An Autumn Afternoon Movie Review
Japanese salaryman Shuhei Hirayama's life is changing. One of his admired childhood professors now runs a noodle shop, his friends are growing older -- marrying off their children and taking new wives -- and he's realized that he can't keep his daughter trapped as the household caretaker. So Hirayama sets off to find a suitor for his daughter in the old tradition of arranged marriage. Although this dilemma drives the majority of Ozu's later work, it's Hirayamam's reaction to the change that thrills Ozu fans. Whereas the marriage of a widower's daughter is met with uncertainty, fear, and sadness in Late Spring and The End of Summer, Autumn Afternoon's Hirayama almost effortlessly supports his daughter's marriage, despite his impending loneliness. It's those subtle tonal shifts within Ozu's work that shows the evolution of Japanese life and culture -- one that goes beyond culture and strikes at the very core of family and relationships that we all can relate to.
While Autumn Afternoon's marriage plot reveals itself slowly through the kaleidoscope of Ozu's filmography, the film's commentary on the western influences on Japanese life needs no frame of reference. Talks of World War II and western imports such as baseball and the importance of material possession -- vacuum cleaners, golf clubs, and refrigerators -- is common. Whereas Late Spring is Ozu's seemingly angry response to the invasion of Coca-Cola and Gary Cooper, American culture has seeped into everyday life in Autumn Afternoon's Japan, leaving only the older generation to reminisce of the time before the War. Yet, even Ozu has come to terms with this change in culture, as Hirayama says, while having a drink with a War-time friend, "But I think it's good we lost."
While that acceptance and shift in Japanese culture might not seem important to today's American audience, it serves as the fuel for the generation gap fire -- specifically the independence of young women. Women's independence has also been a motivator in Ozu's earlier work. Where in earlier films, like Early Summer, women fought for their right to choose their husbands in an attempt to break free from male domination, Autumn Afternoon's women are in complete control. They are strong, and they know what they want and how to get it. Whether it's Hirayama's friend being pulled away from dinner early by his young wife or his son's wife not allowing him to have new golf clubs, it's clear that life is evolving -- making Hirayama's decision to encourage his daughter to marry that much more important. It's no longer a struggle between two generations, but an internal struggle of acceptance of change that comes from a more mature perspective.
Beyond the social ebb and flow, Ozu's film succeeds because of his unique voice. He breaks technical cinematic rules by having his actors talk directly to the camera, putting us in the middle of the conversation, and skips over major events that have been built up in the first half of the film -- his characters will talk about an upcoming wedding and then in the next scene talk about the event without us ever actually seeing it -- which closely mimics how we often hear about events in our own daily lives. Combined with the whimsical score by Kojun Saitô and Ozu's ability to let a scene play out rather than force a plot, Autumn Afternoon offers a relatable slice of life and, for Ozu fans, a final glimpse into a director's evolving thoughts on life and culture in his last film.
Aka Sanma no aji.