An Autumn Afternoon (1962)
Yasujiro Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon was released in 1962 and would turn out to be the director’s final film. He passed away in 1963 on his 60th birthday from throat cancer. The majority of films I have watched from Ozu have dealt with the dynamics to be found in families, exploring the importance of marriage but also looking at the gaps between the generations and how attitudes subsequently changed with younger people adopting different viewpoints to their elders. An Autumn Afternoon concludes Ozu’s detailed exploration of these themes.
The film focuses on Shuhei Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) an ageing widower and father of three children – Koichi (Keiji Sada), Michiko (Shima Iwashita) and Kazuo (Shini’chiro Mikami). Koichi is married and lives in a flat with his wife, while Michiko looks after her brother and father, fulfilling her expected role in society in the absence of her late mother. Through Shuhei’s frequent meetings with friends, drinking more than they should and reminiscing about the past such as the war, he begins to question himself and whether he is being a good father to his children, especially to Michiko. Now 24, Michiko should be considering marriage but does not seem enthused about the idea, happy to stay at home with her family. As time goes on, Shuhei must decide if he wants the present to change or is it time to let his daughter fly the nest?
Yasujiro Ozu has explored the theme of marriage in a few of his films and the premise here is similar though our focus is on how it impacts on the father and how he would potentially cope without a woman in the home to care for him. An Autumn Afternoon beautifully explores the conflicting perspectives between the generations, the young being more carefree while the elders always seem to be looking back in time. Shuhei begins as a man content with his lot but only in stepping outside of himself does he begin to consider the feelings of others and it’s quite a revelation. There are some particularly poignant moments throughout, nostalgic yearnings for different times in a Japan hastily moving forward and seemingly leaving its elders behind. While not as powerful as Late Autumn or Tokyo Story, An Autumn Afternoon still clearly demonstrates a director who was at the peak of his powers prior to his sad death.
Verdict: A tender and meaningful exploration of family commitment and societal expectation.