Late Autumn (Akibiyori) (1960), Dir. Yasujiro Ozu

 

Yôko Tsukasa as the sensitive and defiant Ayako Miwa.

Rating: 9/10

Showing as part of the Ozu retrospective at the BFI, I was intrigued to see more of his work having consantly heard what a legendary director he is and feeling like I hadn’t given him his due when I first saw Tokyo Story for my uni film course (as I have said earlier I had just found out that I was meant to give in work tomorrow which I thought wasn’t due for ages so wasn’t in the best of moods). I wanted to see his work again and see what all the fuss was about.

It turns out this Ozu film was much funnier than I was expecting having had the impression that his films were slow and serious (which reminds me of when I saw The Seventh Seal and realised that Bergman does have a sense of humour despite his reputation). They are indeed slow and one unused to his style may need to watch his films a number of times to get used to it.  The actors, particularly the women, also tend to maintain quite a polite and ever-smiling demeanour which can be frustrating to some expecting a full-display of emotions but it reflects Japanese etiquette and the reserved nature of the Japanese. Also unlike mainstream Western editing techniques which favours fast-paced editing and shot/reverse shots, Ozu’s style favours reflective shots held for longer than is normally expected and instead of a lot of  shot/ reverse shots he frames the actors individually like portraits. The camera is often placed unusually low reflecting character’s positions on the traditional tatami mats.

The film dwelt on Ozu’s perennial themes of family and social ties vs. independence, tradition vs. modernity and older generation vs. younger generation. These tensions are explored through  the story of widower Akiko (iconic Ozu regular Setsuko Hara)  and her 20-something daughter Ayako (Yôko Tsukasa) who Akiko with the help of her late husband’s friends (Wonderfully comic turns by Keiji Sada, Shin Saburi and Chishû Ryû) tries to marry off. The problem occurs when Ayako intent on staying with her mother who she fears will get lonely if she leaves, resents their interference and stubbornly determines to remain single. It is then when the old friends plot to marry off the mother as well with the comical result that one of friends themselves tries to court Akiko.

The scenes where the old men are plotting like school-boys and recalling days of their youth spent getting too much medicine from a local pharmicist they fancied are perfectly pitched, funny and touching. While the scenes between Akiko and Ayako are more poigannt showing how much love they have for each-other having been brought closer together by the death of the father. The final moments, in particular when Ayako makes the last trip together with her mother is especially moving.

The film also perfectly captures the turmoils of young adulthood in Japan, caught between the demands of settling down and getting their own homes, and looking after their parents and being free from the constraints of an arranged marriage. The difference between the younger and older generation of women is also explored astutely through the juxtopsition of scenes where Ayako and her sassy friend Yukiko (Mariko Okada) are working as secretaries in an office full of young women, while Akiko goes about her daily domestic chores.

All in all this film has definately re-awakened my interest in Ozu and made me want to re-watch Tokyo Story. I would recommend this film to anyone with an interest in Japanese culture or anyone who likes intimate dramas with universal truths and bittersweet comedy.

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