Movies You Might Have Missed: An Autumn Afternoon

TitleAn Autumn Afternoon (Sanma no aji)
Release Date: 1962
Rating: N/A
Length: 113 minutes
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Starring: Chishu Ryu, Shima Iwashita, Keiji Sada
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan

Yasujiro Ozu made a lot of great films; this is no exception, but it’s not one that is often mentioned as one of his best. It’s the final film he completed, though it would be a mistake to read into it that it was therefore more meaningful as a result since he didn’t intend it to be the last. Ozu was working on the script for another when he died. This movie was very similar in broad strokes to several of his other great works, but don’t let that similarity fool you into thinking it is repetitive or derivative (in the negative sense) of his earlier work.

Here, as before, an aging widower marries off a somewhat reluctant daughter. In contrast to Late Spring, however, the focus in this film is not as much on the daughter and her situation as it is on the father and his. Ozu returns to this simple plot in several movies to examine it from different angles. Why a daughter would not want to be married. Why a father would want her to be. How does it affect them both similarly and differently?

Chishu Ryu again takes the role of the widowed father and, on the surface, appears somewhat callous and unfeeling. Ozu takes his time and shows us instead that the father is actually coming to a slow realization that, though his daughter is reluctant and professes indifference, she is instead restraining an expression of her own wishes out of a sense of self-sacrifice. Ozu’s concern for each of his characters is made clear over the course of the film.

The film is a meditation on marriage not only through the lens of the daughter to be married and the widowed old man, but also by examining the relationship of daughter’s older, already married, brother and the woman to whom he is married. He even spares a little time for various other friends and supporting characters and their relationships. There are glimpses of what life might become if she doesn’t marry, what sorts of husbands men can become and the various happiness and sadness life can hold.

Beyond the narrative brilliance of showing, rather than telling all these things with a fair bit of nuance, Ozu is customarily brilliant in his shot composition, pacing, and writing as well. He moves from scene to scene and through time and space without once (as best I could notice) moving the camera itself.

Ozu frames his movie for beauty and affect to convey the emotion of the characters. But also in what he declines to show, even some of what most would consider essential elements of the drama, he prevents the focus from straying away and distracting the viewer from the main point. It is not a story of a marriage, or even of a wedding, but a story about the people and their thoughts and decisions surrounding such things.

Yasujiro Ozu was a master filmmaker and I am inclined to think it criminal how little known and appreciated he still is. On the other hand, he is famous to the famous, and that in itself is not a bad legacy. The world has its directors it reveres, but those same directors revere Ozu.

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