“LATE SPRING”: Quintessential Ozu

Three Reasons: Late Spring - YouTube
photo courtesy of Criterion Collection

          The opening scenes of Ozu’s “Late Spring” are not only full of his iconic filmmaking style but also hints at the culture clashes in Japan at the time the film was made.  This film is a perfect analysis of culture in post war Japan where some embraced the new modern society while others held on to the traditions of the past.

          The film opens in typical Ozu style with some “pillow shots” or shots that may be aesthetically appealing to the audience but really have nothing to do with the main plot of the film.  Ozu opens with three shots of the “Kitakakamakura Train Station” from three different angles.  We then see the exterior roof of a Japanese house before we enter the house and see characters.  The characters, a group of Japanese women dressed in traditional garments are all kneeling down having tea.  The composition, low angle(3 feet) long shot of a group, is another trademark of Ozu.  This scene is portrayed to be a traditional tea party with a group of Japanese women.  When Nori, the main actress enters the scene, Ozu gives the viewer subtle clues that she is someone who may not fully belong in such a traditional setting.

          Nori, a young Japanese woman who cares for her widowed father, enters the scene dressed in a traditional kimono.  She kneels down and bows respectfully to the group but when she gets up to change seats we see the first clue of Nori’s modernity.  When she stands up we see her pick up her purse and try to hide it under dress.  The purse looks very out of place at this almost “ancient” setting.  Then when Nori sits next to her Aunt Masa, Aunt Masa immediately adjusts Nori’s dress, indicating that she may not know how to properly wear such a traditional outfit.  Then Nori and Masa take part in a conversation about domestic duties which Nori seems to enjoy but already the audience can tell she is faking.  I believe this was a masterful job by Ozu to show in the first few minutes of the film that we are about to see a major culture clash between Nori, the young modern woman, and Japan, a country still clinging to its strict traditions.

          This dialogue between Nori and Masa in the opening scene is also another example of how Ozu’s style differs from the Hollywood model and remains effective.  The traditional Hollywood model of over the shoulder shots in dialogue or medium shot to close up never existed in Ozu’s world.  As in all of his films we often see characters, when speaking, looking directly into the camera.  This was something that was thought to be a cardinal error in among Hollywood filmmakers.  In the opening scene when Nori is talking to her Aunt Masa, she delivers all of her lines while looking directly into the camera.  I must admit that I found Ozu’s style a little jarring at first.  Seeing characters looking directly into the camera does not feel normal nor does an entire film of low angle shots with no movement appeal to most viewers.  Ozu, however, won me over.  His techniques, although different and far from mainstream Hollywood, do not get in the way of the dramatic and intimate stories that his films tell.  It is possible to think that his Medium shot direct address style gives the characters more depth and strength.

          Ozu used marriage in his films as a way of examining its perceived importance to Japanese society.  “Late Spring” is a very powerful look at the struggle a young woman in Japan went through for many years facing the choice of getting a job and being independent or getting married.  Nori is portrayed as someone who toes the line between a strong independent woman and a domestic woman.  She wants to marry a man who she truly loves not someone who’s been chosen for her.  Through Nori, Ozu shows how desperate a young woman in Japan would feel when the people around her were making the decisions about her future.

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