Late Spring (1949)

aka Banshun

2010 #78
Yasujirō Ozu | 104 mins | TV (HD) | U

Late SpringThis is one of those films I always feel horrendously under-qualified to bother offering any kind of thought on. It’s the kind of film you suspect benefits most not just from repeated viewings and a desire to dig deep into its themes, but also a wider understanding of the director’s work and thematic concerns. This is only compounded in the case of Ozu by the fact I watched Tokyo Story a few years ago and didn’t get on with it in the slightest (but more on that whenever I get round to re-watching & reviewing it).

For all that, I don’t mean to say Late Spring requires the wish or will of a viewer to watch it multiple times, watch at least a selection of Ozu’s other films, and supplement that by reading a variety of articles and books; just that, when it comes to discussing a 60-year-old film that is the subject of numerous intelligent and well-informed articles and books, it seems there’s nothing for the first-time viewer to add. Which is always the case I suppose, so I offer my usual handful of thoughts of a modern first-time viewer.

In which case, what can I say? Well, any Ozu enthusiast who hasn’t been switched off by the last two paragraphs will be pleased to know I got on considerably better with this than Tokyo Story (which bolsters my belief that his most renowned work is indeed worth a second shot). One issue, I suspect, is that I knew nothing of Ozu before my first experience; having read up on him (if only a little), his idiosyncratic squared-off shots and straight-on close-ups feel less blatant and frequent here, and being aware of their deliberateness perhaps makes them less intrusive. That said, I remain unconvinced by it as a guiding notion — I’m sure there’s a reason beyond the proliferation of American cinema that the visual style we’re used to seeing in most film and TV is, well, the visual style we’re used to seeing.

Similarly, the film has an intentionally unhurried pace. Again, perhaps one (or, at least, I) needs to be prepared for this to engage with it. Perhaps I’ve just grown up a bit — despite the image some may have of film students as pretentious art-lovers, I was far from alone in my second-year-uni group in finding Tokyo Story intolerable (indeed, I never heard anyone bar the lecturer express a liking for it). This enduring impression renders elements like Late Spring’s consistently cheery, bouncy music a surprise when maybe it shouldn’t be — after all, it would seem to reflect Noriko’s ceaseless smiling, laughing and happy demeanor; which all serves to increase the emphasis on her anger and sullenness when the prospect of marriage and leaving her father seriously raises its head. (And I’m afraid that’s the closest to analysis you’ll find here.)

It would be a lie to say Late Spring came as some kind of personal revelation to the unimpeachable genius of Ozu; but, at least, I got on with it considerably better than I did Tokyo Story. I might even go so far as to say I enjoyed it. Wonders never cease.

4 out of 5

Late Spring is on Film4 and Film4 HD tomorrow, Thursday 11th, at 11am.

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