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Late Spring – The Criterion Collection #331 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 22, 2012 by  



“Late Spring” is a fantastic film that captures the changing of Japanese family life and the clash between traditional and modern perspectives.  But it’s also a film, among many other Ozu films that shows us why Yasujiro Ozu is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.  Captivating and powerful, “Late Spring” is a magnificent portrayal of the changing Japanese family and a film that I highly recommend!

Image courtesy of ©1949 Shochiku Co., Ltd. 2012 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Late Spring – The Criterion Collection #331 (Banshun/晩春)

MOVIE RELEASE: 1949

DURATION: 108 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: B&W, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio, Monaural, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection

RELEASE DATE: April 17, 2012

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

Based on the novel “Chichi to Musume” by Kazuo Hirotsu

Screenplay by Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu

Music by Senji Ito

Cinematography by Yuharu Atsuta

Edited by Yoshiyasu Hamamura

Art Direction by Tatsuo Hamada

Starring:

Chishu Ryu as Shukichi Somiya

Setsuko Hara as Noriko Somiya

Yumeji Tsukioka as Aya Kitagawa

Haruko Sugimura as Masa Taguchi

Hohi Aoki as Katsuyoshi

Jun Usami as Shuichi Hattori

Kuniko Miyake as Akiko Miwa

Masao Mishima as Jo Onodera

Yoshiko Tsubouchi as Kiku

Yoko Katsuragi as Misako

Toyo Takahashi as Shige

Jun Tanizaki as Seizo Hayashi

Ichiro Shimizu as Takigawa’s master

Youko Benisawa as Teahouse Proprietress

Manzaburo Umekawa as Shite

Nobu Nojima as Waki

One of the most powerful of Yasujiro Ozu’s family portraits, Late Spring (Banshun) tells the story of a widowed father who feels compelled to marry off his beloved only daughter. Eminent Ozu players Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara command this poignant tale of love and loss in postwar Japan, which remains as potent today as ever—and a strong justification for its maker’s inclusion in the pantheon of cinema’s greatest directors.

Yasujiro Ozu is one of the world’s beloved directors.  Having made many films since the 1920′s up to his final film “An Autumn Afternoon” in 1962, his works have been appreciated by viewers and critics for his family comedies but also his serious family storylines such as “Early Spring”, “Early Summer, “Tokyo Story”, “Floating Weeds”, “The End of Summer” (to name a few).

The Criterion Collection has been one of the major forces in America of bringing Ozu’s films stateside and now they are giving Ozu films the high definition treatment on Blu-ray starting with his 1949 drama film “Late Spring” (known in Japan as “Banshun”).

Based on the short novel “Chichi to Musume” (Father and Daughter) by Kazuo Hirotsu and featuring a collaboration with screenwriter Kogo Noda, “Late Spring” was written and shot during the Allied Powers Occupation of Japan and undergone many changes to fit official censorship requirements.

The film would star Chishu Ryu (who would star in other Ozu films sucha s “Early Summer”, “Tokyo Story”, “An Autumn Afternoon” and the popular “Tora-san” films of the ’70s and ’80s) and Setsuko Hara (“Early Summer”, “Tokyo Story”, “Late Autumn”).

Over 60-years since “Late Spring” was shown in theaters and winning the prestigious Kinema Jumpo critic’s award for “Best Film”, “Best Director”, “Best Screenplay” and “Best Actress”, the film has resonated strongly with Ozu fans all over the world.  Many have regarded “Late Spring” as one of Ozu’s masterpiece and the film has been listed in many “Greatest Films of All Time” polls.

“Late Spring” is also a film that showcases Japanese family tradition and the importance of marriage, but also how Japan would face the issue of tradition and modern views towards marriage and also divorce.  But for Ozu fans, who have watched his silent films and have seen the development of the Japanese family and most importantly Ozu’s honest portrayal of the Japanese family and the sacrifice of the parents for their children (and vice versa).

“Late Spring” is one of those honest films featuring wonderful performances by both Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara, as the father and daughter.

