Late Autumn, Late Ozu

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Throughout Yasujirô Ozu’s body of work, familiarity and change are ever-present. On one hand, there’s a certain comfortable sameness about them, especially on a superficial level. An Ozu movie — save, perhaps, something from the earliest years of his career — always looks unmistakably like an Ozu movie, so consistent and distinctive is his style: the low camera placement, the static shots, the way the actors face the viewer directly as they speak. The sense of familiarity goes beyond the purely visual as well. Again and again, one finds repeated themes and situations, taking place in similar milieus, involving similar characters played by many of the same performers. Still, for all of this familiarity, the world in which these characters live is fundamentally unstable. Things change, inevitably, in ways both dramatic and mundane: people die, children grow up and leave their parents, workers are transferred to faraway cities, friends drift apart. It’s sad, but that’s just the way things are. (“Isn’t life disappointing?” as a young woman in 1953’s Tokyo Story famously puts it.)

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Setsuko Hara: Smiles and Subtleties

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Although Yasujirô Ozu’s Late Spring (1949) and Late Autumn (1960) were based on different novels — by different authors, no less (Kazuo Hirotsu and Ton Satomi, respectively) — they tell strikingly similar stories. Each film revolves around a young woman living with a widowed parent; in the first, it’s a father, and in the second, a mother. Various acquaintances urge the girl to marry, even proffering potential husbands, but she turns them down because she’s happy as she is. However, when she comes to the conclusion that her parent intends to remarry, she feels betrayed, which may make the separation easier.

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