Late Spring (Banshun), is suffused with shots of toenail clippings or apple peels, bridges between the fulness of spring into the summer doldrums when the flowers wilt and the green foliage dwarfs the flowers. All of those definitely evoke the feeling that seasonally that this is taking place in late spring but it also gives a realistic peaceful feel to the film as though we are intruding on a beautiful thing all of its own: the relationship between a father and his cherished daughter.
The father is an aging professor, Shukichi Somiya (Chishu Ryu). His twenty-seven year old daughter, Noriko (Setsuko Hara), is really the star of this film and the film is about their familial love. It is beautiful to watch the great love, the joys of family, their bicycle trips, their traveling together to Kyoto and visiting friends and family but all of this great happiness is tinged with the undertone that the daughter, Noriko, must marry and move on with her life and leave her father behind. It is a natural thing. It is part of the ebb and flow of all life and living things, but Ozu reminds us that each step in life shuts off another that will never happen again.
Part of the sadness here, is that this is post-WWII and Noriko was in a labor camp and just recently got out. She was from that time, very ill and lost lots of weight and is still rather skinny, but because of that trauma, she is reluctant to venture out of the paternal home — having only reminders of the last trip out full of uhappiness and dismay. At least that is how her father sees it, and this is the only psychological reason given; for Noriko sees that she happy here at home so why rock the boat?
So we have to accept his reason as the most plausible; she is simply afraid of the wild hustle and bustle of life, shown by the raucous children on her wedding day yelling and screaming and thumping the car, and honestly I do think that the father is on to something. Our Noriko does she tentative and worried; hesitant to accept life on its terms and happier to stay within the paterfamilias on her own.
There are many hints that Noriko has had chances, like the handsome Shuichi Hattori (Jun Usami), who is her father’s research assistant and she seems quite fond of, but we learn that is not possible because he is fianced to another, or hero own father’s best friend who has remarried and hints that she would have been acceptable under very different circumstances, but now he is just a Dutch Uncle and concerned for her welfare.
Nevertheless she has refused them all & so the Father and Aunt come up with a ploy of their own which is touching in its elegance and selflessness. Throughout the cinematography by Yuharu Atsuta is very tender with lots of low-angle and long shots (reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni or is it the other way around?) help imbue the scenes with tender nostalgia.
Those shots convey a lot of sentimental tenderness, that bit of lost love and safety that only happens when a child and parent are together enjoying that special moment captured only through the mind’s eye of memory and seen as a child would, looking up.
All of this evokes the safety of Noriko looking to her father for security and love and truly helps convey Noriko’s hesitancy of marrying the next “Gary Cooper” her aunt should find and leaving her father’s side. It is that fear of the unknown that comes upon you very slowly in this film as eventually you too take Noriko’s side and wonder why must this be done?
It’s a lovely film & one worth watching.
Now that I am a NYTimes subscriber, I wrote this a while ago for my notes, I can see their original review. It’s rather short & now not on the site but only available by PDF download and saids that Ozu was the most Japanese of the Japanese directors. Before this I can’t say I knew him.