Equinox Flower - Old music and new realities
By Doron B. Cohen (Kyoto, Japan)

Ozu's bitter-sweet comedy, his first color film, wonderfully realized and beautifully shot, includes one of my favorite scenes in all his films.

Towards the last part of the film we see the mother of the family, played by the great Tanaka Kinuyo, sitting in her living room and enjoying nagauta (a traditional way of singing, accompanied by samisen, typical to the kabuki theater since the 18th century) being played on the radio. Her pleasure is evident on her face as her eyes sparkle and her neck performs light, rhythmical movements to the music. We know that she is happy, because earlier we've seen someone going to call her on the phone and tell her that her husband (played by Saburi Shin) finally agreed to the marriage of their daughter to the man she loves (typically to Ozu, we were not shown the actual phone conversation, but we can guess that it took place by the mother's good mood). Her happiness over the good news is intensified by the pleasure she derives from the music. However, she is not aware (and we are yet to realize her unawareness) that her husband did not give his consent of his own free will, but was tricked into giving it. Then the grumpy husband walks in and immediately turns off the radio. The happy wife suddenly realizes that something is wrong. After trying in vain to sooth his mood she gives up on him and goes back to the radio and turns it on, wishing to resume her pleasure and to get rid of the bitter taste of his grumpiness (and perhaps also secretly celebrate the triumph over his stubbornness). But the husband shouts at her to turn the radio off, demonstrating again his selfishness and bad temper. She does as she's told, while fixing him in a defiant stare. In fact, the husband's triumph over the radio only emphasizes how pathetic he became: this is the only time in the whole film when his wish is triumphant. In all other matters but the radio he is bitten by his womenfolk: he agrees to the marriage against his wish, he caves in and says he'll attend the wedding after declaring it will take place without his presence, and in the last scene he agrees to go visit his daughter and make peace in spite of himself.


There is another striking case of the use of traditional music in the film. In one of the last scenes, the husband meets his old friends for a class reunion. One of the friends (played by Chishu Ryu) is urged by the others to sing a traditional song. At first he refuses, saying that there is no longer place for this old staff in contemporary times, but eventually he relents. He sings an old epic poem, typical of the pre-war period, on the loyalty of a son to his father, and on giving one's life at war. After singing a few verses he stops and refuses to go on. The class-mates then start singing a popular song from their school days about the same theme. In the very last scene the father is seen on the train, going to meet his daughter, and quietly singing to himself the same old song. Times have changed, he has to admit, but it is still not easy for him to give up his traditional values. In many ways, he is still a man of the past. A little earlier his friend told him that he had made peace with his own daughter, who had eloped with her boyfriend (Saburi's earlier attempt to bring about reconciliation between father and daughter was another of his many failures in this film; still, even when he realized the danger of alienation between father and daughter, he did not recognize the danger for himself, and refused to allow his daughter to be married, only because she chose the man without asking him first). It is better to admit to the defeat of the old generation, Ozu seems to say, and keep the family together in spite of everything, hinting, perhaps, also to Japan's defeat in the war and the need to go along with modern sensibilities (including the making of color films…). It is interesting to note here also that in an earlier conversation the wife said that she was happiest during the war, in spite of all the hardships, because then the whole family was together; the husband, as usual, disagrees, but perhaps he learns better.

The film opens with a scene at a railway station, with attendants talking about the many newlywed couples boarding trains. This is followed by a wedding scene, in which Saburi gives a speech, praising the new idea of love-marriage, and then goes on to contradict himself when it comes to his own daughter. The film ends on the train, with the father going to meet his daughter for a final reconciliation. Another director would have shown us the meeting (or the wedding, or both), and squeeze out some more emotion and tears from the scene. But Ozu have already told us - or rather, showed us - everything he had to tell and show, sending us home with a little smile on our face, and perhaps a little tear in our heart.

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