Thursday, May 22, 2008

REVIEW: Late Spring (Banshun) - Yasujiro Ozu (1949)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

Yasujiro Ozu is almost better known for what he leaves out of his films than what’s actually in them. Take for example his film, “Late Spring”; the story of Noriko Somiya (the legendary Setsuko Hara in a vibrant performance) who’s being pressured by her family into getting married. She’s 27 years-old, almost an old maid, but Noriko is happy where she is: taking care of her widowed father, Shukichi (Chishu Ryu). This is enough for her, and she sees no need to become someone’s wife.

Most Hollywood films would play up the romance and enlist a handsome suitor to chip away at Noriko’s resolve (well Ozu does, kind of, in the person of Noriko’s philandering admirer) then cap things off with a grand wedding celebration. Ozu, in his usual elliptic way, chooses not to show us these, but instead focuses on the quiet but determined coercion and love of her father and family to gradually change her mind. Still Noriko remains headstrong, reluctantly keeping appointments with the local matchmaker and coyly laughing off remarks from her best friend, the model of a modern Japanese divorcée. It isn’t until her father admits that he’s considering taking another wife, a move that Noriko finds “dirty”, that she begins to reconsider.

There’s one telling thing that Ozu leaves out that can account for Noriko’s stubbornness, something that makes “Late Spring” such a poignant and moving film: the past. Released in 1949 the film barely mentions the war that had just ended four years previous. We only get hints of the pain and loss that the Somiya family must have suffered; the bombardment of Tokyo by the Allied Forces, Noriko having become ill due to the strain of forced labour, the death of her mother. No wonder Noriko is reluctant to marry! Some sense of stability, of happiness has returned to her life and now she’s being asked to jump into another uncertain future. I guarantee that keeping this in mind will make you see this film in a whole new light. The scene where Noriko comes face to face with her father’s potential financée at a Noh play or the final departure for the wedding will absolutely break your heart. They did mine, but in a wonderful way. An absolute must see.

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