En eftermiddag i efteråret
It has been a few days since my last review through no fault of this movie. My wife and I went on a small trip to Warsaw, Poland to escape the oppressive heat and I decided not to bring along any movies. Probably a smart choice. Yasujiro Ozu’s “An Autumn Afternoon” (“Sanma no aji”) is not a movie you want to rush through in a plane, but something to enjoy quietly and slowly at home. Doing that is a very rewarding experience.
Let me say right from the start that this is the best Ozu movie I have watched. There are no big dramas, no shouting, no action whatsoever and only the thinnest of plots. Instead this is a beautiful portrait of an older man who realizes that his children are growing up and he is getting old. It is sympathetic to its characters and entirely free of melodrama, but with precise insight into the feelings the characters go through and it is just so beautifully made, like a Japanese flower arrangement: Aesthetic, restrained and insightful.
The older man is Shuhei Hirayama (Chishu Ryu). He is a widower with three grown children of which the oldest Koichi (Keiji Sada) is married and live in another apartment with his wife. Hirayama attends a class reunion together with his old friends, one of which is Kawai (Nobuo Nakamura). They have invited one of their old teachers Sakuma who is having a grand time and gets a bit tipsy. When they drive him home they realize that he is actually a sad old man making noodles with his old and bitter daughter. For Hirayama this is a wake-up call. He can see himself ending like Sakuma, old and destitute and clinging on to his daughter. Kawai is urging him to marry off his daughter, but Hirayama has not been busy and Michiko (Shima Iwashita), his daughter, has not been busy either, but content to run the house for her brother and father. As Hirayama has seen what the future has in store for him he is set in motion and so is Michiko.
This feeble summary does not sound at all inspired, but in the movie it works perfectly. Hiroyama is a jovial fellow and this group of middle aged man is very sweet. They are a bunch of pranksters like overgrown boys, but obviously also men of some importance, managers and that sort of people. It is hard for them to accept that they have grown old, but face it they must.
Hirayama’s children are balancing between tradition and modernity and it is very interesting to watch them handling this balance. Traditional family values versus modern independence. Conspicuous consumption against traditional prudence. And as becomes the key event of the movie, the mechanisms of marriage. They are caught between the modern way of falling in love with someone they meet themselves and arranged marriage set up by their parents. This theme has been explored before and after and is usually a very loud affair, but not here. Here we can see that both father and daughter are very uncertain about the whole thing. Michiko has fallen in love with someone, but has not dared to ask him, and Hiroyama has not dared to ask her what she wants. All this hesitation means that opportunities slip away and that is the real risk with Sakuma’s fate lurking on the horizon.
Ozu is brilliant at catching these underplayed emotions and really show what a high context culture the Japanese is. Sometimes it is just a glance, sometimes a shy laughter, the misery in a cup of sake or the longing look at some golf clubs.
The calmness is supported by Ozu’s unique style of filming. He was the master of the static camera, placed on the floor and usually with some sort of framing. It is absolutely beautiful in color and somehow drags the rush out of the movie so we as viewers give ourselves time to take in the story. As a composition Ozu was never better and when we get to the last scene with Hirayama, drunk in his wedding suit singing old wartime songs, we absolutely understand him.
I can only recommend this movie. This was the last one Ozu ever did, but it makes me want to seek out some of his earlier movies not on the list. Watch this, but do yourself a favor and make sure all is quiet around you when you watch it.