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Late Spring (1949) March 6, 2011

Posted by Cal in : Drama, 1940s films , 1 comment so far

Director: Yasujiro Ozu  Main cast: Setsuko Hara; Chishu Ryu  Territory: Japan

Noriko (Setsuko Hara) is 27 years old and unmarried, a fact that is beginning to trouble her father, Professor Somiya (Chishu Ryu).  He sets out to match her with a suitor, much against Noriko’s own wishes, who only wants to be by her father’s side.

It is, I suppose, somewhat difficult to see what the big deal is about the central issue surrounding Late Spring.  Over sixty years old, the film is more than a couple of generations away from being strictly relevant.  But that is also missing the point – Late Spring is a film about family, love and sacrifice, and is told in a gentle and charming way.

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The main characters, and Noriko in particular, are a little quirky and at first difficult to get to grips with.  Even in her own generation, she seems rather old-fashioned – surprisingly telling an uncle of hers that he is impure because he remarried following a divorce.  Nevertheless, her naivety and likeability does start to show through, and the bond between her and her father is touching.

This bond can seem rather unenlightened to today’s audiences – Dr Somiya often appears to treat his daughter like a servant or personal assistant, but again, this relationship needs to be seen in the context of its generation and the culture of the nation that spawned it.  In fact, Noriko’s father laments to her later that he is ashamed of hanging on to her for so long and not setting her free to an uncertain fate in marriage.

Ozu tells the tale with warm humour, although I occasionally found his use of the camera difficult to get comfortable with - he was known for placing the camera very low to the ground, and the results are remarkably different from conventional camerawork.  I often found this intruded on my viewing experience, but I do have to admit that some other shots, such as the train sequence, are excellent.  This is the first film I’ve seen from this director, and inevitably I drew comparisons to one of my heroes, Akira Kurosawa.  It’s a little unfair to do so, but Ozu’s film stands up as an excellent film in any case, and it seems clear that he was able to shoot a female protagonist better than Kurosawa.

I watched this on the Region B BFI Blu-ray, and it has to be said, it was a bit of a bargain.  The BD comes with Ozu’s first talkie, The Only Son, another disc with both films on DVD, and a nice little booklet with essays on both films.  As you may expect, there is a lot of wear to the print, but some of the exterior shots are staggeringly sharp, and a quick comparison with the DVD shows a remarkable difference.  If you’re a fan of the director’s work, it’s definitely worth picking this up – even if you don’t yet own a Blu-ray player.

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