AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON

 (Sanma no aji)

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu. Japan. 1962.


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An Autumn Afternoon, the final film by the great Yasujiro Ozu, is a portrayal of family interaction and conflict that provides a moving summation of a career that produced 53 films in 60 years. Similar in theme to his 1949 film Late Spring, a widowed father, Shuhei Hirayama, portrayed by the wonderful Chishu Ryu, wants his 24-year old daughter, Michiko, (Shima Iwashima) to marry but fears loneliness. After the death of her mother, as is traditional in Japanese families, Michiko has assumed her role, taking care of household chores and making sure that her father's needs are met. She feels no urge to marry and prefers to remain at home. 

Much of An Autumn Afternoon consists of small vignettes of family life. One of these involves Hirayama's son Koichi (Keiji Sada) and his wife Akiko (Mariko Okada). Both seem to mirror the encroaching consumer values of the new Tokyo lit up with neon lights, Coca-Cola signs, and rooftop golf. They bicker about finances, borrow money from their parents, and talk about buying expensive golf clubs and leather handbags on instalment. The film has moments of delightful humour. Hirayama spends a great amount of time at a bar run by a woman who looks like his former wife, reminiscing about the good old days and listening to a military march from World War II. In one of the funniest scenes, he talks to a former shipmate who tells him that if Japan had won the war, American women would be playing Japanese musical instruments and wearing geisha style wigs and they both agree that it was better that Japan lost. 

When one of Hirayama's employees tells him she is leaving to get married, he begins to wonder whether or not it is also the time for Michiko. When Hirayama's friend Kawai (Nobuo Nakamura) proposes a match for Michiko, however, he does not tell his daughter about it, thinking there is plenty of time. The situation is crystallized when he has a reunion with an old school teacher Sakuma, (Eijiro Tono) known as "The Gourd" and notices how guilty his friend feels for not insisting that his daughter Tomoko marry when she had the opportunity. The result is an acceptance of the inevitable and the sadness that goes along with it. As the film ends, the camera pans around an empty room. We see an old man sitting on a chair, his head in his hands, weeping quietly. In his final moment of grace, Ozu has given us another experience that will last a lifetime.
 
 

Howard Schumann
 
 
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