An Autumn Afternoon
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 113 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 Japanese
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: September 30, 2008
Review Date: September 27, 2008
Yasujiro Ozu’s last film An Autumn Afternoon is a lovely meditation on the dynamics of parents and children, a quiet but nonetheless powerfully emotional piece that should resonate even with viewers who have no children of their own. True to his cinematic style, the movie is artistically still while possessing depths of feeling that evolve with repeated viewings. What a magnificent way to end one’s career!
Shuhei Sirayama (Chishu Ryu) is a widower with three children, two of whom still reside with him though both are of an age where their peers have married and even sired children. Shuhei is quite comfortable having his twenty-four year old daughter Michiko (Shima Iwashita) take on the duties of running his household. However, an eye-opening experience with an old teacher fondly nicknamed “The Gourd” (Eijiro Tono), whose own daughter (Kuniko Miyake) has remained at home as his housekeeper until she’s left a bitter, pathetic middle aged woman with no prospects, starts Shuhei thinking that perhaps he’s being selfish and should possibly push his daughter toward finding a husband or at least considering the situation more seriously.
The script by Kogo Noda and Ozu hits all of the right notes of various parent-children currents and undercurrents. We see both happy and troubled marriages, squabbles over finances and selfish whims being satisfied, a daily pattern of work, socializing at a bar, and home life that’s banally repetitive, an easy way for years to pass within the blink of an eye leaving one wondering where time as flown. Ozu makes a point of keeping the women in the story non-subservient; they stand up to husbands and fathers when they make unwise decisions (always with that Japanese decorum that’s a wonder to behold) and display behavior that consistently earns our respect and often captures out hearts, especially when their grief or disappointments are internalized until they can express them privately in an outward way. The formalized Ozu style is, of course, thrust front and center of every shot with a stubbornly immobile camera set at a low level as if to subtly spy on the every motion of the characters we’re examining. The combination of such unmistakable formalism in the forefront while characters struggle with mixed emotions in the back of the frame gives Ozu’s works an utterly unique power, unmatched and always memorable.
Performances are first-rate across the board with special bows of admiration for Chishu Ryu as the conflicted father, Shima Iwashita as his daughter (the shot of her in her wedding ensemble is one of the most breathtaking revelations in cinema), Keiji Sada as the spoiled son whose finances can’t match his desires, and Eijiro Tono as the former teacher now reduced to being a noodle shop owner who drowns his disappointments in alcohol while being oblivious to his own daughter’s miserable existence.
Ozu never worked in widescreen, so the 1.33:1 aspect ratio displayed here is the original theatrical frame, and it’s slightly windowboxed in Criterion’s usual style. Some early strobing is momentarily distracting, and the natural film grain may be heavier than one is quite used to. Still, the color values are beautifully rendered with lovely flesh tones, and sharpness is well above average throughout. The image is clean and free from any distracting edge enhancement. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound is clear and precise, and the lively music which is used in counterpoint to the rather mundane activities in the film itself never drowns out the dialog. There is occasional flutter on the track which goes in and out several times.
The audio commentary by Ozu scholar David Bordwell is a terrific analysis of Ozu’s style in general and its use in this film in particular. By using comparisons to many previous Ozu films while discussing this one, Bordwell will undoubtedly pique one’s curiosity to explore the other Ozu properties which Criterion has issued.
A 14 ½-minute excerpt from a 1978 French television program on Ozu features critics Michel Ciment and Georges Perec extolling Ozu’s magnificent career which was then only being discovered in France. The 4:3 excerpt is subtitled in English.
Two theatrical trailers are offered for selection. The first runs 2 minutes while the second runs 3 ¼ minutes. Both are in good shape and are presented in 4:3.
An enclosed 29-page booklet contains a few stills from the film along with a celebration of An Autumn Afternoon by writer Geoff Andrew and a discussion of Ozu’s diaries by Japanese film scholar Donald Richie.
An Autumn Afternoon may appear simple on the surface, but its emotions are as raw and profound as those of the most florid melodrama. Ozu’s spare, sensitive style and his uncanny knack of capturing joys and frustrations so fluidly makes this disc an easy recommend.