, the well-intentioned Harué decides to alert Chikako of the gossip, but instead, reveals the information to Ryoichi. Outraged and shamed by his sister's tarnished reputation, Ryoichi rejects the selfless Chikako and leaves home.

Set in the austerity of depression-era Tokyo, A Woman of Tokyo presents the dilemma of moral responsibility, obligation, and perseverance in the increasing hopelessness of an economically polarized, modern Japan. Characteristic of his early films (such as Record of a Tenement Gentlemen), Yasujiro Ozu addresses contemporary social issues by examining the dissolution of family. Using domestic setting and confined, interior shots, Ozu illustrates the intrinsic interrelation between the individual and the environment: the opening image of Chikako by the kitchen sink that is paralleled in the shot of women washing their hands at the cabaret; the transitional shot of Chikako applying makeup at home that is repeated in the grooming of the hostesses; the close-up image of Chikako's delicate footsteps upon returning home that is contrasted against Ryoichi's awkward sandals as he wanders through the evening streets. By reflecting the dichotomy between personal integrity and economic necessity, Ozu creates a spare, compassionate, and poignant validation of duty, honor, and personal sacrifice in the face of social marginalization and pervasive despair.

© Acquarello 2002. All rights reserved.

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Nagaya shinshiroku, 1947
[Record of a Tenement Gentleman]

Aoki/TakamatsuA well-intentioned fortune teller, Tashiro (Chishu Ryu) returns home with a lost boy from Chigasaki named Kohei (Hohi Aoki) after a trip to Kudan. His roommate, a struggling actor named Tamekichi (Shohichi Kawamura) disapproves of Tashiro's impulsive act of kindness and convinces him to send the boy away for the evening to stay with a stern faced, middle-aged widow named Tome (Eiko Takamatsu). The next morning, Tome finds that Tashiro has already left the house for the day, leaving Kohei in her care, and complains to Tamekichi about her unwanted, bed-wetting guest. Tamekichi and Tome then pay a visit to a married neighbor in an unsuccessful attempt to pass off Kohei by rationalizing that "raising three or four kids won't make a difference." Tamekichi suggests that they draw lots in order to determine who will take Kohei back to Chigasaki. Finding an 'X' on her slip of paper, Tome protests that she has already been inconvenienced, but, nevertheless, agrees to take the boy home. But upon reaching Chigasaki, Tome learns that Kohei's father is an itinerant carpenter who had only rented a room for a few days before leaving for Tokyo. Unable to rid herself of Kohei, she returns home with the boy and a sack of potatoes, and continues to devise ways of sending the boy away. An amusing conversation ensues as Tome seizes an opportunity to transfer Kohei to the care of a geisha house mistress when the latter pays a visit in order to arrange for the purchase of some household supplies: "Don't you need a boy?" "Not me, I need a rubber hose." However, as Tome resigns to idea of caring for Kohei, she gradually finds herself developing genuine affection for the endearing, helpless boy.

Record of a Tenement Gentleman is humorous, touching, and good natured film on surrogate relationships. However, beyond the levity and tenderness of the film lies a powerful, underlying social statement on the human condition: the alienation that results from urban migration; the hardship caused by postwar rationing; the plight of neglected and abandoned children. The final shot shows a sea of faceless children spending idle time at Ueno Park near a statue of Saigo. It is a poignant image of senseless despair and lost innocence, and a reaffirming glimpse of renewed hope and humanity.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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Banshun, 1949
[Late Spring]

