Running time: 128 min.
Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr
The main premise of 1960’s "Late Autumn" is one that Yasujiro Ozu employed many times throughout his career: a parent living comfortably with their twenty-something child expresses concern for their future and reluctantly pushes them to marry. This is the story for "Late Spring" (1949) and "An Autumn Afternoon" (1962), in both cases with Chishu Ryu as a father seeing off his daughter into a new life. However, "Late Autumn" adds an interesting twist: its central characters are a mother and daughter, with the former played by none other than the great Setsuko Hara. As one might expect, the scenario may be familiar, but the feminine dynamic between parent and child is refreshingly different. This, along with other details, shows how varied Ozu’s films can be even though he would focus on similar subjects time and time again.
Hara plays Akiko, an aging woman who, with her daughter Ayako (Yoko Tsukasa), is left in the wake of her husband’s recent death. A trio of friends – Mamiya (Shin Saburi), Taguchi (Nobuo Nakamura) and Hirayama (Ryuji Kita) – fondly recall their still-vital affections for Akiko and shift their attention to marriage prospects for the twenty-four year-old Ayako. They discuss and choose possible suitors for her, the most promising one being a young office worker named Goto (Keiji Sada). Yet on the heels of their stratagems come thoughts of how Akiko will cope all alone, prompting them (the hopeful Hirayama in particular) to consider seeing the widow married as well. In the midst of this, both mother and daughter voice their firm preferences to not marry. Yet the situation becomes more complicated as the three would-be matchmakers’ plans spawn frustrating rumors and Ayako gradually changes her attitude towards Goto.
Here, the familiar Ozu plot of the rush to arrange marriage for a proper-aged young woman emerges once more. Sometimes it can seem overly insistent, particularly to the daughter herself – why should she hurry and find a husband? Isn’t she still young and free to live her own life? But besides being a specific reflection of Japanese culture, this tendency also serves as a sign of concern for the young woman involved – those around her see this as a step she needs to take to move on with her life before it is too late – despite her concerns for the remaining parent. Ozu would illustrate the harmful consequences of doing otherwise more fully in "An Autumn Afternoon," but here the message is made clear enough. "Late Autumn" is carried along not only by the familial relationship, but also by the plots and speculations woven by the three men as they yearn for Akiko and discuss the romantic possibilities for both her and Ayako. This leads to a few disturbances, such as when Ayako expresses her disgust at the idea of her mother remarrying so soon before poor Akiko has even heard about any proposal. The fuss raised by the three meddlers prompts the spirited Yuriko (Mariko Okada), Ayako’s best friend, to reprimand them, clearing the way for a comic sequence in which she surprises the men with her sassy attitude.
That is just one of many moments arranged throughout "Late Autumn" that pleasantly linger on the facets of everyday life. One day, Ayako and Yuriko manage to find some solace from their office jobs by escaping to the roof and, significantly, waving to a newly wed friend on a passing train. The many outings to bars and restaurants, a refreshing hike through the countryside and, most poignant of all, the activities Akiko and Ayako quietly enjoy with one another give the film a nice flow that allows Ozu to develop settings, characters and their relationships with the skill for which he is so loved. Of course, the mostly light-hearted tone gives way to something sadder beneath the surface, mainly originating from Akiko’s lingering fondness for her deceased husband and, of course, the pain of letting Ayako go. This is Ozu in top form, brilliantly melding the joyful and solemn sides of life and tapping into the currents of the present whilst evoking whole lifetimes of memories.
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