My introduction to Yasujiro Ozu’s work came by watching The Only Son and Floating Weeds. With An Autumn Afternoon I am increasingly intrigued by a director whose work was once considered “too Japanese” to do well in the West. Mainstream audiences may still not be drawn to his films, largely due to the minimal lives of its characters, the pastel colors, and the static camera. Nevertheless, there is a a type of serenity that can be found in his films if one is so inclined to seek it.
- Director: Yasujirō Ozu
- Writer: Kogo Noda, Yasujirō Ozu
- Cast: Chishu Ryu, Shima Iwashita, Keiji Sada, Mariko Okada, Teruo Yoshida, Noriko Maki, Shin’chiro Mikami, Nobuo Nakamura, Kuniko Miyake, Eijiro Tono
Mr. Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) lives with two of his three children, Michiko (Shima Iwashita) and Kazuo (Shin’ichiro), both in their early twenties. Hirayama spends his free time hanging out with several of his childhood friends either reminiscing or being lightly critical of each other. An old teacher of theirs, Sakuma (Eijiro Tono), whom they call the “Gourd”, dines with them and soon indirectly encourages Hirayama to question his own selfishness, leading him to marry off his daughter while she is still young.
Much like Alexander Payne, Yasujiro Ozu was very adept at making ordinary life situation seem somewhat extraordinary. Very little about the plot of An Autumn Afternoon would seem interesting to most people. The charm of a film like this lies in how it gives us characters that face real-life challenges without feeling the need to do anything outlandish. Ozu never tries to be too cute for the sake of effect. When Hirayama realizes that he’s been sabotaging his daughter’s prospects for marriage by expecting her to take care of him, he makes it a point to talk to a matchmaker. When the men realize the Gourd’s financial struggles, they pull money together to help him. When Hirayama’s married son has marital arguments about money, they unravel awkwardly, much as they often would in real relationships. Despite being successful, the men fear loneliness as their lives go deeper into their later years.
An Autumn Afternoon provides an insightful look into postwar Japan. Without beating our heads, Ozu offers a glimpse into a generation attempting to embrace modernity while being able to reflect on the effects on Japanese society after the war. In one scene, Hirayama drinks with an old fellow military officer and they consider what it would be like if Japan had won the war. Hirayama ultimately states that things ended up for the better, forcing us to consider the perspective that Japanese society had towards the war during the 1960′s. In another scene, Japanese men at a bar can be seen mocking the radio propaganda announcements during wartime. But if things turned out for the better, why is Ozu focusing on men who feel lonely and fear for the future of their children’s own happiness? The impact of the war, from Ozu’s eyes, seems to be more complicated than merely viewing as good or bad.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
An Autumn Afternoon becomes still more meaningful when considering Ebert’s reflections of the film, particularly when he reminds us that the themes of loneliness, family, dependence, marriage, parents and children lie at the center of Ozu’s material. As Ebert points out, Ozu “holds these themes to the light and their prisms cast variations on each screenplay.” I can understand how Ebert often turned to Ozu to gain the sense of calmness, as he acknowledged a work of art with a profound understanding of human nature, one in which he makes no dramatic statements. Life is transient. Essentially, we are here today and gone tomorrow, and this is the tone that Ozu’s films convey. I cannot do justice to the appreciation of this film the way Ebert and so many other critics have done. I can only say that I really appreciate its zen life quality and that I look forward to watching Ozu’s films for the rest of my life.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GOOD
Do you like An Autumn Afternoon? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: Nosferatu the Vampyre
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, a monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 363 films (more if you count the trilogies, the Up docs and Decalogue). Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Yasujiro Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon this week, he now has 332 under his belt and less than 50 films left to go.