Twenty Thousand Yen: An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

Money

A particular amount of money — twenty thousand yen, to be precise — shows up twice in Yasujirô Ozu’s 1962 film An Autumn Afternoon. In one instance, it’s a gift collected to help a struggling old man; in the other, it’s the price of a set of golf clubs coveted by a young man. Coincidence, or something more deliberate? The two episodes are connected only tenuously, through a third character — former student of the older man, father of the younger and benefactor to both. Taken together, however, these sums and the circumstances surrounding them encapsulate the issues, the uncertainties, the fears and the sorrows at the heart of Ozu’s swan song.

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Hidden Depths: Haruko Sugimura

Haruko_Sugimura_01
Haruko Sugimura (Source)

If a viewer watches enough of Yasujirô Ozu’s work, many of the actors become as familiar as old friends. Perhaps it’s something in the nature of his films, in their largely low-key, down-to-earth, everyday quality, or perhaps it’s because the actors who appear in multiple Ozu movies often play similar characters. At any rate, there’s a definite pleasure in seeing certain faces pop up again and again. Along with the iconic Setsuko Hara and the ubiquitous Chishû Ryû, one of the most memorable of these performers is Haruko Sugimura — even if her characters aren’t always particularly pleasant people.

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Family Affair: The End of Summer (1961)

Kohayagawa Family

“The Kohayagawa family is complicated indeed,” remarks Yamaguchi (Kyû Sazanka), a longtime employee of the sake brewery run by the Kohayagawas, around whom Yasujirô Ozu’s 1961 film The End of Summer revolves. Facing falling profits and heavy competition from larger rivals, their small company seems destined for a merger if it wishes to stay in business at all, but Manbei (Ganjirô Nakamura), the family’s patriarch, is opposed to the idea. He wants the company to remain independent — and it’s clear that he desires similar freedom in his personal life. Of late, he’s been disappearing frequently with little or no explanation. Curiosity eventually gets the better of his employees, so one of them, Roku (Yû Fujiki), follows him and — despite Manbei’s best efforts to deter him — discovers his secret: He’s been visiting Tsune Sasaki (Chieko Naniwa), a woman who used to be his mistress.

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The Quintessential Ozu: Late Spring (1949)

Late Spring Noh Play

“I always tell people that I don’t make anything besides tofu, and that is because I am strictly a tofu-dealer,” Yasujirô Ozu said of his work while promoting An Autumn Afternoon, the 1962 film that would turn out to be his swan song. (He died of cancer the following year, on his sixtieth birthday.) By that point, he had been directing for thirty-five years. Although his resume includes college comedies, crime dramas, a period piece (his now-lost debut, Sword of Penitence) and a documentary short on a kabuki dancer, the bulk of his impressive output — fifty-four films in total, despite the fact that his career was interrupted in the late 1930s and again in the early to mid-1940s when he was called up for military service — deals with family relationships in contemporary Japan. Tokyo Story, released in 1953, is probably the best-known example, a tale about an elderly couple traveling to the titular city to visit their children and grandchildren. However, the most representative entry in Ozu’s filmography — his tofu in its purest form, as it were — may be 1949’s Late Spring.

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Ozu vs. Ozu: A Story of Floating Weeds (1934) and Floating Weeds (1959)

In the last few years of his career, Yasujirô Ozu reworked some of his earlier films. Both 1932’s I Was Born, But… and 1959’s Good Morning involve two young brothers “going on strike,” although the details are different: the boys in the former refuse to eat because they want their father to stop abasing himself in front of his boss, while the boys in the latter refuse to talk because they want their parents to buy them a television and because they’re tired of adults’ empty pleasantries. 1960’s Late Autumn tells essentially the same story as 1949’s Late Spring, with a widowed mother replacing the widowed father of the original and the addition of some significant secondary characters. (Elements of Late Spring also appear in 1962’s An Autumn Afternoon.) However, Ozu’s most direct remake of his own work is 1959’s Floating Weeds, based on 1934’s A Story of Floating Weeds.

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