Hara/RyuProfessor Shukichi Somiya (Chisyu Ryu) has dedicated much of his time and energy to his studies, leaving his daughter, Noriko (Setsuko Hara), with the task of managing their household. It is a comfortable and nurturing environment that suits them well until one day when Noriko meets an old family friend, a widower named Onodera (Masao Mishima), who has recently remarried. Onodera reminds Shukichi of his parental duties to see Noriko marry, and Shukichi's sister, Masa Taguchi (Haruko Sugimura), suggests that his assistant, Hattori (Jun Usami), should make a suitable husband for Noriko. Upon hearing that Hattori and Noriko spent an afternoon together bicycling to the beach, Shukichi attempts to elicit Noriko's feelings on the subject of marriage, but is derailed when she explains that Hattori is already engaged. Unfazed by the disappointing news, Masa then presents Noriko with a new prospect named Satake, a Tokyo University graduate with a promising future at Nitto Chemicals who, she assuredly describes, looks just like Gary Cooper, "especially his mouth ...but not the top half." In an attempt to persuade Noriko to meet the potential suitor, Masa casually brings up the topic of her plans to act as a matchmaker between Shukichi and an attractive young widow named Mrs. Miwa (Kuniko Miyake), and Shukichi continues the deception in order to help Noriko overcome her ambivalence. After observing a polite exchange between Shukichi and Mrs. Miwa during a Noh play, Noriko realizes that things cannot remain as they are, and gradually comes to a sad realization and acceptance of a life apart from her adoring father.

Yasujiro Ozu creates a poignant and exquisitely realized portrait of devotion, separation, and familial love in Late Spring. By providing minimal plot and eliminating external catalysts, Ozu portrays an honest reflection of contemporary Japanese middle and lower class family life, the shomin-geki. Stripped of a manipulative and artificial storyline, Late Spring reveals a sincere concern for the plight of the common man, an affectionate celebration for the subtle beauty of everyday life, and a profound sympathy for the inevitable passage of time.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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Bakushu, 1951
[Early Summer]

Early SummerAn independent-minded 28-year old woman living in cosmopolitan, postwar Tokyo may seem immune from the societal pressures of marriage, but in Noriko's (Setsuko Hara) environment, it is a perennially surfacing, unavoidable topic. Her father, Shukichi (Ichirô Sugai), and mother, Shige (Chieko Higashiyama), are unable to retire to her uncle's house in the provincial town of Yamato until their duty to marry off Noriko to a worthy suitor has been fulfilled. Her visits with school friends invariably break down into playful arguments between the married and unmarried women. Even her office director offers to introduce her to a 40-year old business acquaintance, providing her photographs of the obscured prospective suitor to take home to show her family. Upon learning of Noriko's suitor, her brother Koichi (Chishu Ryu) takes it upon himself to investigate the businessman's suitability (as the businessman similarly dispatches a detective to inquire about Noriko), and encourages their marriage, despite the age difference. Meanwhile, Koichi's recently widowed friend and colleague, Kenkichi Yabe (Ryudan Nimoto) has been transferred to an agricultural province. During Noriko's farewell visit to the Yabe family, Kenkichi's mother (Haruko Sugimura) confesses her hope for her son to marry Noriko, an offer that she impulsively accepts. However, her family is less receptive to the idea, believing that Kenkichi's modest income and young child would lead their beloved Noriko to a life of hardship.

Yasujiro Ozu's signature low angle camera strikes a delicate, harmonious balance in Early Summer, and echoes the dichotomy of contemporary Japan: tradition versus modernization, selfishness versus altruism, respect for elders versus independence. Compassionate and characteristically reserved, Ozu chronicles the disintegration of the traditional extended family as an accepted process of life, and the film evolves with a sense of appropriate inevitability. The contrast between the elders, usually contemplative and at leisure, and the younger generations - the overworked Koichi and the impatient children (with literal one track minds) - reflect the various stages of life. Episodically, the opening images of the beach and caged birds are reflected throughout the film, providing a sense of continuity to the ritual of existence. In the end, it is the words of the usually reticent Tamura that seems to provide the key for a successful life: "We shouldn't want too much." It is a thought that is similarly shared by master Ozu in the filming of Early Spring - a spare, beautifully realized story of profound, yet fundamentally human emotions.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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Tokyo Monogatari, 1953
[Tokyo Story]

