Our elders, what have they done for us and how do we repay them? They want what is best for us, and there comes a point in our lives where we eventually leave their company in order to have lives of our very own, but maybe there comes a thought that we are not ready for such events to come so quickly. Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring addresses this discomfort so perfectly, for inside of its setting there’s so much that still hits like all the very best of his films with intense heartbreak because we recognize a part of us inside of his characters. While not necessarily my favourite of Ozu’s work (my heart still goes out to his 1953 masterpiece Tokyo Story), it still ranks where the very best films of his own land. I remember when I first saw Late Spring and I was so overwhelmed with how it confronted what I knew I was soon to face in my life, and on subsequent revisits it only begins to hit me all the more, just as the best Ozu features have done so.
Something that happens within our lifetime is that we will eventually end up leaving those who have been providing for us when we were young. In Late Spring, we have Noriko, a woman who enjoys her life single, with the company of her widower father, even though he and her friends want her to get married. It is hard enough having to leave a loved one who has provided oneself with such warmth and comfort through all of one’s life, especially during the harshest of times as given by Late Spring‘s setting in Japan post-WWII. If there were one thing that Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow had taught us, it would be that we have much more to owe to our parents than we give them credit for, even with the disputes that ensue along the way – our life is something of value to them just as much as it is to us.
Yet where does Late Spring manage to evoke all of this power with such simplicity? One of the best ways of looking at it is something to how Ozu’s characters represent a specific quality just as the still imagery signifies a sort of divide. What’s clear already is that Noriko is a woman who is persuaded many times by her own friends to get married, but there’s a clear motif that comes along at the same time, too. Noriko represents change, for it is something that she has feared for the longest time, but at the same time she is an independent woman. Yet there’s something to which Ozu is playing upon with her own refusal to get married, but at the same time, we also have the role of Chishu Ryu coming along to play Noriko’s widowed father, a man hiding behind his own fears in order to come to terms with what is set for later.
I recognized from there onward in Yasujiro Ozu’s handling of themes and character arcs that something affects me even more on the inside. I’m still at a point of my life where I’m not even sure of what is set to come for my future. This part of myself sees a reflection within Noriko, for she in part doesn’t know what she wants to be, but at the same time she does not want to let tradition get into her way. There was a part to myself that was also really worried for what will happen because I’m all the more unsure about whether or not I will be able to go on with a big part of what helped my development absent in long periods. Then another part of myself looks at Chishu Ryu and sees how I’ll eventually have to let go of my own past, and then we mask our own feelings all the more: because letting go is hard enough. It was clear to me that it hit me in the manner that Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow had done so, in which we recognize how we have gone far enough and a peaceful exit is set to come. And maybe it was me, but that was everything that was signified from the film’s final sequence – one which may very well be amongst the most heartbreaking in all of cinema.
It soon became clear to me why Late Spring ended up becoming as heartbreaking as it was: for amongst all the commentary that Ozu had carried in regards to the differences between American culture and Japanese tradition, something about the film’s own generational divide rendered everything even more heartbreaking than ever: it was from how Ozu connects marriage and death, for it’s clear how after that critical moment of one’s life, something also disappears and when it hits, it impacts much like how one’s death would. As the younger generation gets married, it only strengthens Yasujiro Ozu’s commentary upon generational divide. The morality of the elders has faded in favour of something new coming in with the youth, but maybe it came at a more subtle note, for the image of a Coca-Cola sign shows American culture is taking over Japanese tradition. It reminded me again of what Make Way for Tomorrow would draw back to, these events are not those that come at our own terms but are brought out by force and soon it became even more heartbreaking.
Just as the most affecting films should do, Late Spring succeeded at having me broken by the time it was over. A singular image that signifies how what once was is now being washed over. Needless to say, had it not been Ozu’s composition together with what he manages to evoke out of the performances of his actors, Late Spring would never have shown itself to be as saddening as it is. But just as the very best of Yasujiro Ozu’s films have proven for myself, they are not only films with simple but sad stories. For within the guise of their simplicity comes a plethora of life lessons, ones from which I will never stop learning as I watch such films all the more.
Watch a clip right here.
All images via Shochiku.
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Screenplay by Yasujiro Ozu, Kogo Noda, from Father and Daughter by Kazuo Hirotsu
Produced by Takeshi Yamamoto
Starring Setsuko Hara, Chishu Ryu, Haruko Sugimura
Release Year: 1949
Running Time: 108 minutes