Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

September 7, 2011

Japanese film: Late Autumn (Akibiyori, 1960) by Ozu Yasujiro

"Akibiyori" is always translated as "Late Autumn," but more correct would be ”a clear autumn day," one of those Indian summer days in Japan with perfectly blue high skies and pleasantly cool temperatures. The film is a comedy of manners about the sunny side of the autumn of life.

The center of the film is Hara Setsuko, who appears in many Ozu films. She plays Akiko, a young widow, who at forty still looks just as beautiful as her twenty year old daughter Ayako (Tsukasa Yoko). As in Late Spring, of which this is in a certain sense a remake, Ayako has had opportunities to marry, but she prefers to stay at home with her mother, who would otherwise be lonely. When three friends of the deceased father (one of them is Saburi Shin as businessman Mamiya Soichi) introduce marriage possibilities from their network, Akiko supports these as she doesn't want her daughter to sacrifice herself. When Ayako still prevaricates, the friends decide that the only solution is to have Akiko remarry first. They themselves have since their youth been in love with Akiko, so that should pose no problem... except that Ayako gets angry with her mother when she hears a rumor about the remarriage plan (of which Akiko is perfectly innocent). In the end things go as they must: Ayako marries a promising young man, a subordinate of Mr Mamiya, and Akiko stays behind, alone.

It should be mentioned that the successful suitor of Ayako is played by Sada Keiji. Okada Mariko has an interesting role as Ayako's friend, Yukiko. She is a lively, sprightly personality, and a "modern Japanese" of the early sixties - she even sticks out her tongue! Yukiko also has an interesting role in the plot, as she "punishes" the three middle-aged friends for the trick they played on Ayako and Akiko by enticing them to a sushi bar (the one owned by her father, but she doesn't tell them) and then makes them order and pay for expensive omakese courses (chief's selection) and lots of sake.

This was Ozu's third film in color and one of his last. The colors are mostly blues, suitable for the cool autumn day. The film's locations are the houses of the characters, especially Akiko; various restaurants and bars; and the office of Mr Mamiya - it is a private office but apparently in a large corporation in Tokyo and friends and relatives just drop in, something which would be unthinkable in later times!). We often see the three middle-aged friends like small boys making their mischievous plans together. There is also a trip to Ikaho hot springs, where the reconciliation between mother and daughter takes place.

Akibiyori is an elegiac, but also a humorous film. Ozu wanted to make people feel the innate sadness of life, without resorting to (melo)drama or appealing to the emotions. He has marvelously succeeded in this film.

Some remarks:
- Ozu's films are great resources for students of Japanese: the dialogues have not aged and are still living Japanese, moreover they are spoken slowly and clearly.
- Ozu has often been called "quintessentially Japanese", for example in his general restraint, or technically his low camera angles. But in reality "Ozu is Ozu"  - for example, other Japanese films from the same period can be unrestrained tearjerkers; and if Ozu's camera angles were so very Japanese, why is he the only one to employ them?
- On the other hand, the characters he shows us are realistic, everyday Japanese. His films could be used as illustrations for intercultural understanding (for example, non-verbality or indirect communication). Although Japan has changed the last 50 years, and is much more culturally mixed now, Ozu's films show some of the original, pure types.
- 1960, the year this film was made, was characterized by social unrest in Japan, such a large demonstrations against a new security treaty with the U.S. and an on TV murder of a socialist politician by an ultra-rightist. But indeed, for most Japanese life went on normally, as it does in Akibiyori.
- Rather than "home dramas," I would call Ozu's films "comedies of manners," as the novels of Jane Austen are called. The post-war films use one of life's major rituals, "marriage," as a plot device (in so far as there is any plot!) to show the progress of time and the changes in the lives of the protagonists.
- Hara Setsuko made more than 100 films between 1935 and 1962. She worked with Naruse, Kurosawa and Inagaki, but perhaps her best films were made with Ozu (6 in all). She retired suddenly after the death of Ozu and has since been living quietly in Kamakura. In her films, she is always smiling, but also has a very distinguished manner.
- Ozu never married and lived for his art until his death at age 60 in 1962. He is buried in a temple in Kamakura and his gravestone carries the Chinese character for MU, "Nothingness."