Ryu/HigashiyamaTo experience a Yasujiro Ozu film is to immerse in the reserved, quiet grace of a disappearing traditional culture. Tokyo Story is a languidly paced, subtly poignant, and exquisitely realized story of the Hirayamas, an aging couple from the provincial town of Onomichi who travel to postwar reconstructed Tokyo in order to visit their children, who, in turn, seem to have little interest or time to be with them. Their pediatrician son promises to take them sightseeing through Tokyo, only to be called away on an emergency. Their daughter Shige (Haruko Sugimura) promises to take them to the theater, but cannot leave her beauty salon. Only their widowed daughter-in-law, Noriko (Setsuko Hara), seems genuinely pleased to see them, and takes a day off from work to show them around Tokyo. Not knowing how to entertain their parents (and to save money), the siblings decide to send them to a noisy, crowded spa. Unable to enjoy themselves, the elderly couple return early, only to be sent away for the evening when their unexpected arrival interferes with Shige's scheduled club meeting. Consequently, Mrs. Hirayama (Chieko Higashiyama) spends a final evening with Noriko before heading back to Onomichi, and Mr. Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) finds some old friends in town, hoping to be invited to spend the evening, but in the process, gets hopelessly drunk. On the following day, Mrs. Hirayama offers the adult children some words of reassurance at the train station, and the couple leave. There are no external catalysts in the film, no psychological deconstruction of a dysfunctional family. It is a story about generational fractures - culture, tradition, and people - left in the wake of modernization and consuming self-absorption.

Ozu uses low camera height and breaks the rules of conventional cinema using 360° space, creating an intimate, familial atmosphere, to draw us into the lives of the Hirayama family - through subtle gestures and mannerisms, mundane conversations, daily rituals, and simple acts of kindness. Throughout the film, there is a pervasive sound of movement: ticking clocks, churning steamboats, passing trains. Yet within each framed composition, Ozu's camera does not move (there is only one tracking shot as the camera moves from a brick wall to the image of the evicted elderly couple). It is a figurative reminder that modern life is in perpetual motion, and that the beauty of life is often found in standing still. Tokyo Story demands little from the viewer, except to sit back and absorb the sweeping, beautiful images that gradually unfold before us towards its muted, heartbreaking conclusion, and from it, derive meaning for our own frenetic existence. But, in the culture of fast cars, internet access, and prescription panaceas, that is, perhaps, too much to ask.

© Acquarello 1999. All rights reserved.

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Early Spring, 1956
[Soshun]

Awashima/Ikebe Early Spring opens to a curious sequence of interconnected establishing shots: a tall, oversized billboard structure that towers over a working class neighborhood at dawn, a window-height view from the motionless residential town that traces a series of electrical power lines bisecting the sky, then a final cut to a shot of higher density power lines as a fast moving commuter train breaks the torpid silence while traversing the dimly lit horizon. The introductory series of images provide subtly associative cues that figuratively place Shoji Sugiyama (Ryo Ikebe) within the context of his occupation as a low-level office career employee at the Toa Fire-Brick Company business headquarters in Tokyo (a professional insignificance that is also reinforced in an early morning conversation between two coworkers as they discuss the statistical data on commuting salary workers while observing a stream of passengers leave the station and make their way through the streets to their respective offices). Needing to break away from his uneventful and tedious daily routine, Shoji has taken to spending his leisure time in the company of friends and fellow office workers, often participating in arranged group outings, after-work social gatherings at their favorite bars, and friendly betting games of mah-jong that help to take their thoughts away from the drudgery of the office. Shoji's wife Masako (Chikage Awashima) reluctantly tolerates her husband's indulgences, but pragmatically excludes herself from their planned recreations, rationalizing that the money spent on these passing activities is better set aside towards the timely payment of their rent. It is a tenuous balance between work and home life that soon becomes even more precarious as Shoji increasingly spends time away from Masako in favor of the company of his co-workers, and in the process, begins to reciprocate the attention (and perhaps court the affection) of a colleague named Chiyo (Keiko Kishi), an attractive and independent-minded career woman whom the group affectionately calls "Goldfish" - a seemingly innocuous flirtation that soon evolves into an extramarital affair.

