Late Autumn

Late Autumn


Reviewed by: Merlin Harries

With the auteristic verve that typified so many of Yasujiro Ozu’s films Late Autumn begins and ends with an almost tangible scene of human warmth. From the opening memorial service to the closing scenes, the film revels in the richly developed skill of its director in creating an atmosphere thick with irresistible humour and depth.

Like so many of Ozu’s great films Late Autumn has a wonderfully varied array of characters that lends the story a singular sense of connection to the real world. The charmingly inept efforts to arrange a wedding for Ayako (Yôko Tsukasa), daughter of Miwa, whose memorial service provides the opening scenes, are as moving as they are humorous.

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The three bungling men in question are all deeply beguiled by Miwa’s widow Akiko (Setsuko Hara) and so they set about finding her a partner in the hope of convincing her daughter to also marry. The reluctant Ayako is increasingly prompted toward the glowing candidate for marriage Goto (Keiji Sada) but, try as they might, Taguchi (Nobuo Nakamura), Mamiya (Shin Saburi) and Hiriyama (Ryuji Kita) are unable to seal the deal.

For any fan of Ozu’s work, the complex tapestry of human zeal and love will be familiar but the more touching aspects of the film are rooted in the clumsy and often awkward humour of the story. The central theme of the love between a doting child and grieving parent is central to many of Ozu’s films going back to Late Spring (1949) where Setsuko Hara plays the young daughter of a recently widowed father. Along with Late Spring, The End of Summer (1961) also embodied the characteristic mixture of warmth and woe that captivated so many audiences and, while Late Autumn opts for a more humorous feel, it is none the less one of Ozu’s finer pictures.

In typically masterful fashion, Ozu brings perfect balance and synchronicity to every detail of the film. The ironic humour of the memorial scene is in apt contrast to the pervading sense of melancholy during the wedding. The cinematography is perhaps among the finest of Ozu’s life with every element of the set, from lighting to colour, meticulously and purposefully rendered.

Beyond the more aesthetic details Late Autumn is, at heart, an undeniably humorous yet touching story about the cyclical nature of humanity. The loss of love and woe experienced by Akiko is almost seamlessly balanced by the blossoming growth of her daughter Ayako in what will ultimately be remembered as one of the greatest films Ozu created in the final years of his life.

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2007
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A widow tries to persuade her daughter to wed, even though it means she will be left alone. Re-released in cinemas in 2010.
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BIFF 2014

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