The story features a widower, Professor Shukichi Somiya (played by Chishu Ryu) who has a 27-year-old unmarried daughter named Noriko (played by Setsuko Hara).  In Japan, most women are usually married by their early ’20s but because of World War II and the fact that Noriko had ailing health from the work she had to do years earlier, if anything, Professor Somiya had let Noriko live her life and be happy.

And for Noriko, taking care of the household needs and taking care of her father makes her happy.

One day, as Noriko goes to Tokyo to do some shopping, she runs into her father’s friend, Professor Jo Onodera (played by Masao Mishima), who is a widower like her father but has remarried.  For Noriko, she sees remarriage as something as a bit distasteful and even jokes by calling Professor Onodera “filthy”.  But Onodera understands Noriko and both go back to Noriko’s home, so both Professors can talk to each other.

While Professor Onodera talks to Somiya, he brings the topic of marriage up, if there are plans of Noriko getting married.  And it’s something that Somiya has never thought about, as he feels that he never really pressured her to marry.  If anything, he just wants her to be happy.

But when Somiya’s sister Masa (played by Haruko Sugimura) convinces him that it’s time that Noriko gets married, Somiya realizes that it’s probably the right thing to do.  Especially now that he is getting older, Noriko doesn’t have a job and if anything, he wants to make sure she is taken care of.  And for Noriko’s Aunt Masa, she already has a man named Satake that they can have Noriko meet and marry.

And when Aunt Masa tries to tell Noriko that it’s time for her to marry, she doesn’t want to hear anything of it.  But then she tells him that she is trying to arrange for her father to marry a young widow named Mrs. Miwa (played by Kuniko Miyake) which upsets Noriko.

When both Noriko and her father attend a Noh performance, when she sees her father greeting Mrs. Miwa, immediately Noriko becomes jealous. As she goes to visit her friend Aya (who is divorced), she is also told by her friend that it’s time for her to get married which frustrates Noriko even more than everyone is trying to push her to marriage.  As for Noriko, she’s happy the way things are…taking care of her father and being happy.

And when she confronts her father about it, he tells her that he intends to marry Mrs. Miwa and that she should get married.  For a modern woman, will Noriko choose to marry the man that she has been arranged to meet?  And can she bare the thought of her father being remarried?

VIDEO:

“Late Spring – The Criterion Collection #331” is presented in Black and White (1:33:1 aspect ratio). Having owned the 2006 Criterion Collection DVD release, first it is important for me to say that the film does have its share of scratches and film damage (nothing that prevents a viewer from enjoying the film).  While the film does have scenes with missing frames and also occasional flickering, the film does look improved over the 2006 DVD release with much better contrast with the white and grays, but also the black levels are nice and deep.

According to the Criterion Collection, this high-definition transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive and a 35mm theatrical print. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS while Image System’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, jitter, and flicker.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Late Spring” is presented in Japanese monaural (LPCM 1.0).  Compared to the 2006 DVD release, there appears to be much more clarity when it comes to dialogue.  While there are some moments of audio distortion on certain scenes, nothing detrimental and noticeable unless you are really looking for it.

According to the Criterion Collection, the original soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the film’s optical track. Viewers may notice significant distortion inherent in the original surviving soundtrack materials. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Late Spring – The Criterion Collection #331” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Richard Pena, program director of New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center.  This was the original audio commentary from the 2006 DVD release and quite informative as Pena is very familiar with Ozu’s work.
  • TOKYO-GA – (92 minutes) Wim Wenders 1985 documentary and tribute to Yasujiro Ozu, the documentary features interviews with Chishu Ryu and cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta.

EXTRAS:

“Late Spring – The Criterion Collection #331” comes with a 22-page booklet with the following essays: “Home with Ozu” by Michael Atkinson (Village Voice writer), Ozu and Setsuko Hara by Donald Richie (author of many books on Japanese cinema) and Ozu and Kogo Noda, an excerpt from Yasujiro Ozu: The Person and His Art (1964) from Ozu, translated for the original 2006 DVD release of “Late Spring”.

