Thursday, February 21, 2013

Banshun / Late Spring

Myöhäinen kevät / Sent om våren. JP 1949. PC: Shochiku / Ofuna. P: Takashi Yamamoto. D: Yasujiro Ozu. SC: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu – based on a story by Kazuo Hirotsu. The noh play in the film: Morikawa (identified by David Bordwell). DP: Yuharu Atsuta. AD: Tatsuo Hamada. M: Senji Ito. M in the concert sequence: Joachim Raff: Cavatina (identified by Robin Wood). ED: Yoshiyasu Hamamura. C: Chishu Ryu (Shukichi Somiya, father), Setsuko Hara (Noriko, daughter), Haruko Sugimura (Masa Taguchi, aunt), Yumeji Tsukioka (Aya Kitagawa), Jun Usami (Hattori), Kuniko Miyake (Akiko), Yoko Katsurahi (Misako), Masao Mishima (Yuzuru), Yosiko Tsubouchi (Kiku), Jun Tanizaki (Seizo), Toyoko Takahashi (Shige), Tomihiro Aoki, Takeshi Sakamoto. Telecasts in Finland: 17.6.1967 MTV1, 2.9.1982 YLE TV2, 31.1.1999 YLE TV1. 108 min. A SFI Filmarkivet print with Swedish subtitles by Wakako Hongo Sundfeldt and Per Sundfeldt screened with e-subtitles in Finnish by Eija Niskanen (she had also made a beautiful translation of the lyrics of the noh play) at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 21 Feb 2013.

We dedicated this screening to the memory of Donald Richie (born on 17 April, 1924 in Lima, Ohio, died on 19 February, 2013 in Tokyo). I had the pleasure to hear his Pordenone lecture in 2005 and to meet him again at the reception of the 2007 FIAF Tokyo Congress. He cut an equally distinguished figure in person as in his writings. Donald Richie came to Japan in 1946 and soon met young guys called Akira Kurosawa, Toshiro Mifune, and Takashi Shimura, who were shooting Drunken Angel. Richie's books on the Japanese cinema have been an inspiration to many generations. I look forward to reading his other works on Japanese culture.  

Donald Richie's synopsis: "A young woman, somewhat past the usual marriage age, lives with her father in Kamakura. She is happy with him, and when she hears of one of his friends remarrying, she disapproves. The father, however, feels that he is keeping her from marriage. She refuses several offers. Then her aunt tells her that her father is thinking of remarrying. She is disturbed, but believing that this is what he wants, she agrees to get married. Father and daughter go on a final trip together to Kyoto. When they return, she is married. The father, who had no intention of marrying, is left alone."

Donald Richie's remarks: "Called 'one of the most perfect, most complete, and most successful studies of character ever achieved in Japanese cinema,' this picture was one of Ozu's own favorites, along with There Was a Father and Tokyo Story. The various components of the Ozu style - the Ofuna-cho-flavored home drama, the interest in character, the haha-mono-like idea of a parent as central figure - are here combined in a perfectly balanced film, the whole of which far transcends any of its elements. One reason for this perfection was the depth of Ozu's feeling and the security of his style. Another was his return to collaboration with Kogo Noda, for the first time since 1935. And another was the new aesthetic that dominated all of Ozu's films from this one on, though glimpses of it had occasionally been visible in earlier pictures. This was a new simplicity in story, structure, and tempo, matched by a firm control over sets, properties, lighting, and actors. The results were, to be sure, not radically different from earlier pictures, but the later films were more laconic and more incisive. Kinema Jumpo First Prize."

Revisited the film that was Yasujiro Ozu's turning-point to his late, stark style and his first collaboration with Setsuko Hara. Banshun was also the original model and source for variations which Ozu kept making until his very last film.

After the film I read Donald Richie's, David Bordwell's and Robin Wood's (Sexual Politics & Narrative Film) remarks, and there is little that I can add to their excellent comments on one of the greatest masterpieces of the cinema.

I find Robin Wood's arguments persuasive but I don't find Banshun as anti-marriage as he. Admittedly, marriage is compared with a graveyard, and weddings are presented like funerals.

Noriko is a traditional woman who has suffered a lot during the war, and in a conventional view she is now "in late spring".

Noriko is also a shy and reserved woman. There is a general agreement that Hattori would be an ideal mate for her, but Noriko is aware of the fact that Hattori is already engaged to be married. Still Hattori keeps dating Noriko, but Noriko is too reserved to go on, and her seat in the concert hall besides Hattori remains empty. Robin Wood suggests and I agree that in the final image of the film the ocean waves at the empty beach are a reference to the unfulfilled relationship between Noriko and Hattori. Both are meanwhile married to others, and due to Ozu's elliptical style we have never seen the spouses of either.

Banshun is a study in tradition and modernity, and surprisingly Noriko, the only unmarried woman in her circle, is the most traditional figure in the entire story. She is even called old-fashioned. Even her dad is more modern and liberal. We visit a noh theatre and a zen garden in Kyoto, but there are also references to Gary Cooper and Coca Cola.

The print viewed was good and new but it has been struck from duped elements, and the quality of the sound is not brilliant.

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