3 February 2018





Yasujiro Ozu was surely destined by the stars to be a film-maker. He was obsessed with all things movie-related from an early age and he once even missed an important exam to watch an early version of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA.

I can't imagine what his parents would have said about such irresponsible behaviour but you've got to admire his sense of priorities. He was the king of gentle but socially telling domestic dramas and his death (from cancer) on his sixtieth birthday deprived the world of one of its greatest ever story-tellers and directors.

LATE SPRING features Chishu Ryu, an actor who often worked with Ozu, as a middle-aged widower called Somiya who lives alone with his daughter Noriko. Noriko is played by Setsuko Hara, another of Ozu's stable of preferred actors and actresses.

They rub along just fine together, Somiya and the stunning-looking Noriko. Noriko worships her gentle, kindly father and does all his cooking, cleaning, washing and mending for him. She does it totally willingly, it must be said, and always with a beaming smile. In fact, I've never seen anyone quite so happy to be darning socks and washing dishes as this girl...! She was clearly born for the domestic life.

They live a nice, quiet almost idyllic life together until Somiya's meddlesome sister, Noriko's Aunt Masa, gets it into her head that it's high time Noriko was married. And in fact, Noriko, in her late twenties by now, has left it rather late for matrimony, as most of her contemporaries would already be hitched and pushing prams by now.

Noriko positively hates the idea of marriage. She's in a nice comfortable rut now and she doesn't want to leave it. Well, that's understandable. Ruts by their very nature are comfortable, lol. Why don't you marry that nice Mr. Hattori you've been knocking around with? the Aunt suggests helpfully.

Well, no, because Mr. Hattori's been engaged to someone else for a while now, giggles Noriko, even though it's true she's been going on cosy little bike rides with him, unusual enough for an engaged man and an unmarried woman who's not his betrothed. Apparently men and women really can just be friends, although I wouldn't believe it for a second, personally.

The Aunt, undaunted, comes up with the notion of Noriko's marrying an eligible bachelor the Aunt knows who apparently looks like Gary Cooper. Don't get your hopes up, folks. We never get to actually see this heart-throb, haha. Noriko politely declines her Aunt's generous offer.

I can't possibly get married, she titters. Who would look after dearest Father if I weren't around? Oh, don't you worry your little head about that, declares the Aunt confidently. I'm in the process of setting your father up with Mrs. Miwa, an attractive young widow, so don't worry about him. He'll be just fine...!

Noriko is devastated. We already know her negative thoughts on middle-aged widowers getting re-married. She thinks it's immoral and 'dirty.' We know this from when she meets a friend of Dad's who's done that exact thing and gotten married again after his wife died. Anyway, when she catches Dad giving this self-same Mrs. Miwa the eye across the aisle at a Noh play (a beautiful form of theatre indigenous to Japan), it seems to confirm her worst suspicions.

Dad, to his credit, does actually see that marriage is better for Noriko than staying home to wash his socks and jocks until she's an old lady. He'd have every reason to try to keep her forever by his side but he does the unselfish thing instead. 

He tries to talk her into getting married for her own sake, even using the one ace that he has up his kimono sleeve, but will the stubborn Noriko sit up and really pay attention? After all, both Dad and Noriko, each in their own way, are in the 'late spring' of their lives and the time for doing things may become shorter and shorter as the days and years go by...

THE ONLY SON, Ozu's first-ever talkie, is just as sweet and much, much sadder. Ozu actually continued making silent films for a good five years after the advent of the talkies because he was waiting for a close friend of his to finish perfecting his sound recording technology. THE ONLY SON is a masterpiece which Roger Ebert himself thought highly of.

It's so sad, though. A widow called Mrs. Nonomiya is working in a silk production factory while trying to bring up her son, Ryosuke, on her own. They're obviously very poor and Ma has to work hard to make ends meet.

When the boy is old enough to go to High School (even though he looks like he's still in nappies!), the Mum gives in to gentle pressure from Ryosuke's teacher Okubo to keep the boy in school, even though he'd probably be more use to her out in the workforce earning a few quid. Still, Mum does the right thing by the lad and lets him continue his education. He's got plans to be the big man on campus some day, has Ryosuke...!

Thirteen years pass in the blink of an eye. It's 1936, Mum is in her sixties, still plugging away at the factory, and Ryosuke is in Tokyo working as a teacher. Mum goes to visit him, a visit to Tokyo being quite a big deal for country folk in that time, and finds to her surprise that he's acquired a wife and a one-year-old son without troubling to tell her.

She also finds out that he's a night school teacher now. In some way, this is a disappointment to her. Now, I personally don't see what's wrong with teaching night classes but for some reason, both Mammy and Son are in firm agreement that Ryosuke is a grave disappointment to his mother. He and his wife Sugiku are poor and live in a tiny house so maybe that's part of it.

Before the end of the visit, however, Ryosuke promises to better himself by gaining further qualifications. They even go and visit his old school-teacher Okubo, played by the lovely old father from LATE SPRING, Chishu Ryu.

For some reason, he's not doing the auld teaching any more but is a father of four and the owner of a restaurant. I don't know if this has a deeper meaning or whatever, but I think it's nice that he's doing so well and is seemingly so happy in his new business venture.

Towards the end of the visit, Sugiko sells her kimono so that they can take the old lady out on a nice trip, but the plan goes awry and the money gets used up for something else. Mum goes back home to the factory, her prison for life, and tries to smile through her tears of disappointment as she tells her workmate that her son has become a 'big man' in Tokyo...

Now, it's obvious to everyone that the dear old lady is positively dying of loneliness and over-work and that Ryosuke needs to do the right thing and invite her to live with them. Why should she kill herself slaving away at the factory until she dies, when she's got a perfectly capable son alive and well in Tokyo who could take care of her?

Ryosuke should undertake to look after his Mum in her old age because she slaved her guts out for him when he was a lad and she was a single mother. Also, it's as clear as crystal that Mum wants to get to know her new daughter-in-law and tiny baby grandson (I think he's died, actually, as they only ever film him asleep in his bed!) and that she doesn't want to go back to the bloody factory.

So what if Ryosuke has to take care of four people instead of three? He can always get a second job, can't he? But no, he lets his old Mum go back to her village and the factory heartbroken and alone, with the knowledge that she'll probably now pass the rest of her days alone, not to mention overworked. 

It's this way in which Ryosuke is a terrible disappointment, if you ask me, and it's nothing whatsoever to do with his job. And what about the things we've heard about old people and elderly relatives being revered and well looked after by their families in Japanese culture? So much for that, huh? Ryosuke behaves disgracefully to his kindly and generous Mum with his sin of omission, his sin of not inviting his kind old mother to live with him and his family.

Oh God, these films are so sad, so gentle and so beautifully-filmed that they just kind of permeate your emotional membranes by some weird form of osmosis and get into your soul and live there. I have a few more of Ozu's films yet to watch and review so look out for those. This is classic Japanese film-making at its finest. I'm gladder than I can say that I didn't miss out on seeing these.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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