Film Review: Late Spring (1949). 5/5 Stars

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 Noriko Somiya played by Setsuko Hara. 

Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) was an academic failure who stumbled into filmmaking in 1923. By the 1940s he was a master of Shomingeki, a genre whose themes dealt with the daily lives of ordinary working people. His unusual low set camera sat constantly centre-frame offering up images reminiscent of an Edward Hopper canvas, that place of light and space found between words and movement. This camera also conversed directly with his characters while casting clever observational asides about life, society and culture. Everything about Ozu the filmmaker was unique. He was a visual poet, an imaginative film technician and a self-made legend who drank too much and died too early. His catalogue is thin but remarkable.

1949 saw the release of the first of the three films that were to seal his reputation as a master. ‘Late Spring’ (1949), ‘Early Summer’ (1951) and ‘Tokyo Story’ (1953), collectively known as the Noriko trilogy. ‘Noriko’ is a central character in each of these films though in Ozu’s typically idiosyncratic style while the name is the same the character is not. His films belong to the order of film narrative called Shomingeki, in its time a hugely popular genre that dealt with the daily lives of ordinary working people.

 

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Yasujiro Ozu.

 

In ‘Late Spring’ the vivid and charismatic Setsuko Hara stars as 27-year-old Noriko the unmarried daughter of widower Professor Shukichi Somiya. She is a dutiful daughter who is content with the simple rhythms of life, caring for her father and tending to domestic duties. Her sunny disposition and even temperement belie the hardships she has recently endured as a labourer working in a munitions factory.

With Japans defeat she is rescued by her anxious father found starving, exhausted and close to death. Safely home, he nurses her back to health. Despite the contentment of their existence he is worried that she will spend the best years of her life tending the needs of an old man so he conceives a plan to gently push her from the home.

Sometime you happen upon a film that leaves you a better person for the experience. ‘Late Spring’ is a sad, joyous, humorous and heartfelt film about familial loyalty and personal sacrifice that explores the inner world of father and daughter while casting subtle eyes across Japans rapidly shifting cultural landscape, especially in regard to the all-pervasive influence of the American Forces of Occupation. Its sensitivity is profound, its touch wise and transformative, its social commentary subtle but deft.

In the 2012 edition of British Film Institutes influential Sight and Sound ‘Greatest Films Of All Time Poll’ ‘Tokyo Story’ was ranked number one, ‘Late Spring’ number fifteen.

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