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Considered by some critics to be Japanese master Yasujiro Ozuís ìmost perfectî film, Late Spring (1949) is a deceptively straightforward story. The widowed professor Somiya lives happily with his 27-year old unmarried daughter Noriko, who runs his household. The young womanís aunt believes the girl should marry, and sets about arranging a marriage for her. Although neither father nor daughter want it, a marriage is arranged.
Such a simple plot summary cannot begin to convey the delicate subtlety with which emotions are probed and conveyed; the quiet elegance of Ozuís visual technique; and the perfection of the performances by Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara as the father and daughter. All have been praised and discussed extensively in the more than sixty years since the film was made, and time has only burnished its reputation. In the 2012 version of the British Film Instituteís Sight and Sound magazine poll of the greatest films of all time, critics chose Late Spring as number 15.
Ryu appeared in all but two of Ozuís films. Late Spring was the first of six films Hara made with the director. It was also the first of the so-called ìNoriko Trilogy,î three unrelated Ozu films in which she played characters named Noriko, followed by Early Summer (1951) and Tokyo Story (1953). Already a leading actress in Japan when she began working with Ozu, she had been acting in films since 1935, and retired from the screen at the age of 43, shortly after Ozuís death in 1963.
The story of Late Spring is played against the background of post-war Japan under the American occupation, and it was subject to the occupation authoritiesí censorship. The censors objected to the portrayal of the Japanese custom of arranged marriage, considering it an antiquated, feudal tradition. But they agreed to allow the filmmakers to depict such a marriage as Norikoís own decision, rather than a family one. Any reference to the destruction caused by Allied bombings was removed. But some scholars believe that Ozu seemed to visually comment on the occupation by showing Coca-Cola signs marring the countryside during Norikoís bike ride. And increasingly, there are signs of the Americanization of Japan that would explode in the next decade. Local kids play baseball. A ìpillow shotî ñ- a transitional shot of landscapes or buildings characteristic of Ozuís films -- shows a city scene with signs in English reading Time-Life Building, and Balboa Tea and Coffee.
Late Spring contains what is perhaps the most-discussed pillow shot in any Ozu film, the image of a vase as father and daughter lie on their separate futons in the inn during a visit to Kyoto. Interpretations run the gamut of the vase as nothing more than a transitional device, to the vase as a symbol of woman, or a symbol that the relationship between father and daughter has changed. Late Spring received excellent reviews when it was released in Japan. It was awarded the Kinema Jumpo magazine criticsí award as the best film of 1949. When the film was finally released in the U.S. in 1972, it also received glowing reviews. Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times that "the difficulty with Ozu is not in appreciating his films...[but] in describing an Ozu work in a way that doesn't diminish it, that doesn't reduce it to an inventory of his austere techniques, and that accurately reflects the unsentimental humanism of his discipline." Canby praised Ozu for his "profound respect for [the characters'] privacy, for the mystery of their emotions. Because of this -- not in spite of this -- his films, of which Late Spring is one of the finest, are so moving." Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Producer: Takeshi Yamamoto
Screenplay: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu, based on the novel Father and Daughter by Kazuo Hirotsu
Cinematography: Yuharu Atsuta
Editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura
Music: Senji Ito
Principal Cast: Chishu Ryu (Professor Shukichi Somiya), Setsuko Hara (Noriko, his daughter), Haruko Sugimura (Aunt Masa), Yumeji Tsukioka (Aya Kitagawa), Masao Mishima (Onodera), Jun Usami (Hattori)
by Margarita Landazuri