Friday, October 12, 2012

Late Spring’s Charm is All in the Family

The bond between a father and daughter is a special thing, one that few outside of that bond can truly understand. This is exemplified beautifully in Yasujirō Ozu’s bittersweet drama Late Spring. The father in this case is Professor Shukichi Somiya (Chishu Ryu), a widower who lives with his daughter Noriko (Setsuko Hara). Noriko is a dutiful daughter who wants nothing more than to take care of her father by handling the household chores. At the age of twenty-seven many, including Noriko’s aunt Masa (Haruko Sugimura), think that Noriko should have been married already.

While others see Noriko’s window of opportunity closing, she remains firm in her belief that marriage will not bring her any more happiness than she has now. Unwilling to accept this train of thought, Masa pressures Shukichi to try and find a suitable mate for his daughter. Unfortunately for Shukichi, Noriko will not entertain any option that results in her father having to live on his own. It soon becomes apparent that the only way to marry off Noriko is by taking on a new wife of his own to curb Noriko’s constant need to tend to him.

Shukichi is unprepared for Noriko’s reaction when he tells her of his plans to remarry. Considering that she views the act of remarrying as being “filthy and foul”, Noriko is devastated by her father’s news despite trying to keep up a pleasant demeanour. Yet her smile cannot hide her deep sadness. This leads Noriko to agree to accept the wedding proposal of a man who her aunt thinks would be an ideal husband. Unbeknownst to Noriko though, Shukichi’s plans to get a new wife may not be what it appears to be.

The world has changed greatly since Yasujirō Ozu released Late Spring in 1949. A woman’s worth is no longer linked to whether or not she is married. However, this does not mean that Late Spring is less relevant. The themes of family, and the pressures that come with it, are universal ones. Despite Noriko’s wishes, both her aunt and good friend Aya (Yumeji Tsukioka), who is divorced, keep on pressuring her about the importance of marriage. Shukichi is the only one who truly seems to honestly have his daughter’s best interest in mind. His desire for Noriko to wed is not so much a result of societal pressure as it is his awareness of his own mortality.

Shukichi knows that he is in the latter stages of life. He does not want his daughter to devote her life to him when his time is nearing an end. This is why Shukichi is willing to go as far as getting married again to ensure his daughter has a better life. The sacrifice of sorts that Shukichi chooses is what makes Late Spring such charming and touching film.

Chishu Ryu gives a great performance as Shukichi. He provides an honest portrayal of a father who only wants the best for his daughter. The only one in the film to exceed Ryu’s performance is Setsuko Hara. As Noriko, Hara manages to express a wide array of emotions over the course of the film. Despite keeping a smile on her face, the deep sadness that Noriko feels really resonates with the audience.

Through the performances of Ryu and Hara, Ozu is able to craft a film that offers a genuine take on the father/daughter dynamic. In fact the dynamic is so strong that you forget that the film is set just after the Second World War has end. Not that Ozu draws too much attention to this detail. Outside of a few nods to American culture and the subtle mention of Noriko’s past illness, which is most likely the result of the lean years in regards to food and medicine during the war, Ozu’s film is firmly focused on the big change the family dynamic is about to endure.

Late Spring is a film that is simple in both plot and execution, but has deep emotional resonance. It is a film that is an immensely charming, and honest, look at the importance of the relationship between fathers and daughters.

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