Thursday, September 02, 2010

Ozu at IFC: Late Spring

This might sound familiar. A daughter in her late twenties named Noriko is pressured to marry by her family. Like Early Summer’s Noriko, she even has a best friend named Aya. While the parallels are strong, each is an elegant variation on the themes of master Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. Following last week’s screening Summer, the second film of his so-called “Noriko Trilogy,” the IFC Center presents the first Noriko picture, Late Spring (1949), as part of their continuing Ozu weekend series.

Though widowed, Professor Somiya lives a pleasant, comfortable life with his devoted daughter Noriko. She in turn, wants nothing more from life than what she already has. However, when her aunt starts buzzing in the professor’s ear about potential matches, he agrees it is probably time for her to marry. Noriko is not convinced, believing her father would be helpless without her. When he presses the issues, she becomes resentful, but as is often the case in Ozu’s films, the seasons will change, whether we want them to or not.

Like in 1951’s Summer, it is hard to believe a parade of suitors has not camped out in front of the Somiya home. Setsuko Hara had an endearing screen presence and an eerie, hard-to-describe beauty. In Spring, she is both more dutiful and a bit more sassy than later Norikos, but they were all quietly powerful performances.

In comparison to later Noriko films, Spring features a relatively small cast of characters, but their relationships are deep and rich. In particular, keep an eye on Yumeji Tsukioka as Noriko’s friend Aya (Kitagawa). Her delicately turned scene with the old Professor late in the film is quite touching, conveying so much life experience, so simply.

Again, Spring is classic example of Ozu’s eye for still life and interior shots. Nobody could convey the warmth of domestic settings as effectively. Through his lens a simple shot of some magazines falling off a chair expresses volumes.

Spring is a truly beautiful film, featuring a haunting lead performance from Hara. Depicting generational conflict and evolving gender roles during Japan’s tumultuous post-war years with quiet sensitivity, it is one of several Ozu masterpieces everyone should see. It screens this weekend, Friday (9/3) through the bonus Labor Day Monday, at the IFC Center.