|L to R: Fujiko Yamamoto, Ineko Arima, and Yoshiko Kuga as the three daughters (Yukiko Sasaki, Setsuko Hirayama, Fumiko Kuga) who oppose their respective fathers and marry the ones they love.|
The title of the film refers to the flower called red lycoris / lycoris radiata / red spider lily / red magic lily / hurricane lily / röd tempellilja. It blossoms in the late summer or autumn, often in response to a heavy rainfall, according to Wikipedia.
Ton Satomi was Yasujiro Ozu's favourite writer, and also Akibiyori was based on a novel by Ton Satomi.
The last time I saw Higanbana was in a 16 mm screening in 1979 (film society Monroe, Tampere), and I had entirely forgotten its individual features. I had only seen one Ozu film previously (Soshun, in 1970), and my energy was spent in getting adjusted to the general characteristics of what was then for me an entirely foreign way of film-making. How I have changed: now Higanbana the film felt clear as water, but then the ceremony, the formality, the stiffness, felt utterly strange to me.
It all revolves around the pater familias Wataru Hirayama (Shin Saburi), a traditionalist as the executive at the office, with his circle of old friends (they have been together since school, and also through the war years), and especially at home, where he has a loyal wife (Kiyoko / Kinuyo Tanaka) via an arranged marriage and two daughters who are at the marrying age: Setsuko (Ineko Arima) and Hisako (Miyuki Kuwano).
The women respect Wataru and simultaneously devise ingenious solutions to have their way. Setsuko wants to marry Masahiko Taniguchi (Keiji Sata), but Wataru refuses his permission. Wataru is an advisor to Mrs. Hatsu Sasaki (Chieko Naniwa), an innkeeper from Kyoto, who is comically keen on finding husband candidates for her daughter Yukiko (Fujiko Yamamoto) ("the next one - a pharmacist"). Yukiko elicits from Wataru the firm advice: "let the daughter follow her own wishes" in matters of marriage - and based on that declaration a marriage between Setsuko and Taniguchi becomes imminent. Wataru refuses to attend, but at the last moment gives in. He refuses to give his blessing, but in the final image he embarks on a train to Hiroshima to meet the newlyweds.
It was not about Taniguchi but about Wataru's authority.
This is a comedy about family and relationships. The main character is Wataru as the embodiment of tradition. He seldom smiles. He is carrying responsibilities, and while his loyal friends share his values and traditions, the young generation is moving to another world where they cannot follow.
There is a running joke in the film that if the husband is stronger, there will be daughters, and if the wife is stronger, there will be sons.
The most comical scenes are at the Luna Bar in Ginza where Wataru enters to investigate the situation of Fumiko Mikami (Yoshiko Kuga) who works there as a bar hostess, at the request of his old friend Shukichi Mikami (Chishu Ryu) who is concerned about his daughter, who has eloped with a boyfriend. Wataru is accompanied by his young colleague Shotaro Kondo (Teiji Takahashi), who tries to conceal the fact that he is a regular at the bar.
The most poignant scene is the class reunion. The patriarchal order is being questioned. At the class reunion traditional and even ancient songs are sung, and Wataru recites a poem about Masashige Kusunoki (1294-1336), "the ideal of samurai loyalty". The legend of Kusunoki, called Dai-Nanko, "epitomized loyalty, courage and devotion to the Emperor". He was a patron saint of WWII kamikaze (according to Wikipedia). "We are carrying the ideals of youth", remarks one of them. They realize that those ideals are now obsolete.
There are many references I don't get, including those about Kyoto, Gion, and bamboo sprouts.
At the next viewing I may pay more attention to Kinuyo Tanaka as the long-suffering wife Kiyoko. She is quite unglamorous and weather-beaten in this role. In a memorable scene she remembers fondly the war time when the family was always together. For Wataru, those were "the worst years of my life", always having to surrender to others in command.
Ozu's touch in his first colour film is immediately assured and playful. Higanbana has been thought in colour, and the colour red is a running motif; also the title of the film refers to a bright red flower. Ozu's characteristic insert shots gain a new punch as bright colour often appears in them. They serve as caesurae, punctuation marks and visual jokes.
It's playful on the surface. There is gravity underneath.
The print is complete, bright and clean. There are long stretches of interior scenes where the visual quality is excellent, and other stretches where there is a slightly duped quality. The colour in general is fine. At times it is unrealistic, perhaps intentionally. Nature footage does not look good. At times I was thinking whether this print might have been at least partly struck from a digital intermediate. But I have no point of comparison, and conceivably this print conveys the original quality well.