Ozu’s final work is a near masterpiece, a meditation on marriage and ageing through the lens of a father-daughter relationship.
Dir. Yasujiro Ozu
1962 | Japan | Drama | 113 mins | 1.37:1 | Japanese
PG (passed clean)
Cast: Chishû Ryû, Shima Iwashita, Keiji Sada
Plot: An aging widower arranges a marriage for his only daughter.
Subject Matter: Moderate/Life-Affirming
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray – first published 6 Jan 2013)
A loose remake of sorts of Late Spring (1949), Yasujiro Ozu’s final feature before he passed away at the age of sixty in 1963 is a near masterpiece.
In the Criterion Collection edition of the feature, the film is described as “elegantly composed and achingly tender… [and] is one of cinema’s fondest farewells.” An Autumn Afternoon, as it is called, explores issues now so familiar to the Ozu canon – ageing, marriage, and family. All these set to a changing post-war Japan that is gradually modernizing.
In An Autumn Afternoon, a widower (Chishu Ryu) of three young adult children realizes that he is getting old. Still, the prospect of his only daughter marrying out of the family seems unfathomable. She has been caring for her father and younger brother for years, and does not intend to part with her family so soon.
As Ryu’s character meets his old school friends in several reunions, a series of heartbreaking encounters and thought-provoking interactions with them convinces him to persuade his daughter to marry.
An Autumn Afternoon is like a meditation on marriage and ageing. In some scenes, the topic of age comes into focus. It becomes more than just a number. It reveals certain social implications such as the essential need to marry while still young and when suitors come by.
‘Take opportunities while they come, don’t live a life of regrets’ seems to be Ozu’s main message. A key character, who is an alcoholic, embodies the opposite of this mantra, becoming a forceful and human foreshadowing of what Ryu’s character may face if he does not take prompt action.
Ozu’s formalist style gives us both a sense of distance and intimacy to the characters. He frames his characters in precise compositions, almost always playing around with only a few angles.
This gives us a feeling of familiarity, as if we know these characters inside out, the homes that they live in, and the bars that they frequent. But Ozu never sentimentalizes. His static camera merely observes. And what it observes are emotions of the unsaid kind. That is his genius.
Through the lens of the father-daughter relationship, An Autumn Afternoon explores the anxieties of ageing and ‘losing’ a loved one through the sociocultural ritual that is marriage. But between loss and regret, the latter seems to be the worst of the two evils.
Ozu’s last work is by no means his most profound, but it is up there among his finest. And in colour, like Floating Weeds (1959), the film is a thing of beauty. Its final shot encapsulates the unique style and spirit of Ozu’s past works, as it affirms his (and our) belief in the fragility of the human condition.