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LATE SPRING
1949 - Yasujiro Ozu
Japan
2
Opening Shot

Late Spring opens to a series of definitively Ozu shots (often reffered to as "Pillow Shots") outside a train station in Kamakura before we transition into the world of the charcters - an interior shot of group of woman at a tea ceremony.

The Film

I do not really have one single favorite Yasujiro Ozu film. Ultimately I believe his entire body of work is what makes him the greatest of all filmmakers. In many ways Late Spring represents the definitive film of Ozu's master filmmaking approach and language. Through simplicity Ozu captures depths and possibilities of endless beauty and heartbreaking sadness. The emotions and humanity captured here are really not so simplistic, but rather complex and even spiritual on some levels. Late Spring is a glorious cinematic achievement and like all Ozu's work has such an authentic and universal connection with the audience. We witness incredibly ordinary humans doing ordinary routines of living as well as facing the everyday dramas or complexities of life. Ozu's use of camera framing, technique, and space is truly rare. Here he presents the central relationship (a father and his daughter) with direct shots, which capture an intimate bound with the characters and with the audience but Ozu also keeps us at a distance almost as if to capture the character and thier emotions within the environment. Ultimately, this is a film of family, separation, and love. At the center of Late Spring is the pressure of marriage. Ozu presents this pressure of marriage in a variety of possibilities and options through the characters of the film (re-marriage, arranged marriage, divorce). Late Spring also represents a post-war Japanese society and Ozu underscores the film with this feeling of a Japanese society under transition, but he does so only in the slightest of ways. This transitional feeling is also captured between the relationship of the father and daughter, which sees a change as the film progresses and this pressure arises. Where as they share a warm and loving relationship earlier in the film, later they reveal that their true feelings are being hidden or masked and they eventually decide to conform to what they believe is required for the progress of society. Of course this is all expressed so masterfully through the incredible performances of Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara. Two of Ozu's quintessential post-war actors, Ryu and Hara are able to capture the deepest emotions in the very smallest gestures. The final images are among the most heartbreaking you'll see, as we view the father alone and though he is happy for his daughter he realizes he will die alone (the expression of the scene is shown not only through Ryu's performance, but also Ozu's visual of the pear pealing and Senji Ito's score). Late Spring is truly a powerfully moving and touching experience. The imagery and emotions I get watching this film is an unforgettably powerful one, and a feeling I hope to always cherish. Gracefully made with a breathtaking personal and artistic vision from a master. Late Spring is the definitive Ozu film of his post-war work in terms of style and themes.

