Thursday, May 30, 2019

An Autumn Afternoon

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu and written by Ozu and Kogo Noda, Sanma no aji (An Autumn Afternoon) is the story of a family patriarch who is aware that his time is coming as he devotes his final moments by arranging a marriage for his daughter in the hope she can have a future. Ozu’s final film of his illustrious career is an exploration of modernism and a man keeping hold on tradition as he is aware that he has to let his daughter go and have a life of her own while hoping she retains his values. Starring Chishu Ryu, Shima Iwashita, Keiji Sada, Mariko Okada, Teruo Yoshida, Shinichiro Mikami, and Eijiro Tono. Sanma no aji is a ravishing and touching film from Yasujiro Ozu.

The film follows a widower who is aware that he’s in the final years of his life where he decides that it is time for his daughter to find a husband after seeing a mentor of his drunkenly reveal his own regrets in life. It’s a film with a simple premise by writers Yasujiro Ozu and Kogo Noda as it’s also about a family growing and adjusting to the changes in their lives. Notably in Shuhei Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) who works at a nearby factory in an office while he shares his home with his youngest son Kazuo (Shinichiro Mikami) and his 24-year old daughter Michiko (Shima Iwashita). His eldest son Koichi (Keiji Sada) is already married to Akiko (Mariko Okada) as they’re living their own lives while they endure a few problems of their own as Koichi is given some used golf clubs at a bargain price that Akiko disapproves of. Yet, Shuhei is concerned about trying to find a husband for Michiko during a night out with friends along with their old teacher of Chinese classics in Sakuma (Eijiro Tono) that would spur Shuhei to make plans for the future after seeing Sakuma extremely drunk as well as how his daughter Tomoko (Haruko Sugimura) reacts to her father.

Ozu’s direction which doesn’t aim for anything stylized or flashy does play into the simplicity of the story. Notably with his stationary static shot where he never moves the camera at all just to get enough coverage of what is happening during the course of the film. Shot on location in Tokyo, Ozu does use some wide shots of the location but also some precise compositions of the factories as well as certain locations including a bar that Shuhei goes to often as well as sushi restaurants. Ozu doesn’t use any close-ups in favor of just simplistic medium shots where the camera is often in front of the actor to talk to another actor or in a shot where there’s more than one character in a frame. Ozu would also play into this sense of loss but also acceptance of a new world in a scene at a bar that Shuhei goes to where he meets a sailor from his past in Yoshitaro Sakamoto (Daisuke Kato) who reminisces with him about the war and muse about what happened if Japan had won.

While there are elements of humor in the film, there is also this air of melancholia that Ozu would use throughout the film as it relates to what is the end of something. Notably as Shuhei saw what happened to Sakuma and how far he’s fallen with little to show for in the end just as he and a couple of his friends have done well. Shuhei realizes what he must do for Michiko as it’s not just about the acceptance that he’ll have to do things by himself once Michiko and Kazuo leave for their own lives. It’s also about Michiko needing to let go of taking care of her father though she admits to be unsure about wanting to get married. The film’s final images is about that acceptance but also the end of something as it relates to Shuhei yet Ozu manages to maintain a semblance of dignity knowing that even though a man’s life is to end. It at least has created a new beginning for those who are important to him. Overall, Ozu crafts a rapturous and intoxicating film about a man trying to find a suitable husband for his daughter.

Cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta does incredible work with the film’s colorful cinematography with its emphasis on naturalistic lighting for many of the daytime scenes while using low-key lights from Kenzo Ishiwatari for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night including the bar that Shuhei goes to. Editor Yoshiyasu Hamamura does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a few rhythmic cuts to play into the conversation scenes. Art directors Tatsuo Hamada and Shigeo Ogiwara do brilliant work with the look of the sushi restaurant and the bar that Shuhei goes to as well as the noodle shop that Sakuma runs and Shuhei’s home.

Costume designer Yuji Nagashima does fantastic work with the costumes as it is largey straightforward with the suits the men wear and the modern clothes of the time that the women wear along with traditional Japanese robes. Sound editor Ichiro Ishii does superb work with the sound as it is largely straightforward as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as the sounds of television showing baseball games. The film’s music by Kojun Saito is amazing for its lush and somber orchestral score with its usage of strings that sweep into its arrangements to play up the melancholic tone of the film while music coordinator Takanobu Saito provide a few traditional pieces as well as a war march piece that play into Shuhei’s fondness for his military past.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Fujio Suga and Zen’ichi Inagawa as a couple of drunks that Shuhei talks to at the bar, Shinobu Asaji as Shuhei’s secretary, Toyo Takahashi as the waitress at the sushi restaurant, Daisuke Kato as a former sailor in Yoshitaro Sakamoto that Shuhei remembered and chatted with at the bar, Ryuji Kita as an old friend of Shuhei in Shin Horie, Michiyo Kan as Horie’s young wife Tamako, Nobuo Nakamura and Kuniko Miyake in their respective roles as family friends Shuzo and Nobuko Kawai, and Kyoko Kushida as the bar proprietor whom Shuhei believes looks like his late wife. Eijiro Tono is superb as Shuhei’s former Naval mentor Seitaro Sukuma as a man who has fallen on hard times and is coping with his own failures while Haruko Sugimura is terrific as his daughter Tomoko as a middle-aged woman running a low-level noodle shop that is struggling as she copes with missed opportunities for herself. Shinichiro Mikami is fantastic as Shuhei’s 21-year old son Kazuo who works nearby at a factory as he is more concerned about what is for dinner rather than do something for himself. Teruo Yoshida is excellent as Yukata Miura as a friend of Koichi who gives Koichi some golf clubs while also having interest towards Michiko despite being attached to another woman.

Mariko Okada is brilliant as Koichi’s wife Akiko who is concerned with the money that Koichi spends knowing that they need it for more important things while Keiji Sada is amazing as Koichi as a man trying to live his own life and help his father find a husband for Michiko despite his own shortcomings in spending money he doesn’t have. Shima Iwashita is incredible as Michiko as a young woman in her 20s who is reluctant about getting married as she runs the household but also worries about what her father will do when she leaves and he’s on his own. Finally, there’s Chishu Ryu in a phenomenal performance as Shuhei Hirayama as a man knowing that he is facing the final years of his life as he also thinks about his past and his daughter’s future knowing what will happen to her if she stays home where it is a performance of grace and sensitivity as a man who has accepted his fate but also thinks about the incredible life he’s had.

Sanma no aji is an outstanding film from Yasujiro Ozu that features a tremendous performance from Chishu Ryu. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous images, a potent music score, and touching themes of life and family. It is a film that is a family drama that is told with such restraint and tenderness as well as being a great final film from one of cinema’s great storytellers. In the end, Sanma no aji is a magnificent film from Yasujiro Ozu.

Yasujiro Ozu Films: (Sword of Penitence) – (Days of Youth) – Tokyo Chorus - I Was Born, But... - (Dragnet Girl) – Passing Fancy - (A Mother Should Be Loved) – A Story of Floating Weeds - (An Inn in Tokyo) – (The Only Son) – (What Did the Lady Forget?) – (Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family) – (There Was a Father) – Record of a Tenement Gentleman - (A Hen in the Wind) – Late Spring - Early Summer - (The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice) – Tokyo Story - Early Spring - Tokyo Twilight - (Equinox Flower) – Good Morning - Floating Weeds - Late Autumn - The End of Summer

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