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Late Autumn
cast: Makiko Okada, Y�ko Tsukasa, Setsuko Hara, Keiji Sada, and Miyuki Kuwano

director: Yasujiro Ozu

123 minutes (15) 1960
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
Ah, autumn - a time of colour� and this rare thing - an Ozu film photographed in colour. This is, after all, a director who resisted using sound until 1935. It's one of his last, and only End Of Summer and An Autumn Afternoon were to come after this. As the titles suggest, they are all thematically similar. In Late Autumn (aka: Akibiyori) - based on a novel by Ton Satomi, who is also credited as a co-director, although the film seems pure Ozu - three middle-aged friends (Shin Sabari, Nobuo Nakamura and Chishu Ryu) meet up at a memorial service for an old college friend, Miwa. Also present are the deceased's widow, Akiko (Setsuko Hara), and daughter, Ayako (Yôko Tsukasa). The three friends later decide to find a husband for Akiko because... why? As a favour to Miwa? As something to fill their days? As a way of helping out the beautiful Ayako? As a reason to keep in touch with Akiko? They are not the most self-aware of people but all three are still a bit in love with Akiko from the old days. Unfortunately it doesn't occur to them that the mother and daughter might be content with the present situation. Then, later, it does occur to them that, since one of their number (Ryu - playing Hirayoma as wonderfully gormless) is a widower, he is free to marry the widow. Unfortunately the only person that they do not tell is Akiko. Much confusion, humour and heartache come from this as Ozu leads the viewer towards an ambivalent ending.

Ozu's unique style engages the viewer totally. Although much more purely Japanese than Kurosawa (who, genius though he was, basically took Hollywood and repackaged it before giving it back), some techniques such as the tatati shot, whereby the film is shot from the level of someone sitting on the floor, help put the viewer at ease. It's a comfortable angle to be at, and if on occasion it is reminiscent of childhood, it casts a new light on the behaviour of the foolish trio of friends. His other famous technique can be a hindrance in the cinema but is less of a problem with a DVD that repays repeated viewing. Ozu films conversations from the viewpoint of the listening character, with the other actor looking straight into the camera as he speaks. This is very effective and emotionally involving, but it does occasionally mean that subtitles are missed as, well... it would feel rude to break eye contact by looking down.

Late Autumn is a beautiful film and every shot is planned like a painting. The set is frequently divided horizontally or vertically in three equal parts, or bisected with diagonals. The interior shots (which are most of them) feel almost like model work, and nothing is accidental. All of this is merely complimentary to the characters and plot, of which the above summary is a travesty. It is the emotional kick of the thing that traps the viewer. It is gentle and funny and moving, but there is an undercurrent of bleakness that most of the characters are aware of, even if they manage to avoid expressing it directly.

But it would be unfair to leave on that note. There is, after all, Ayako's best friend Yuriko Sasaki (played with real verve by Mariko Okado), who nearly steals the film with her feisty exhilaration. And then there is the running gag with the pipes, reminding us that Ozu was also a master of the silent film. Most people are familiar with Tokyo Story, but this comes close to matching it in quality, if not yet in reputation.
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