Summer is pretty much here; even though it's technically spring, the end of school work means the beginning of summer. I spent this past weekend off work with vacation time, giving myself some time to finish up my finals (which I have) and just relax a little bit as the semester comes to a close. I had one day in particular in which I had no real responsibilities at all, so while having my coffee and toast I popped in a supplemental feature on Yasujiro's Tokyo Story which was a tribute to the Japanese master on the 90th anniversary of his birth (and 30th anniversary of his death). It featured a few filmmakers - including Wim Wenders, Claire Denis, Paul Schrader, and Lindsay Anderson - paying their respect through personal stories of how they've come to fall in love with Ozu's films or how they have affected their lives. Wim Wenders was especially enamored, keeping a little shrine in his office containing a sake flask that was once belonged to Ozu given to him through Chishu Ryu, a veteran Ozu actor. Naturally, after watching all the praise I was moved to watch another Ozu film.
I have only seen Tokyo Story, maybe his best-known film, often regarded as his masterpiece, and I Was Born But..., a silent film. The themes throughout Ozu's work remains largely the same - dramas with slight comedy about a family, usually involving a marriage - and many times he remakes his own stories with small adjustments (I Was Born But... was later remade into Good Morning). In this way, if you see one Ozu you could say you have seen them all, yet each has its own nuances and emotional pull and thus each is unique and beautiful in its own way. It's the same with all great auteurs or artists who play with the same themes, recreating the same story in different ways; like Renoir said, "A director makes only one movie in his life. Then he breaks it into pieces and makes it again."
In any case, Late Autumn is a later Ozu film from 1960 and works with the same story as his earlier film Late Spring (there are lots of seasonal titles), in which a single parent lives with their daughter, who is of age to be married off. In Late Spring the single parent is a father played by Chishu Ryu, but in Late Autumn it is a mother, played by Setsuko Hara, who played the daughter in Late Spring (there are a lot of recurring actors, too - haha). The story revolves around the relationship between the mother and daughter, which is harmonious and loving. The conflict comes in everyone's desire to see the daughter married off, with uncles offering suitors and with friends setting up dates, who is reluctant to leave her mother.
The film goes at a slow pace, with no camera movement and many scenes in which not a lot happens, which is the first barrier to get over. Patience is required, but it is well worth it for those who give it a chance. The experience is totally different from the average Hollywood entertainment film; there are no heroes or villains, the plot is minimal, and there are no drastic actions taken. However, having the willingness to commit to what Ozu has to show is well worth it. It is a singular experience, witnessing these ordinary people who are all good with recognizable faults - inconsiderateness, impatience, stubborness - deal with ordinary situations. Since there are no evil or villainous characters, you are not trying to see someone defeated or another triumph, but instead get to consider all the different sides and points of view to every situation and for each character. Sure, the one uncle is a bit pushy, but he means well. Sure, it would be convenient if the mother remarried, but she would rather be alone.
The film left me feeling like I experienced a full life through the characters. I felt a love for humanity and at the same time a sense of mortality and even a slight despair in thinking about how life is sometimes not fair. "Yes, life is disappointing" is a quote from Tokyo Story that really struck me because it is said in a way that accepts the absurdity of life, yet is not defeated completely by it. It is said with a slow nod and a slight smile.
I look forward to seeing another Ozu sometime soon, especially over the lazy days offered me in the summer time. I HIGHLY encourage you to experience one if you haven't already. After watching one I guarantee you will feel full and content, like having slowly enjoyed a delicious meal in which you savor every bite.