A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, June 9, 2017

An Autumn Afternoon (Yasujiro Ozu, 1963)

Chishu Ryu in An Autumn Afternoon
Shuhei Hirayama: Chishu Ryu
Michiko Hirayama: Shima Iwashita
Koichi: Keiji Sada
Akiko: Mariko Okada
Yutaka Miura: Teruo Yushida
Fusako Tagachi: Noriko Maki
Kazuo: Shin'ichiro Mikami
Shuzo Kawai: Nobuo Nakamura
Nobuko Kawai: Kuniko Miyake
Sakuma ("The Gourd"): Eijiro Tono
Tomoko Sakuma: Haruko Sugimura
Bar Owner: Kyoko Kishida
Yoshitaro Sakamoto: Daisuke Kato

Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Screenplay: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu
Cinematography: Yuharu Atsuta
Production design: Minoru Kanekatsu

If a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, then what is a wise consistency? Because Yasujiro Ozu was nothing if not consistent, especially in the films of his greatest period: From Late Spring (1949) through An Autumn Afternoon, his final film, we get the same milieu -- middle class Japanese family life -- with the same problems -- aging parents, marriageable daughters, unruly children -- and the same style -- low-angle shots, stationary camera, boxlike interiors, exterior shots of buildings and landscape used to punctuate the narrative. Ozu's style would be called "mannered" except that the word suggests an obtrusive inflection of style for style's sake, whereas Ozu's style is unobtrusive, dedicated to the service of storytelling. There are, I suppose, some who are turned off by such consistency, who don't "get" Ozu. All I can say is that it's their loss, because it's a wise consistency, dedicated to trying to understand the way people work, why, for example, they conceal and obfuscate and manipulate to get what they really want. And why, sometimes, they don't even know what they really want. An Autumn Afternoon could almost be mistaken for a remake of Late Spring because of its central problem: a young woman at risk of sacrificing herself for an aging, widowed father. It stars the same actor, Chishu Ryu, as the father, Shuhei, and it ends in a strikingly similar way: The daughter, Michiko, gets married, but we never see the bridegroom, just as we never see the man Noriko marries in Late Spring. But where Late Spring centered itself on a kind of moral dilemma, the white lie the father tells to resolve the problem, An Autumn Afternoon illuminates the relationship of father and daughter through the experiences of secondary characters. If Michiko marries, will her marriage be like that of her brother and sister-in-law, strained by constant arguments about money? If Shuhei doesn't encourage her to marry, will she end up like the daughter of his old teacher, embittered because she gave up the prospect of marriage to serve him? There's yet another possibility for Shuhei: His close friend, a widower, remarried, but now his much younger wife has him on a tight leash, putting limits on him that Shuhei doesn't have, such as the ability to stop off in bars and to drink with his old war buddies. (Even Michiko tries to rein in her father where this is concerned, pointedly commenting when Shuhei comes home a little late and tipsy.) The screenplay by Ozu and his usual collaborator, Kogo Noda, deftly integrates all of these stories and more, but the shining center of the film is the performance of Ryu, constantly letting us see the conflict that is churning beneath Shuhei's calm demeanor. And it's entirely fitting that the final shot of Ozu's last film -- Shuhei, saying softly to himself, "Alone, eh?" -- features Ryu, the actor who appeared in so many of his films that he seemed to be Ozu's alter ego.

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