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An Autumn Afternoon

Movie Information

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present An Autumn Afternoon at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17, at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com
Score:

Genre: Drama
Director: Yasujirô Ozu
Starring: Chishû Ryû, Shima Iwashita, Keiji Sada, Mariko Okada, Teruo Yoshida
Rated: NR

I am slowly making my way—not always by choice—through the works of Yasujirô Ozu. I think that’s probably the best approach, not in the least because the films are so alike that they threaten to run into each other. If you hooked all of the filmmaker’s work together, it would almost result in a single long film. It has been said that Ozu’s films are all the same (of course, it’s also sometimes said that Anton Bruckner didn’t so much write nine symphonies as he wrote the same symphony nine times) and while that’s a thematically valid point, it’s not technically true. Nowhere is this more obvious than in his final film An Autumn Afternoon (1962), which is essentially a reworking of his 1949 film Late Spring. They have similar plots (an aging man tussling with the question of getting his daughter married), the same star (Chishû Ryû) playing variations on the same character, and the tone is much the same—though not exactly. However, in the earlier film, Ozu had not yet so harnessed himself to the aesthetic of no camera movement and shooting most scenes from his trademark low angle. In the later film, the camera is as nailed down as in an American silent movie, and the low angle is adhered to as much as physically possible. Whether this is for the good or not is a personal call. I think it works here, but I would not want a steady diet of movies like this. This is also a less overtly emotional film, a more resigned work—one that seems to accept the changes in society (an Ozu constant) as not merely inevitable, but quite possibly for the better. Strangely compelling and indescribably sad in its sense of longing for so many things.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

8 thoughts on “An Autumn Afternoon

  1. Sean R. Moorhead

    If you hooked all of the filmmakerТs work together, it would almost result in a single long film.

    This is certainly a valid objection, although I must say, with all due respect, that it’s a little surprising coming from an avowed Allen fan.

    Of course, Ozu called himself the tofu maker: he had a single specialty that he executed again and again with varying degrees of success with the intent of gradually attaining a very limited kind of success. As you said, it’s an approach that can be exhausting, but it’s not altogether disinteresting to me.

    On the other hand, as much as I love Ozu, and as much as his best films embody everything I love about cinema and about life itself, I do find the unstinting praise for his work in highbrow circles a little cloying.

    (The same is true of Mizoguchi to an even greater degree, but I admit that my opinion in that regard may be colored unduly by the fact that when I first became interested in Japanese film, everything was discussed in terms of Mizo versus Kurosawa; one could never express admiration for one without denigrating the other. And although I’m generally more sympathetic to the Cahiers program of quiet, aesthetically-oriented filmmaking, I actually prefer Kurosawa by a substantial margin; he’s just good enough to get away with a lot of melodramatic flourishes I would find overbearing elsewhere. To me as an adolescent, preferring Kurosawa when Mizoguchi seemed more consistent with my tastes was a serious conflict of identity, almost like being a gay Catholic or something.)

    Anyways, pardon that protracted, almost Proustian parenthesis. As I was saying, I think the unstinting admiration for Ozu has resulted in the neglect of equally worthy filmmakers. (Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs dwarfs Ozu, in my opinion.)

    Part of the problem, I think, is the unfortunate postwar attitude that period pieces are celebrations of feudalism and that feudalism was responsible for Japanese wartime abuses. That may be true to an extent, but it’s also shortsighted and even a little bigoted.

    I mean, is it wrong for the Japanese to admire some of the purer ideals of their feudal past? We don’t read swords-and-sorcery films as pro-fascist despite the fact that they celebrate monarchy. If anything, I think Japanese period pieces are far better at presenting a morally ambiguous view of the past; I’ve never seen a single postwar jidai geki that wasn’t slightly cynical about the whole system. (Of course, that cynicism is sometimes lost in translation. Kurosawa’s films, which are generally thought of as the ultimate pro-samurai movies, are actually extremely critical of the warrior class if one is cognizant of certain cultural cues.)

  2. Ken Hanke

    I must say, with all due respect, that it’s a little surprising coming from an avowed Allen fan.

