Even though An Autumn Afternoon would act as my introductory piece into the works of Yasujiro Ozu, seeing this now was just as refreshing as it was then, finding comfort in my recent viewings of Ozu’s older films, the black and white photography that perfectly captured its chosen setting, a tradition that is now considered as obsolete in the contemporary medium, but nonetheless rich in texture in our absorbing of history and art, one that isn’t as satisfying when attempting to replicate such conditions in modern cinema.
It was the splash of colour that had me in deep joy, a component in Ozu’s construction that he has for years strayed from, much like the innovation of sound, a late adapter much like the silent legend Charles Chaplin. Unlike his previous films, the ways of the old, the culture of pastime Japan have already reached the median in its transition, whilst before characters lived in a society on its edge, unsure whether it should embrace the modern innovations or revert back to the standards and practices of the past.
An Autumn Afternoon juxtaposes these two lifestyles through the contrast of its two narratives, the household of the aging father and the modern sensibilities of his eldest son, the former living in a world dominated by the familiar wood craftsmanship and traditional furnishings, while the latter surrounds itself with the strong surface and fine finish of concrete, technology filling their households and becoming critical to their day to day survival.
The dynamic of the two families are also in contrast of one another, as it shows the direction of modern Japan where the breadwinner simply doesn’t come off as the dominating figure, now there is an equilibrium, possibly tipping even more towards the female figure as marriage becomes now a shared responsibility; but as Western culture dominates their world, we slowly see the effects of consumerism take hold of their lives, finding obsession in materials that temporarily bring happiness rather than spending based on logic and value.
Although modern society seems to thrive with the young, it also exposes the impact it has had on the aged, as Ozu displays a character embracing the concept of re-marriage, and a wife that is far younger than himself, even dabbling on the idea of utilizing sexual supplements. Ozu however views on such changes and characteristics with an optimistic bounce as he accompanies such ideas with a musical score by Takanobu Saito that carries a comedic aura in its tunes, allowing the entire film to feel more accessible than Ozu’s previous films, which tended to be more dramatically heavy.
Though Ozu dabbles on such modern sensibilities, its heart still embraces the dramatics of the old, traditional issues such as arranged marriages and re-marriage drives its central narrative as a widowed father pursues a suitable partner for his daughter, fearing that she would be trapped in a lonely and depressing life, caring for a dependent man rather than making the most out of her own life. The plot is strangely familiar because Ozu has tackled the same story in Late Spring, but unlike the 1949 film, An Autumn Afternoon concerns itself far greater on the side of the father, much like The Only Son where we gain an insight on the sacrifice and loneliness felt by such a necessary act; it is here that we find ourselves connecting to the film, gripped by the sadness felt by both the father and the daughter, penetrating the human soul without relying on the necessary components of a traditional family drama.
Ozu’s final film is well acted with a cast living and breathing within their roles like as if they have been in them all their life, arguably this is Ozu’s long time collaborator Chishu Ryu’s greatest performance as he enters into a role that I believe challenges him that none of his previous contributions have been able to provide. I do not think Ozu visioned An Autumn Afternoon as his final film, but its placement seems rather fitting given its transitioning elements that shows him at the edge, showcasing the remnants of his past and the outlook of his potential future stories. If he kept on progressing in his cinematic journey, for all we know he might have adapted the recent progressive format of mainstream cinema, the widescreen lens; just the thought of such a pairing would have many of his pure fans cry foul, but within the hands of an innovator, the results are often promising.