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Late Spring: The Criterion Collection

Michael Atkinson makes a point in his included essay on Yasujiro Ozu's Banshun ("Late Spring," 1949): though it's something of a cineaste cliché, it's still fair to call Ozu the "most Japanese" of the nation's greats. Which is to say his films seem more Eastern than Akira Kurosawa (whose Western influence was pronounced) or Kenji Mizoguchi (who tended towards period films). As such, Ozu's pictures are more representative of Japan at the time of filming — and perhaps its better to say that he is a Japanese filmmaker in the same way Woody Allen and Spike Lee are New York filmmakers. Late Spring was the first of Ozu's seasonal films, and one of the first films he made about the culture adjusting to its post-war American occupation. The movie stars Japanese screen legend Setsuko Hara as Noriko Somiya, who lives with her absent-minded-professor father Shukichi (Chishu Ryu). She's 27, and though she loves her living arrangement, her friends and family (outside of her father) feel that it is time for her to get married before she becomes an old maid. At first it's hinted that she should pursue her father's assistant Hattori (Jun Usmai), and the two go on a bike ride together. But it's later revealed that he's engaged. With no other nearby options, Noriko's aunt Masa (Haruko Sugimura) decides to play matchmaker and finds Noriko an arranged marriage. Noriko is reluctant, but her father encourages her to get married by suggesting he's going to remarry. It's interesting to note that the plot of Late Spring parallels the 2006 romantic comedy Failure to Launch — both have similar stories about parents plotting to get their kids out the house. Of course, the latter is a bland slice of Hollywood rom-com, but it does point out that Ozu's films are still relevant — though his take is actually concerned with people's feelings and offers no elaborate machinations to offer a happy ending. Part of this humanity is conveyed through the filmmaking: Ozu shoots all of the action in his films with a 50mm lens (the same lens that Robert Bresson shot with) and often in static shots framed at the position of someone watching the protagonist. And in his films these still shots allow for profundity. In Late Spring there is a wistful sense of sadness at the events unfolding: Noriko is happy where she is, but the world conspires to make her leave her home. For a modern audience, this may seem a palatable or possibly a good thing (still living "at home" in America has become associated with being unable to become an adult), but there is an underlying sense of tragedy to the affair because the bond between father and daughter is compromised. Both do what's considered best and proper, which Roger Ebert brilliantly compared to the machinations of a Jane Austen novel. Also included with the film is Wim Wenders' travelogue documentary Tokyo-Ga (1985), in which Wenders made a pilgrimage to Japan because of his love of Ozu and talks to some of Ozu's collaborators, including star Chishu Ryu and cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta. Wenders opts to mimic Ozu's shooting style and says he feels he's been to Tokyo before because of the director's work. It's a an interesting but low-key effort featuring a great, out-of-nowhere cameo from Werner Herzog and some beautiful asides, such as when Wenders films people making plastic food for displays. The Criterion Collection presents Late Spring in a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) with DD 1.0 audio in the original Japanese and optional English subtitles. The disc comes with a commentary Richard Pena, while the second disc hosts Tokyo-Ga, which is presented in full-frame (1.33:1 OAR) and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Dual-DVD keep-case.

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