Returning to the focus of the "salaryman" pictures from his prewar oeuvre, Yasujiro Ozu creates a muted and atypically somber postwar portrait of estrangement, rootlessness, familial fractures, and the de-individualization of business life in Early Spring. Among the longest duration of Ozu's postwar work, the film consists of a series of long, unmodulated sequences of mundane activities, idle office gossip, banal conversations, and minute crises that do not build to a traditional narrative climax and denouement but rather, unfold and resolve themselves within the trivialities - the existential "noise" - that constitute everyday life. Incorporating his familiar framing of uniformly posed subjects (a penchant for duplicated images that film historian and critic Tadao Sato also noted during the International Perspectives Conference on The Place of Ozu Within Japanese Film History), Ozu's symmetric compositions further serve as visually repetitive patterns that innately reflect the monotony of a career office worker's existence: the stream of people walking to the train station, the crowd assembling on the station platform, the uniform glance towards the camera to indicate the approach of the train, the line of public buses dotting an intersection as seen from an office window. In the end, it is this oppressive sameness - the necessitated conformity of people inextricably trapped in the routine of impersonal economy - that is poignantly captured in the understated, modern-day tragedy of the film: the quiet despair of false allegiance, upended values, feigned communality, and unrealized idealism.

© Acquarello 2004. All rights reserved.

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Higanbana, 1958
[Equinox Flower]

Tanaka/SaburiWataru Hirayama (Shin Saburi) speaks with nostalgic, muted tenderness as he recalls his arranged marriage to his wife, Kiyoko (Kinuyo Tanaka) at the wedding reception of his friend, Kawai's (Nobuo Nakamura) elder daughter. Despite his own traditional marriage, he celebrates the freedom of young people to carve out their own destinies in the postwar, Western influenced society of contemporary Japan. Yet for his own daughter, Setsuko (Ineko Arima), Hirayama has proposed the idea of arranging a marriage with a young man from a politically influential family. His younger daughter, Hisako (Miyuki Kuwano), idealistically declares that she will only marry out of love, and Hirayama seems relieved at the unburdening of his paternal responsibility to find a suitable husband for her. At work, Hirayama is equally encumbered with the filial affairs of other parents whose relationships with their own children have been strained by their well-intentioned interference. Mikami (Chisyu Ryu), a somber, mild-mannered widower, became estranged from his daughter, Fumiko (Yoshiko Kuga), over her choice of suitors - a cabaret musician named Naganuma - and implores Hirayama to visit her on his behalf. A verbose, intrusive innkeeper from Kyoto, Sasaki (Chieko Naniwa), then pays a visit to Hirayama in order to apologize for the mis-shipment of inferior bamboo shoots intended to be sent to her less favored customers. Having found an eligible young doctor for her independent-minded daughter, Yukiko, at a Tokyo hospital, Sasaki has decided to prolong her medical treatments in an attempt to encourage their union. Nevertheless, despite Hirayama's progressive statements on modern relationships and his sincere concern for, and outward solidarity with, the younger generation, he refuses to give his consent when a young man named Taniguchi (Keiji Sada), Setsuko's coworker at Nitto Chemical, asks for her hand in marriage.

The first color feature film from Yasujiro Ozu, Equinox Flower is a spare, evocative, and compassionate portrait of aging, transition, and change. The title of the film refers to a red amaryllis flower that blooms near the autumnal equinox, and red imagery pervade the film: the brick train station building, the carpeting of the wedding banquet, Yukiko's obi, the tea kettle at the Hirayama home. Similar to Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata and Andre Techine's Ma Saison Preferee, the season serves as a reflection of Hirayama's generation, attempting to reconcile with the profound cultural and social changes of postwar Japan. The film opens to the image of the train station and cuts to a shot of the hallway of the wedding reception. It is a reminder of Hirayama's own transitional passage - an elegy for the quickly vanishing traditions of an irretrievable past, and a celebration of renewed hope and promise.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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Ukigusa, 1959
[Floating Weeds]

Kyo/NakamuraA panoramic, low angle opening montage of an idyllic Japanese coastal province defines the understated, cinematic poetry of Yasujiro Ozu: a lighthouse framed against a tranquil sea; docked boats undulating with the sweeping waves; villagers weaving lackadaisically through local shops, as much for social interaction as for commerce. A struggling, itinerant acting troupe arrives into town for a kabuki show, lead by an aging performer, Master Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura). It is a tenuous homecoming for Komajuro, whose first visit into town is to a former mistress named Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura) and their adult son, Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), who only knows of him as an uncle. Unable to draw a crowd for the show and abandoned by their manager, the troupe is soon out of work and becomes stranded. Komajuro begins to spend much of his idle time with Oyoshi. His current mistress, Sumiko (Machiko Kyo), wounded by his secrecy, commissions a young actress, Kayo (Ayako Wakao), to tempt Kiyoshi, and precipitate his ruin. However, when Kiyoshi falls in love with Kayo, Komajuro risks his relationship with his estranged son when he expresses his disapproval of their relationship.