The Filmmaker

Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu is, to me, the greatest master in the history of cinema. In a career that spanned over 30 years Ozu directed 54 films, but unfortunately only 34 of his films survive today. In many ways, Ozu's filmmaking career is categorized by two era which are split between pre and post war Japan. Hollywood influenced comedies and melodramas of his early work would later develop into his simplistic masterpieces of the post war. His most notable themes centered around the process of developing and progressing (a parallel to Japanese society of the time), as well as loss, loneliness, love, and the cycle of life as well as the rituals of living (including marriage and death). The primary focus of his films was the Japanese family (notably the gendai-geki or modern middle Japanese family). Within the family Ozu detailed differences of generation gaps, societies demand upon the family, and above all the dissolution and separation of the family. As an artist, Ozu had his own style, his own themes, and his own vision. Through the viewpoint of his trademark low camera angles, Ozu observed the world of parents and their children. He avoided violence or action or heavy drama, but rather told calm, simple stories of family and unselfish love. His films even shared similar titles (of various seasons). He never tired of these simple stories and he never tired of searching for harmony in his cinematic world. In Ozu's world, things go on as they must or as they will, and this is good because it must happen. He captures putting up with these things and celebrating putting up with things. He finds a correctness in the way things are. Even for much of the sadness of his films there is something so beautiful, hopeful, and joyous. They are transcendent and above all peaceful. Ozu was commonly considered "the most Japanese off all directors" and as such his films were rarely seen outside of Japan (credit to film historian Donald Richie who helped make Ozu more accessible with Western audiences). While it is true that Ozu is very much Japanese, his artistry is universal just as much as that of a filmmaker who is very much American or French or Italian. They may be different culturally and intellectually, but emotionally his films are universal in that we understand what the characters are experiencing and we share their humanity. Rather then tell an artificial story driven by plot, Ozu captures the hidden under currents that are the ever changing uncertainties of life. Through this controlled (some would say "slow") approach, he leaves empty spaces for the viewer to reflect and appreciate long afterwards. Ozu's style consists of several consistent filmmaking rules (such as the low camera angle, static control of the camera, minimal violence or action, as well as unique composition and editing rules). These pure and minimal techniques define the essence of the Japanese family life in the pre and post war era (they are timeless films on human and emotional levels, but Ozu's films really never could be made during any other period in time). He used actors as puppets and gave them a soul strictly through the filmmakers artistic vision, leaving no improvisation. The performances of his films are astonishing in the rarest way. His actors capture expression and emotion through the most subtle gestures and movements. The simpleness allows you to look deeper and discover a kind of flexibility. You understand and feel that there are truly delicate feelings involved. Of course Ozu worked with many of the same actors (Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara, Tatsuo Saito, Takeshi Sakamoto, Mitsuko Yoshikawa, among others). Ryu played a role in almost every film Ozu ever made, and Hara is especially remembered for her radiant performances in Ozu's most beloved post-war masterworks. His films are perfectly structured in the most simplistic possible manner. Everything Ozu wants to express, he does so perfectly. Ozu's films come to us calmly without forcing anything. The story unfolds slowly and unconventionally, while the overall flow of the narrative remains unpredictable and involving. Above all the focus is simplicity, however when you look closer and incredibly complex narrative structure and emotional depth emerges from the simplicity. Visually and emotionally Ozu's films take on complex layers of depth. Ozu's characters usually form contrasts and parallels of each other (he also uses dialogue and objects to form this connection). Ozu tends to even play with his audience by introducing possibilities or events, only to ultimately never show us what we want or expect to see. Of course it is not only the simplistic narrative that defines Ozu's films, but it is also a simplistic filmmaking style. He frames, edits, and shoots in the most basic filmmaking techniques and rarely ever conforms with technology (he was a later arrival to both talkies and color films and never made a film in widescreen format). Yet again, look closely at this style and you discover what is a vastly complex visual style of a true master filmmaker. Take any frame from one of his films and you can instantly identify it as an Ozu film. The visual imagery may not be as strikingly beautiful or breathtaking as a filmmaker like Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, or Terrence Malick, but in terms of composition detail and visual expression, Ozu may be the greatest master of all. His visual composition consists of the most precise pattering and expression. Through framing, space, settings, colors, and transition (notably the trademark "pillow shots"), complicated possibilities of the imagery come to life. It is all connected in the visual rhythm of Ozu's mastery. Having began in the silent era, Ozu's films have a narrative that works simply on a visual level (the ability to feel the film emotionally solely on it's visuals). Ozu was born in the Fukugawa district of Tokyo, on December 12, 1903. He grew up watching many movies, and the ones that attracted him most came from the West. He got his earliest start working as an assistant director at Japan's Shochiku Studio (where he would make nearly all of his films). Ozu began making his own features in 1927 with his debut Sword of Penitence. Ozu's earliest films showed an obvious influence from his love of American films (notably Ernst Lubitsch, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd). The mix of melodrama, and farce comedy of his silent films stand as quite a contrast to his more quintessential post war masterworks. The focus of youth and college made a transition into the working world and family life. One of the pivotal works of Ozu's early mastery came with 1933's Passing Fancy. Though a comedy, the film marked a changed in many ways for Ozu and nearly every film he made afterwards is a masterpiece. His final silent film (1935's An Inn in Tokyo- made eight years after the inventive of sound) his perhaps his best silent film. A powerful examination of the human condition amongst the struggles of the Depression (in this case pre-war Japan). The film centered around a man and his children and Ozu's focus of the family would remain in just about every film he made afterwards. His first talkie (1936's The Only Son) is equally powerful and very much like a silent film in terms of it's visual expression. After making the charming Lubitsch-influenced social satire What Did the Lady Forget?, Ozu spent time fighting in the Sino-Japanese war. He returned four years later with Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family, which marked the first big box office success for Ozu. Most of his films from the point on would become financially successful which gave him the freedom and creative control to consistently make films with Shochiku Studio. The only other film Ozu made during the war was 1942's There Was a Father, which is arguably his most simplistic in approach (in Ozu fashion the presence of war is felt underneath the surface without any direct or visual references made to it). World War 2 made filmmaking difficult and in 1945 Ozu was sent to a British POW for six months. His next film did not get made until 1947 with his first post-war release (Record of a Tenement Gentleman, a light-hearted comedy yet is also a touching, personal, and bittersweet). Ozu reached the peak of his mastery with 1949's Late Spring, which he collaborated with his co-writing partner Kogo Noda, whom he would work with on every following film. Together they established Ozu's trademark style and themes. In many ways Late Spring represents the definitive film of Ozu's master filmmaking approach and language. Through simplicity Ozu captures depths and possibilities of endless beauty and heartbreaking sadness. To me Late Spring is his perhaps greatest achievement and quite possibly the most perfect film ever made! The films that followed became the quintessential work of Ozu and Noda. Among them is 1953's Tokyo Story which is often regarded among Ozu's greatest achievement and is occasionally seen on lists compiling the greatest films of all-time. Ozu's last black-and-white film (1957's Tokyo Twilight) marked his most pessimistic and emotionally somber film of his career. 1958's Equinox Flower was his first of six color films and it captures his visual mastery on a whole new level of complexity and detailed expression. He remade on of his own silent films with 1959's Floating Weeds and then re-imagined his masterpiece Late Spring with 1960's Late Autumn. While filming 1962's An Autumn Afternoon, Ozu's mother died (he lived with her his entire life). Less then a year later, Ozu died of cancer on his 60th birthday. An Autumn Afternoon became Ozu's final statement and in many ways one of his greatest and most definitive films. A deeply personal film of loneliness, and alcoholism and death it is also a film that reexamines many of his father-daughter themes used in previous films, which makes it the perfect final statement from Ozu as a filmmaker. Ozu simply makes films like no other filmmaker. Subtle in approach yet unbelievable exact in it's execution of the artists vision. His films are transcendent and vastly universal because they make us laugh, cry, and cheer in the most emotionally complex and visually expressive artistic manner. There is no way I can justify how Ozu's films make me feel and the impact they have on a solely personal level. If there ever was a filmmaker in the entire history of cinema that defined perfection, it is Japan's Yasujiro Ozu!!

>>> Visit A2P Cinema's website dedicated to Yasujiro Ozu: www.Ozu-san.com

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