Late Spring ★★★★★

How I begin a review of an Ozu film grows increasingly difficult the more I see. In some ways he spent an entire career remaking the same film, and I'm left with many of the same thoughts as a result. This is more true than ever as Late Spring is the story of an aging father who decides that his daughter is being deprived of a life of her own by taking care of him rather than getting married, which contrasts with my previous watch An Autumn Afternoon, the story of an aging father who decides that his daughter is being deprived of a life of her own by taking care of him rather than getting married. Ozu has a way of approaching the same themes, with the same actors, in the same exact cinematic style, and making each film somehow feel like a fresh vision that not only justifies its own existence but needs to exist. They don't invalidate each other; in fact, the world would be poorer without either of these movies. So if you stumbled onto this and you're just exploring Ozu for the first time, I'd recommend taking a look at my review of An Autumn Afternoon, because there I identified what I love about the tranquil mood and way that his characters are all essentially good (yet flawed) people. These two elements are the core of what I truly love about this director, but I don't want to repeat myself.

That being said, by a somewhat narrow margin (they've all been amazing), Late Spring is my favorite yet. Most other Ozu movies I've seen show slices of the lives of various side characters, but Late Spring is focused on the daughter and the father. So focused, in fact, that the prospective husband is never shown. There is a lot of value to the way that a film like An Autumn Afternoon expands the scope, but here I think it works best for this story to fully immerse us into the lives of these two people. The characters are a little more direct and open about their feelings than in others too -- there is still a level of social distance and politeness that makes people back off, but Setsuko Hara's Noriko makes it clear that she wishes life could just stay the same. And within that statement is the real beautiful, tragic insight of this film. While the specifics of the sadness of leaving home are true to life, one level deeper it's about the way everything in life will change or come to an end, and at some point we have to accept it, even if our eyes are full of tears.

As with every Ozu film, I cannot find a single fault with the acting. But in particular, Setsuko Hara gives my favorite performance of hers yet. She's so immediately endearing. In the carefree days she radiates joy; the bike riding scene is one of the purest images of happiness I have ever seen. However, as the knowledge sets in that things are moving beyond her control, she shifts to sadness with ease, crushing anyone in the audience with a heart. The moments when she is struggling to not display her true feelings are especially such incredible acting. Convincingly portraying sadness is hard enough, but it's quite another thing to convincingly portray someone being sad while trying their hardest but failing to appear happy. Chishū Ryū has to remain a little more reserved as the man mostly actually successful at putting on a facade of happiness, but the moments where that cracks are just as moving.

I guess the reason I love these movies is that Ozu tells us what we already know about the bittersweet sadness of life in a way that's both immediate and devastating, yet also gentle and warm. It's what being human is all about with both the joy and the pain. The quiet resignation of his characters feels brave every bit as much as it feels tragic.

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This was already getting long so I cut it there, but there's a lot more I'd like to dig into someday, maybe on a rewatch. The film can be taken in all kinds of directions... is following along with social expectations at the expense of present desires entirely negative? I have a feeling Ozu is at least somewhat sympathetic to the idea that having this plan for life mapped out is at least a bit valuable. Then there is parental sacrifice (and some deception), the way that WWII heavily looms over the film as the way time is delineated, the use of pleasantries at heavy moments (something like "the weather will be nice tomorrow") that brings to mind Good Morning... there's so much here.

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