Ozu's pervasive use of low camera height provides more than just a directorial signature style in Floating Weeds. As in Tokyo Story, the atmosphere is intimate and accessible. The characters appear grounded, human, reflecting Ozu's respect for the dignity of the common man. The camera does not wander, but retains focus on the space, creating a unbiased perspective of the characters. Inevitably, we understand Komajuro because he is all too human: the aging actor at the twilight of his career; the leader faced with the dissolution of his failed troupe; the father ashamed to reveal his deception. He has transcended the great samurais of his struggling plays, stripped of their cosmetic facade, and is rewarded with compassion and humanity.

© Acquarello 1999. All rights reserved.

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Ohayo, 1959
[Good Morning]

Shidara/Miyake/ShimazuOhayo is a clever, humorous, and lighthearted glimpse into contemporary Japanese life, as seen through the eyes of the Hayashi brothers: Minoru (Koji Shidara) and Isamu (Masahiko Shimazu). In a close knit suburban village of 1950's Japan, there is only one television set in the neighborhood, and the children religiously make an after school pilgrimage, often at the expense of their English lessons, to catch their daily dose of sumo wrestling. Returning home, their dinner conversations inevitably turn to incessant pleas and temper tantrums for their parents to buy them a television. But their father (Chishu Ryu) is against buying one, believing that its presence in the Japanese home will spawn "100 million idiots." When the boys are ordered by their father to remain silent about their tireless campaign, they vow not to speak to anyone. However, their protest is mistaken for an intentional snub when a neighbor, Mrs. Haraguchi (Haruko Sugimura), assumes that their silence is associated with an earlier misunderstanding with Mrs. Hayashi (Kuniko Miyake) regarding payment of club dues. Soon, news of Mrs. Haraguchi's "pettiness" over personal grudges spreads through the village, and the neighbors collectively take turns to visit Mrs. Hayashi and return all their borrowed items. Meanwhile, things prove to be equally difficult at school, as Isamu's signal for permission to talk is construed by his teacher as a request to go to the bathroom, and Minoru is punished for refusing to read a passage aloud in class. When Minoru's teacher stops by the Hayashi home after school to inquire about the boys' refusal to talk, Minoru and Isamu decide to run away to avoid being scolded.

Yasujiro Ozu takes a whimsical and comic, yet socially astute commentary on formality, etiquette, and consumerism in Ohayo. Through the children's perspective, polite conversation is a meaningless exercise in civility. Yet, through the course of the film, speech becomes an indispensable means for conveying thought, profound emotion, and resolving misunderstandings: the confusion over the misplaced club dues; the children's inability to ask for lunch money; the English teacher's affection for Aunt Setsuko (Yoshiki Kuga). Inevitably, communication proves to be the most effective means of social interaction - the indispensable, universal key to all human relationships.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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Akibiyori, 1960
[Late Autumn]

