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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON (1962)


Yasujiro Ozu’s final film ranks just below his very best; it’s quietly transcendent rather than utterly transcendent. Inevitably, it’s a modern Japanese family story about a prosperous widower who lives with his 24 yr-old daughter & youngest son. (An older son is already married). It’s a convenient living situation, but a series of tiny social & business epiphanies help him realize that his daughter is becoming a spinster caretaker. Is it too late for her to leave home? Does she even want to marry? Perhaps she has someone in mind? Ozu displays an undiminished mastery of pace, character & composition (those boxy Japanese living quarters are an editor’s dream), along with his signature low-camera positions, contemplative interstitial still-life shots and splashes of red. (In the world of Ozu, the bright red star of Sapporo Beer isn't product placement, it's art.) A perfect cast of mildly eccentric friends (with a lot of alcoholic lubrication) help to clarify the issues, while the superb Criterion DVD restoration clarifies colors and resolution so we can see everything clearly, including the exceedingly handsome family. The girl is lovely and the married son is an Asian ‘ringer’ for Gregory Peck. Since Ozu’s stylistic eccentricities are so calmly presented, you can’t put your finger on what makes these films so great. But the way they hang together emotionally is one of the great miracles (and mysteries) of cinema.

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