An Autumn Afternoon: A meditation on Yasujiro Ozu's final work

Rarely do filmmakers so delicately capture the fragility and tensions of familial ties and duties with such grace as master director Yasujiro Ozu does, and his contemplative 1968 oeuvre An Autumn Afternoon is no exception. In his final statement to cinema, Ozu, at the height of his power, treats the audience to a vast array of picturesque homes and bars, whose walls are seemingly adorned with the fears and expectations that accompany the traditional lifestyle of 1960s upper class Japan. At the core of the film’s lasting messages lie the cost and aftermath of marriage, and the unspoken relationship between father and daughter, which are delivered succinctly by the gorgeous cinematography of Ozu's longtime collaborator and friend, Yûharu Atsuta.

With the film consisting mainly of interior shots, the landscape of the mid-century Tokyo uptown suburbs constantly frames the cast, trapping them and pushing them to act upon one another. The camerawork and its placement in the subdued yet poignant set design deliver the characters within constrictive boxes at different stages of their dilemmas brought about by impending marriage of a daughter. In this way, the numerous settings of the film almost act as a catalyst for the characters’ actions while the static camera retains an intimate presence within the traditional home. This constant presence within the home is a significant attribute of Ozu's storytelling craft, and it is a pleasure to observe the frames concocted by the camera within this film.

By deliberately surrounding the family members with walls and shōji to evoke a sense of repression and solitude within the nuclear family unit, the gravity of marriage is placed at the forefront of the audience's mind. Earthy hues of dimly lit wooden structures and darkened doors make each room fully pronounced and relevant to the action. The lighting setup of each scene enhances the various discussions between friends and family, relishing in situation of the characters under low-key practical lighting with the occasional lamp overhead. The final shot is a prime example of the fantastic staging, portraying the emotional heft of loneliness and loss for the father character, bringing the intimate melancholic tale to a close. Accomplishment of the ultimate goal is accompanied by forlorn gestures.

Cinematography aside, it would be a crime to omit the superb performances of the main cast. Chishū Ryū delivers a cautious but clearly caring father and war veteran in Shuhei’s character with great aptitude. As a longtime actor in much of Ozu’s work in particular, it is easy to see the organic presentation of the character by Ryū as he embraces the difficulty of marrying off his beloved child. Another longtime collaborator, Eijirō Tōno’s sentimental performance as the tragic, downtrodden Sakuma, a victim of both war and the refusal to let go, is simply haunting, and one cannot overlook the elegance of Japanese New Wave legend Shima Iwashita as Michiko, Shuhei’s beautiful daughter.

The microcosm of Tokyo that is captured within this film is utterly fascinating to behold, with each shot reminding the viewer of daily life’s simplistic beauty and the ties between friends and family that can enrich or weigh heavily upon our lives. Yasujiro Ozu passed away the year following the film’s completion in 1963, but surely not before delivering one of his greatest and most memorable works.

An Autumn Afternoon is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion and can also be streamed through Hulu Plus.

you might also like


No comments:

Post a Comment

By: Christophe Charre

Hi hello hey I run this blog. I write about movies... films... moving art... flicks? If you enjoyed what you read, feel free to continue perusing the blog.