As a person who loves and enjoys Yasujiro Ozu films, “Late Spring” has always been a favorite because of how it confronts Japanese perspective on the traditional marriage but now with a modern perspective, different from Ozu films which relied heavily on themes of the traditional Japanese family.

From the beginning of the film, we realize that the Somiya family are different compared to other families shown in previous Ozu films.  For one, Professor Somiya had not shown great pressure towards his daughter Noriko, possibly because she does so much in taking care of him and the house but yet remains very happy.  The other reason is because Noriko had health problems during World War II and as a father, having lost a wife, the last thing he wanted was to lose his only child and I believe that was his drive for not putting too much pressure on her.  She’s happy and that’s all that mattered.

But of course, what seemed natural to Professor Somiya, the more he started to see how others viewed Noriko being single at home.  This is where the traditional Japanese culture clashes with modernism.  In “Late Spring”, we see Aunt Masa giving her brother and also Noriko the third degree about being married.  It’s her duty to be married and be a happy wife.  But for Noriko, she’s happy the ways she is.

And this is where Noriko is unlike previous Japanese wives featured in Ozu’s films.  She is absolutely beautiful, stylish (in Western wear) and is not wearing a kimono.  She has her set way of thinking, the freedom to think that way as it has gone unchallenged until now…when it comes to marriage.  And with someone who is set in her ways…what can her father do?

And thus, the storyline becomes quite intriguing when we are told that Noriko’s father may be getting remarried to another woman.  And this is enough to set the happy Noriko off.  Remarriage has always been seen indecent to her but from this point on, we see the change that takes place between both characters.  The father submitting to the classic Japanese tradition, even though he was brought up in that tradition of arranged marriage, he himself had seen how his wife reacted to it earlier on.  So, as much as he wants Noriko to find the right man that she wants to marry, the pressure from his sister and others have led him to lead Noriko in the path to marriage.

And for Noriko, we eventually see the change in her, as her father getting married leads her to realize that she may need to get married now, because with her father having a new wife, perhaps she will no longer be needed.

If anything, it’s an intriguing juxtaposition of the Japanese family in 1949.  From traditional to modern, and with the modern, we see Professor Onodera having remarried, while Noriko’s good friend Aya has gotten a divorce (which was made legal in Japan a year prior).  And most intriguing is how Ozu manages to confront these changes in Japanese culture when it comes to marriage.

Bare in mind, postwar changes were in store for Japan after World War II and the most affected were women.  The social status of women was them being subservient towards their husband and after World War II, women not only were granted the right to a divorce, they were also allowed to join the workforce.  So, we started to see more freedom for women after World War II and the importance of family started to decline.  In fact, what I enjoy about “Last Spring” is how it is a time stamp of Japanese culture and the changing of family life which Ozu would feature throughout his career through his films.  And for those familiar with Japanese culture today, from the shrinking of the Japanese population to a country with the lowest birth rate in the world, the Japanese family has changed tremendously and we witness those changes through Ozu’s films.

As “Late Spring” will be an introduction to Ozu’s work for those viewing Criterion Collection films primarily on Blu-ray, another fascination that I have towards Ozu films is his camera technique, using low angle shots and also using non-traditional cinematic methods by avoiding panning, tracking and crane shots.  It’s what separates Ozu from Kurosawa and that the reliance of Ozu to use static compositions and also his use of pillow shots used in “Late Spring” and various shots of symbolism which intrigues me each time I read various historians and critics share their own perspective of what they think those shots are all about.

And as mentioned, the efficacy of this film relies on its characters.  It’s one thing to have a talented Chishu Ryu to play the father, but it’s Setsuko Hara, who absolutely shines in this film with her energy followed by her change of emotion.  For those who watch a lot of early Japanese cinema, you don’t see actresses such as Setsuko Hara play a character and is able to captivate the audience.

Overall, “Late Spring” is a fantastic film that captures the changing of Japanese family life and the clash between traditional and modern perspectives.  But it’s also a film, among many other Ozu films that shows us why Yasujiro Ozu is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.  Captivating and powerful, “Late Spring” is a magnificent portrayal of the changing Japanese family and a film that I highly recommend!

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