“An Autumn Afternoon” – Chris Luedtke

Consistency has been met. There’s nothing that Yasujiro Ozu could have thrown at me that I would not have seen coming with his final offering, An Autumn Afternoon. Ozu being a master of the subtle, I went in knowing that I was either going to be either blown away by the family drama or bored to tears. I find myself sitting between the factions. I’m not unsatisfied, but my thirst still desires the greatness that was born in better pieces such as Late Spring.

Shuhei Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) is widower that can’t help but begin to recognize his age more and more every day. His co-workers aren’t helping either. Their constant picking at his 24-year-old daughter Michiko (Shima Iwashita) for being single has been leaving a sour taste in Shuhei’s mouth lately. In addition, an old teacher Sakuma, “The Gourd” (Eijirô Tôno), has become a regular acquaintance. In the Gourd, Shuhei sees a potentially frightening future of depression and alcoholism for himself, something he’d of course rather avoid. As the pressure weighs down, Shuhei must decide whether he’s going to hang on to Michiko or marry her off to start her own life.

I can’t discredit Ozu for knowing how to write a good, mellow script. An Autumn Afternoon is a delicate film filled with love, fear, the struggle of letting go, and finding the strength to hold on. The film is slow, as per Ozu’s style, which isn’t necessarily a knock against it but there are other works of his that ring with much more intensity. An Autumn Afternoon has much in common with Early Summer in terms of story. Like many Ozu films, there really isn’t a plot so much as there are just issues. Ozu doesn’t start with a Point A and head straight for Point B, because there is no Point B in sight. Much of the time, we don’t even know if we’re even headed for one. It’s like driving in the desert and looking for an oasis from the side of the road. Is there one even there? Perhaps. Perhaps not. the only way to know is to stop and inspect. This is where Ozu’s talent shines, but the shine that we see is coming off of a dull blade.

Ozu’s characters aren’t anything out of the ordinary. Everything feels weighed on Japanese traditions. The male dominance of society has seldom felt stronger. This time, though, the girls feel more outwardly rebellious. I find this to be a step of evolution for Ozu, since the majority of his females embrace an underlying rebellion; they remain polite about their discontent. Here, they just lash and tell the men they’re wrong when they’re wrong. The males even feel undermined on several occasions. Take Koichi (Keiji Sada) and his wife, Akiko (Mariko Okada). Akiko beats on Koichi as though he were a verbal punching bag. That’s not to say he doesn’t have it coming a lot of the time. The female characters are most definitely a draw here. The male players feel like the same old recycled ones. Nice, sometimes crabby, and very family-minded.

If Ozu has your attention, then An Autumn Afternoon will probably nestle comfortably in your heart while tugging gently at the strings. The film’s finale feels inevitable, and I was content with the overall product. As I’ve mentioned before, Ozu has done better films, but that’s not to say that An Autumn Afternoon isn’t worth two hours of your life. It’s got its charms, even if it feels dry a lot of the time. Give this a whirl if you’re a fan of subtle dramas and/or Ozu films.

Rating: ★★★☆

-Chris Luedtke

Read A.J. Hakari’s An Autumn Afternoon review here.

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