Tsukasa/HaraOn the death anniversary of the Miwa family patriarch, Miwa's gracious and noble widow Akiko (Setsuko Hara), their 24-year old daughter Ayako (Yôko Tsukasa), and brother Shukichi (Chishu Ryu), host a reunion with Miwa's longtime friends for a memorial service and intimate reception at a seaside resort. The three middle-aged friends, who once competed in their younger days for the affection of the captivating Akiko, then a familiar presence at her family's pharmacy store in Hongo, have now resolved to find a suitable husband for their former romantic adversary's equally beautiful daughter Ayako, despite her own casual indifference on the subject of marriage. The disorganized Taguchi (Nobuo Nakamura) believes that he has found a good candidate among his wife's acquaintances named Shige, and upon arriving home (to the humorously all too frequent sight of his newly married daughter's suitcase near the entrance after running home following a quarrel in the household), mentions the idea to his wife only to be reminded that the young man had been recently married and that they had even sent him a wedding gift. Chagrined upon hearing Taguchi's embarrassing oversight, Mamiya (Shin Saburi) proposes a substitute prospect to Akiko, a young man from the office named Goto (Keiji Sada) whom he readily admits, "Well, he's not an eye catcher, but he's a fine lad who works hard." Mildly disconcerted by the seemingly aggressive matchmaking efforts of her parents' well-intentioned friends, Ayako refuses Mamiya's offer to act as an intermediary between the two families, but is put in an awkward situation when she visits Mamiya at the office in order to deliver one of her father's old pipes, and is given a gibing, ill humored introduction to the shy young man.

Reflecting themes from Yasujiro Ozu's earlier film and personal favorite work, Late Spring, on the inevitable separation of a widowed parent and a devoted, adult child, Late Autumn is an understatedly poignant, captivating, and elegiac film on the dissolution of the nuclear family. Ozu's juxtaposition of green color tones - synthetic, often brighter hues (in particular, turquoise and aquamarine) contrasted against more muted, earth toned, tea shades - creates a curious visual dichotomy that obliquely symbolizes the diverging seasonal and existential stages in Akiko and Ayako's lives. Dour, green-gray scaped commercial interiors of Mamiya's and Ayako's offices and the exterior corridor leading to the Miwa's apartment convey an perceptual contrast to the warmer tones of the Mamiya home as Mrs. Taguchi (Kuniko Miyake) pays a visit to Mrs. Mamiya (Sadako Sawamura), and similarly, the private dining room of the resort where family and friends assemble for the memorial ceremony. In the exquisitely composed final sequence, Akiko subtly betrays an enigmatic smile after a brief visit from Ayako's spirited friend and colleague, Yukiko (Okada Mariko) - a serenely indelible and bittersweet affirmation of life's immutably evolving, but ultimately, constantly renewing process.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.

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Sanma no aji, 1962
[An Autumn Afternoon]

RyuShuhei Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) has settled into a complacent, domestic life of a widower with his adult children - his son Kazuo (Shinichiro Mikami) and daughter Michiko (Shima Iwashita) - in postwar Tokyo. Michiko is his only daughter, and has naturally assumed the role of lady of the house after her mother's death. Upon hearing that one of his employees has taken a leave of absence in order to get married, Hirayama begins to evaluate Michiko's readiness for marriage as well. His friend Kawai (Nobuo Nakamura) approaches him with a prospective match, but Hirayama delays mentioning the matter to Michiko, unconvinced by the "urgency" of the situation (or perhaps, for fear of losing her). On the evening of his class reunion, he is reunited with his former school teacher, Sakuma, affectionately known as "The Gourd". The years have not been kind to Sakuma, who continues to work after his retirement by operating a noodle shop. Sakuma, too, had lost his wife at a young age, and his daughter, Tomoko (Haruko Sugimura), has remained unmarried in order to care for him. Witnessing the physical and emotional toll on Tomoko in single-handedly caring for an aging parent, Hirayama becomes determined to spare Michiko from a similar, heartbreaking fate.

Yasujiro Ozu creates a beautifully realized, humorous, and poignant final masterpiece in An Autumn Afternoon. Set against the backdrop of an industrialized, and increasingly westernized Tokyo, An Autumn Afternoon is a subtle, yet profound observation on the growing paradox of cultural tradition in modern society: the isolation resulting from the dissolution of the nuclear family, the societal pressures for a single woman to marry despite emotional ambivalence; the continued financial assistance by a parent for a grown child. Using equal measures of levity and sadness, Ozu creates a serene and deeply affecting story of aging, parental duty, and loneliness. The final, understated shot shows Hirayama contemplating the void of his daughter's absence, framed against the darkness of an empty room. It is a bittersweet portrait of gentle nostalgia and resigned acceptance - a somber reflection of the inevitable passage of time - a haunting elegy for an irretrievable past, and a bittersweet reminder of the unalterable process of life.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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