Late Autumn - Always a fine day
By Doron B. Cohen (Kyoto, Japan)

The Japanese title of this film means "a fine autumn day", and indeed, most of Ozu's films take place during fine days in autumn, or hot and clear days in summer. So much so, that someone had complained that this trait makes Ozu's films unrealistic; after all, there are relatively few such lovely days each year in Japan, contrary to the impression Ozu's films might leave on the unaware viewer. There is the rare shower in Ozu's films; for example, the memorable scene of the fight between the actor and his mistress in Story Of Floating Weeds, repeated in Floating Weeds, which takes place in a downpour (although the characters hardly get wet, being sheltered under the cover of roofs on both sides of the street; the rain serves as a kind of barrier, curbing their violence). Tokyo Twilight takes place in cold winter, adding to the gloom of the melodramatic story. But these are relatively rare examples.

Some directors love to film in foul weather. Kurosawa Akira's characters often had to struggle with the elements, drenched in rain and covered in mud (it is said that when John Ford met Kurosawa he said tersely: "You like rain"). But does this make Kurosawa's films more realistic? Ozu's realism is in the human condition, which is often harsh, or at least sad. When life is so difficult, at least let's have some fine weather, Ozu seems to say.

This film is a kind of remake of Late Spring, made eleven years earlier. In the earlier film a daughter, living with a widowed father, is talked into agreeing to a marriage, although she likes her life with her father just fine. In Late Autumn the daughter lives with a widowed mother, but the situation is the same. In both films the daughter has to be tricked into believing her parent wishes to remarry, in order for her to agree to leave home and start one of her own. In both cases the parent remains alone.

There are also several differences between the two films. In Late Spring there seems to be a focus on the beauty of Japanese culture - a No play, a ceramic vase, Kyoto's temples - a motif strongly emphasized also in Ozu's next film, The Munekata Sisters, and occasionally reappearing in later films as well, although not with the same insistence. The comedy is there, but is subdued. In Late Autumn, on the other hand, the comic elements are up front, often taking the edge off the more serious ones. The "old boys" are almost cruel in their search for fun, ignoring the damage they might inflict on other people's lives. They are checked in place by a young, sensible girl, Yuriko (the lovely and spirited Okada Mariko), but she too is out to have fun.

There is also a difference in the ending of the two films. The father who marries off his daughter in Late Spring, as well as the one in An Autumn Afternoon, Ozu's last film, although they both insisted that she'd get married, seem almost shattered once the wedding takes place. The father in the earlier film looks sad and forlorn in the last scene, sitting at home alone, peeling an apple, while the one in the later film (both played by Ryu Chishu) gets unpleasantly drunk and complains loudly of his loneliness. The mother in this film, on the other hand, although left alone too, seems far less distressed, even smiling a little knowing smile to herself, reminding us perhaps of Noriko's knowing, accepting smile towards the end of Tokyo Story (both roles played by Hara Setsuko): that's how life is, and there is no use in complaining about it. Yes, tomorrow will be a sadder, lonelier day, but it might also be another fine autumn day, one of those days that make life less unbearable.

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View the final scene from Late Autumn: