Late Autumn, Late Ozu


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.)

Continue reading “Late Autumn, Late Ozu”

Twenty Thousand Yen: An Autumn Afternoon (1962)


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.

Continue reading “Twenty Thousand Yen: An Autumn Afternoon (1962)”

For Love or Money: Spring Dreams (1960)


When ragged, elderly sweet potato peddler Shinichirô Atsumi (Chishû Ryû) gets the opportunity to enter the Okudaira family’s lavish mansion, he can’t hide his awe. “It’s like a western castle in a movie,” he says. It’s an apt remark, considering how Keisuke Kinoshita’s offbeat 1960 film Spring Dreams evokes such American comedies as My Man Godfrey (1936) and Merrily We Live (1938) in its focus on a household full of wealthy eccentrics and their dealings with an ostensibly impoverished outsider. Although Spring Dreams has a decidedly strange atmosphere all its own — most apparent, perhaps, in its harpsichord score and its oddly colored lighting scheme — it shares major themes with those American predecessors: class, love and, above all, money.

Continue reading “For Love or Money: Spring Dreams (1960)”