    I’m not sure why.

    as much as I love Ozu, and as much as his best films embody everything I love about cinema and about life itself, I do find the unstinting praise for his work in highbrow circles a little cloying.

    I can certainly understand that and agree with it, but then I’m not as sold on Ozu as I’m supposed to be. I find the unmoving camera and that low angle business to be an affectation and actually distracting. And, as I say, I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it — by which I mean, once a year is enough for me. I read several pieces on this film that were, to my mind, bizarre and in some cases demonstrably wrong. I did not look at the opening shot of the smoke stacks and think it resembled a Modigliano painting, for example. And the claim that there is something red “in every shot” is just plain not the case, though it happens more often than not.

    one could never express admiration for one without denigrating the other.

    Yes, well, art criticism of any kind has a certain “choose a side” aspect to it. My problem with this — aside from that Leigh Hunt quote about “let us not make unlikable that which is likable in anything by rendering inferior to something else” — is that if it ain’t good enough to be good on its own without having to find something it’s “superior” to, you have a problem.

    The whole Kurosawa-bashing thing seems to stem from that artsy canard that something that is popular by its very nature must be bad in some significant way. Of course, with Kurosawa it’s even worse because there’s a suspicion that his movies are too…western.

  3. Sean R. Moorhead

    Good grief…I don’t know what inspired me to write at such length about subjects only tangentially relevant to your review! I apologize for occupying so much space with trivialities (more space that the actual review, in fact).

    I find the unmoving camera and that low angle business to be an affectation and actually distracting.

    It feels quite natural to me, but I know many viewers find it distracting.

    I did not look at the opening shot of the smoke stacks and think it resembled a Modigliano painting, for example.

    I’ve never heard that one, and it does seem far-fetched. (Since when was Modigliani known for urban architecture…?) Ozu’s color films do occasionally remind me of Western painters — in particular, Floating Weeds, which I think you would really enjoy, looks like one of Signac’s seaside landscapes — but that probably has more to do with my frame of reference than Ozu’s.

    Yes, well, art criticism of any kind has a certain Уchoose a sideФ aspect to it.

    Like that damnable Chaplin-versus-Keaton debate that still rages in some quarters….

    (For the record, and at the risk of launching another tangent, I do love Mizoguchi at his best. I just think it’s a stretch to call him a sophisticated humanist; I read his films more as elegant fairy tales.)

    if it ainТt good enough to be good on its own without having to find something itТs УsuperiorФ to, you have a problem.

    I’d never considered the problem from that perspective, but you’re quite right; I’ll have to remember that counterargument.

    The whole Kurosawa-bashing thing seems to stem from that artsy canard that something that is popular by its very nature must be bad in some significant way.

    And the deeply-ingrained conviction that understatement is always superior to overstatement regardless of which is more effective in a particular context….

    Of course, with Kurosawa itТs even worse because thereТs a suspicion that his movies are tooЕwestern.

    Even as a young man, I found it amusing to watch French critics argue about which director was more “Japanese” — as though that were objectively quantifiable by foreigners and a valid measure of talent.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I apologize for occupying so much space with trivialities (more space that the actual review, in fact).

    Didn’t bother me.

    Like that damnable Chaplin-versus-Keaton debate that still rages in some quarters…

    What? Are there still those who prefer Keaton?

    And the deeply-ingrained conviction that understatement is always superior to overstatement regardless of which is more effective in a particular context….

    Anyone who’s been paying attention probably is aware by now that this is certainly not a conviction I hold, that in general I prefer a more…let us say, operatic approach (with notable exceptions).

    Even as a young man, I found it amusing to watch French critics argue about which director was more “Japanese” — as though that were objectively quantifiable by foreigners and a valid measure of talent.

    That reminds me of Eric Rohmer once holding it against the Hitchcock film Young and Innocent (1937) because the hero looked like some French pop singer. He seemed oblivious to the fact that probably very few people outside France made any such connection, and that, in any case, it was more a case of the pop singer looking like the hero than the other way around.

