Directed by: Yasujirô Ozu
Screenplay by: Yasujirô Ozu & Kogo Noda
Cast: Chishu Ryu, Shima Iwashita, Keiji Sada, Mariko Okada, Teruo Yoshida
Run Time: 1 Hour and 52 Minutes
Availability: Streaming on Hulu Plus, Out on DVD & Blu-Ray by The Criterion Collection
Japanese filmmaker Yasujirô Ozu is another name that will pop up quite frequently during this cinematic journey. He is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and films such as “Tokyo Story,” “Late Spring,” and “Floating Weeds” have cemented this reputation. At least that is according to research I have done. I know nothing of Ozu’s work. While I watched “Tokyo Story” for a film class in college, I don’t remember anything about it. Our featured film for this week is Ozu’s final film, 1962’s “An Autumn Afternoon,” and if the rest of his work is anything like this, then we are in for a treat. Ozu’s final cinematic gift is wonderfully-written, touching story about a father who realizes it’s time to let his daughter go out into the world and live her life.
Shuhei Hirayama (Chishû Ryû) is an aging widower who lives at home with his two children, 24-year-old daughter Michiko (Shima Iwashita) and 21-year-old son Kazuo (Shin’ichirô Mikami). He also has a 32-year-old son Koichi (Keiji Sada) who is trying to make it on his own with his wife. When not at work or home, Shuhei is out getting drunk with old friends from middle school. Though his friends insist his daughter get married, Shuhei has become complacent with having her around to take care of him, and tells them she is not ready. This changes though when an old teacher comes to one of the hang out sessions. After a long night of drinking Shuhei takes the teacher to his home, where he meets his daughter. He learns that she sacrificed getting married to take care of her father, and has now become old and bitter. Not wanting the same fate to befall his child, Shuhei realizes it is time to let his baby bird fly free, as the cliche goes.
How does a family drama about an aging Japanese man and his daughter possibly appeal to a young, single, childless dude from the US? With brilliant writing, that’s how. The dialogue, at least according to the translation provided, is so fresh, earnest and real. According to reviews I have read, Ozu was always interested in naturalistic dialogue and that certainly applies to this film. Exposition does not come out out of our characters mouths, but rather real conversations. In addition to the wonderful, life-like dialogue is a perfect combination of humorous moments and heavy drama. Ozu and his lifelong screenwriting partner Kogo Noda keep the emotional content in balance. When a moment is funny it is very funny and when it is dramatic it is very dramatic. Lastly there is a fully developed arc to Shuhei’s character and a great performance from Chishû Ryû, who was one of Ozu’s regular actors. It is a slow burn of a film but filled with great dialogue, performances and moments that those who can stand the pace are in for a real treat. Simplistic, earnest storytelling at its finest.
Critics can’t seem to talk about Ozu without mentioning his directorial style. Since we will be seeing much more of his films down the line its worth mentioning this now. His films were shot in a way that was completely different than American films, and that can be seen in this final film: low angle, stationary static shots, shooting subjects from a side profile instead of head on, “pillow shots”- which Geoff Andrews described in his review for Sight & Sound Magazine as “montage sequences of landscapes and buildings not only to begin films but also to provide punctuation and linkages between narrative scenes- minimal use of music and tight editing, just to name a few characteristics. It’s a style that was uniquely his own and it is used to brilliant effect in “An Autumn Afternoon.”
Don’t let the cultural differences, language barrier or plot prevent you from seeing this movie. “An Autumn Afternoon” is a very well-written and tender family drama. I look forward to seeing what else Ozu’s filmography has to offer.
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