Late Spring (1949)

casey Late Spring is the second Yasujirō Ozu film we’ve watched for our Great Movies project, following his 1959 work Floating Weeds. It took me  minute to get in sync with its rhythm, but once I did I thought it was pretty damned great.

brooke Despite a few spots that dragged, I found it incredibly enjoyable

casey And compared to Floating Weeds (or maybe because if it!), I felt more connected with the characters and themes despite parts of it remaining a bit opaque.

brooke Late Spring is Ozu’s adaptation of a short novel called Father and Daughter, and tells the story of Professor Shukichi Somiya (Chishu Ryu) and his only daughter Noriko (Setsuko Hara). The Professor has been a widower for a while and Noriko, now 27, lives with and cares for him. But her aunt Masa (Haruko Sugimura) is concerned that Noriko isn’t yet married, and with Shukichi’s help hatches a plan to get Noriko married off, even though she isn’t exactly excited to leave.

casey If I were the sarcastic type I might call it People Sitting at Tables and Talking: The Movie, but that would undersell what’s going on. Late Spring is indeed largely comprised of conversations, mostly filmed with a static camera and medium shots, and on the surface it can seem mellow and even languid. But as the story progresses the surface tranquility increasingly masks the roiling emotions of its characters, particularly Noriko. So much is conveyed by quick glances and tight smiles between a caste of generally kind, pleasant people who are tearing their family apart because it seems like what’s expected of them. It all culminates in an ending that’s similarly understated, but incredibly sad in its own way, when Aunt Masa and the Shukichi successfully convince Noriko to marry.

brooke I didn’t find the ending sad  so much as as an acceptance of life moving forward, both for Noriko and her father.
One of the brilliant things about the movie is that you never see Noriko’s groom. We follow her and her father as they travel to spend time with him and we her see before and after the wedding, but never him. Ozu maintains the focus on father and daughter.

casey That reminds me pf another similar moment: early in the movie Noriko spends an afternoon with a young associate of her father’s, with whom she has obvious chemistry, but when Shukichi asks whether he could be a potential suitor she laughs and responds that the man is already engaged, information that has also been withheld from the viewer to that point, so we share Shukichi’s surprise. Because Late Spring deals with themes of divorce and remarriage, I thought the associate might show up later, maybe as a potential suitor, but instead we never see him again.
Like you said, the relationship between Noriko and Shukichi is usually paramount, which is where the tragedy is for me: Shukichi ultimately lies to Noriko about intending to remarry in order to ease her fears about his being taken care of, which breaks her heart in several ways (we learn several times that for some reason she’s profoundly troubled by the concept of remarriage). Then Noriko accepts an arranged marriage she’s clearly not enthusiastic about, to a man the movie depicts as a total stranger. Both father and daughter have done the “right” thing and in doing so given away what they really wanted. Sometimes that’s how life goes, but man, that’s rough.

brooke That’s an interesting way of looking at it. Shukichi may not get married in the end, nor does he get to keep Noriko close, but I’d argue that he wanted her to have a life setup for when he’s gone. Even though it’s not in their short term interest, it’s his way of preparing for her, which I suppose is sad in its own way.
I think there are cultural elements we didn’t catch or understand that influence the story choices as well.

casey Whatever the case, the length of the movie’s Wikipedia page indicates there’s a lot to dissect. I enjoyed the movie and all the performances thoroughly, particularly that of Setsuko Hara as Noriko and Yumeji Tsukioka as her friend Aya. Hara was apparently a frequent collaborator with Ozu, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing her again.

brooke I’ve really enjoyed both Ozu films we’ve watched, and I’m definitely looking forward to watching more in the future.

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