    I admit I am not really qualified to discuss Mizoguchi, since I think Ugtsu is the only film of his I’ve seen.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Chaplin’s admirers are undoubtedly more numerous, and “raging” was perhaps an overstatement…but then there are essays like this

    That bozo probably likes Karloff better than Lugosi, too, and Sidney Toler’s Charlie Chan better than Warner Oland’s. I love the “I don’t know anybody who” approach. That’s so utterly without meaning. But I do like the idea that Keaton seems modern because he’s expressionless. Great — the Michael Shannon of comedy.

    I’ve already admitted my admiration for Boorman and Kurosawa, and my favorite director is a cartoonist!

    Your favorite director is Frank Tashlin???? Seriously, when your favorite director is Ken Russell — as mine is — no one expects you to be keen on the quieter, more contemplative approach. That said, I’d say that moments that could be described in those terms exist in almost every Russell film.

  6. Sean R. Moorhead

    What? Are there still those who prefer Keaton?

    Chaplin’s admirers are undoubtedly more numerous, and “raging” was perhaps an overstatement…but then there are essays like this: http://www.bryanappleyard.com/chaplin-or-keaton/

    I admit I am not really qualified to discuss Mizoguchi, since I think Ugtsu is the only film of his IТve seen.

    Suffice it so say that I find them aesthetically impeccable but rather dry; his characters often act as vehicles for Important Messages.

    But I do love Sansho the Bailiff and Ugetsu Monogatari, among others.

    I prefer a moreЕlet us say, operatic approach (with notable exceptions).

    On balance I think I slightly prefer a quieter, more contemplative approach — but, oh, whom am I kidding? I’ve already admitted my admiration for Boorman and Kurosawa, and my favorite director is a cartoonist!

  7. Sean R. Moorhead

    I love the УI donТt know anybody whoФ approach. ThatТs so utterly without meaning.

    Yes, it’s a pretty silly rhetorical flourish that (1.) always says more about the rhetorician’s acquaintances than about the general population and (2.) proves nothing. It’s like a biology professor at a private Christian college saying none of her colleagues believe in evolution.

    But I do like the idea that Keaton seems modern because heТs expressionless.

    I suspect this comment reflects a concept of modernity in which the disaffection of certain elements of the upper middle class is taken as representative of the modern condition throughout society.

    Your favorite director is Frank Tashlin?

    Hayao Miyazaki, actually. I figure I’ve accrued enough highbrow merit over my years of devotion to Tarkovsky, Bergman, Dreyer, and Malick that I can admit to liking anime with relatively little shame. (I also see little point in defining one’s tastes in phrenological terms.)

  8. Ken Hanke

    Yes, it’s a pretty silly rhetorical flourish that (1.) always says more about the rhetorician’s acquaintances than about the general population and (2.) proves nothing. It’s like a biology professor at a private Christian college saying none of her colleagues believe in evolution.

    It’s that and more. I could be wrong, but I doubt that he really knows what most of the people he knows thinks on the topic. For argument’s sake, let’s say I know 100 people — and broadly speaking I “know” at least that many. Of those, I might know where a dozen stand on this topic. My guess is that most of them have no real opinion on the question, or that if asked they’d answer with whichever name was more familiar to them. I know my own view is skewed by having seen all of Chaplin’s 1918-1957 work on the big screen in a concentrated dose in 1974.

    I suspect this comment reflects a concept of modernity in which the disaffection of certain elements of the upper middle class is taken as representative of the modern condition throughout society.

    I suspect it also has something to do with the mood of the moment when he came to this conclusion. There was a period when the largely neglected Keaton became a kind of cudgel to be used in reactionary fashion against his more famous — and let’s face it, more ambitious — contemporary.

    Hayao Miyazaki, actually. I figure I’ve accrued enough highbrow merit over my years of devotion to Tarkovsky, Bergman, Dreyer, and Malick that I can admit to liking anime with relatively little shame. (I also see little point in defining one’s tastes in phrenological terms.)

    I don’t think Miyazaki is that bizarre of a choice in any case (even if I personally get more out of Satoshi Kon). Now, Tashlin would have been.

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