Based on Kazuo Hirotsu’s novel Father and Daughter, Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring (1949) is the first film in his Noriko trilogy, followed by Early Summer (1951) and Tokyo Story (1953), and one of many films where Ozu explores Japanese family dynamics.
Set in postwar Japan, unmarried Noriko (Setsuko Hara) tends the house of her widowed father, professor Shukichi Somiya (Chishu Ryu). Noriko is 28, an age where she is expected to already be married. Among the few that frequently remind father and daughter of this is Shukichi’s sister, Aunt Masa (Haruko Sugimura), who tries to serve as a matchmaker. Noriko shows no interest in one prospect, Satake, whom Masa suggests looks like Gary Cooper. She tells Masa she doesn’t want to leaver her father alone. When Masa learns this, she works to set Shukichi up as well.
Tradition is very important for the Japanese, likely even more so at that time with the country occupied by the Allies, which the film hints at subtlety. Ozu makes this clear during the film’s opening scene as Noriko and other women learn a tea ceremony. Once the lesson begins, the scene is shot and edited at a leisurely pace with no dialogue, to focus the viewer’s attention. And yet giving in to societal pressures can extol a price on the individual. While the choices made by Noriko and Shukichi may be for the best eventually, they can’t help but cause a bit of sorrow for both as their relationship becomes forever altered.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The liner notes reveal, “This high-definition transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive and a 35mm theatrical print. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS while Image System’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, jitter, and flicker.”
Even with the work above, the image is very troubling at times. There are many scratches and defects throughout the frame. The darker the image the more prevalent they appear, and some times so many and so consistent, they look like rain. There is a great deal of light flicker and occasional jitter as well. The bar scene towards the end is the worst looking sequence with occasional markings sweeping in from the left, making it look like light flooding through blinds. The gray scale is serviceable, but objects get swallowed in shadows. Some objects also are seen with a soft focus.
The Japanese PCM mono track ” was remastered at 24-bit from the film’s optical track. Viewers may notice significant distortion inherent in the original surviving soundtrack materials. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.”
Like the video, the audio definitely shows its age and the lack of care given over the years. While dialogue is solid, hiss can be heard throughout. Senji Itô’s score is pleasing but works within a limited dynamic range.
Extras include a commentary track by and Wim Wenders 1985 documentary Tokyo-ga (1080i, 92min) about his relationship with Ozu’s and Japan. The disc is accompanied by a 20-page booklet contains Michael Atkinson’s “Home With Ozu”, Donald Richie’s “Ozu and Setsuko Hara,” and Yasujiro Ozu’s comments about his screenwriting partner Kogo Noda, taken from Yasujiro Ozu: The Person and His Art.
Ozu’s bittersweet family drama Late Spring works so well because of the story’s authenticity, which is anchored by the cast, particularly the performances of Hara and Ryu. It’s a story that has been and will be lived many times over, yet it still feels fresh here, helped by the plot twists. The Blu-ray looks and sounds as good as it can with a major restoration being done, which it desperately needs, but that might not be enough for some buyers. They should consider the Criterion DVD instead.