Douglas Laman is looking at all the movies on the Sight & Sound’s 50 Greatest Move lists that he has never seen before!
Sight & Sound Voyage Entry #10
Placement On Sight & Sound 50 Best Movies List: #15
Both Late Spring and Tokyo Story are the first Yasujiro Ozu movies I’ve ever seen, and if they’re any indication, the concepts of family and mortality loom large in his productions. Ozu seems quite fascinated at contemplating how the finite time we have on this Earth impacts the way we interact with our loved ones, especially since the realization of us all having only so much time to live is likely to be more prevalent on the minds of older individuals compared to their younger relatives. Whereas Tokyo Story was about coming to terms with death as it occurs, the story of Late Spring is more concerned with preparing for that kind of possibility.
One of the two lead characters of Late Spring, Shukichi Somiya (Chischu Ryu) isn’t as overtly elderly as the leading duo of Tokyo Story, but he is getting up there in years and yearns for his only daughter, Noriko (Setsuko Hara) to get married so that she can have some form of companionship when he inevitably passes away. Noriko isn’t fond of the idea of an arranged marriage and abandoning the day-to-day routine she and her father have created. The two’s quarreling ideas over the concept of this union make up the bulk of the movie, with their dissenting opinions shedding light on their individual personalities and psyches.
It is near impossible to talk about this movie without discussing how quickly Late Spring came after World War II, a war that greatly involved Japan and had the country both delivering and receiving terrorist attacks. After that war ceased, the everyday individuals of that country were looking for some sense of normalcy to return to and it’s easy to see how the story of Late Spring can be seen as Shukichi wanting to make sure his daughter is taken care of in the possibility of some other big event like World War II occurring again. The unpredictable nature of that elongated worldwide conflict has him yearning to create a sense of stability for his daughter in what little time he still has left in his life.
The presence of that recently finished war looms over the entire movie, even if it’s only explicitly referenced in brief bits of off-hand dialogue. Having that gargantuan real-life event cast such a large shadow upon this intimate proceedings allows a darker undercurrent to flow beneath the characters actions, informing both the father’s realization of his own mortality (since he’s seen so much bloodshed and horror in recent years) and the daughter’s desire to live her life in her own way. Kogo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu’s screenplay is truly adept at creating character motivation stemming from actual events in a subtle way that don’t distract from the fictitious story at hand.
There’s plenty to praise about Late Spring, but particular kudos need to be doled out to the two lead actor, who were always gonna be a crucial part of this movie working in any way shape or form. Chischu Ryu, for his own part, makes for a fine father figure to headline the movie, you can see the sternly delivered fear that informs his decision to get his daughter married swirling around in his head, but he also has an easygoing dynamic with his daughter that makes it readily apparent why the two would have such a good relationship. Setsuko Hara, meanwhile, may be the best part of the movie, her portrayal of the characters default buoyant personality is infectious and the way she contrasts that with the skillful way she pulls off her characters more morose moments only makes those somber part of the characters arc all the more devastating.
Speaking of devastating, another recurring element of Yosujiro Ozu’s work appears to be ending on shots that really let the morose elements of the story sink in, allowing a simple visual to hit the audience with tons of melancholy poignancy. The final shot of Shukichi in this movie will most certainly stick with me for a while as will quite a bit of Late Spring, a strongly made melancholy ode to a father/daughter relationship that gets fractured by the ever growing presence of mortality whose emotional power comes from looking at the intimate repercussions (like World War II or an arranged wedding) of larger events.