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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Statutes Between the Father and His Daughter
by Donald Levit

Treading U.S.-Occupation eggshells in its adaptation from a Hirotsu novel, frequent collaborators Kôgo Noda and director Yasujiro Ozu’s co-scripted Late Spring/Banshun is the last wholly Japanese-made, and penultimate, offering in Japan Society’s Globus Film Series “The Most Beautiful: The War Films of Shirley Yamaguchi and Setsuko Hara.” The nine works shown have been selected to illustrate the actresses’ screen growth along with that of the nation before, during and after the war.

In the director’s own remake eleven years later, Late Autumn, twenty-nine-year-old “eternal virgin” Hara would go from playing two-years-younger daughter Noriko in the 1949 original to playing the widowed mother in 1960, taking the place of Chishu Ryu’s widowed father Shukichi Somiya of that earlier version.

Though name-recognition overshadowed overseas by Kurosawa, Ozu was arguably as talented, and his Tokyo Story -- in which Ryu is once more the self-sacrificing father, to Hara’s loyal war-widow daughter-in-law Noriko -- has recently replaced Citizen Kane at the top of various “Greatest Ever” polls and is the highest rated on Rotten Tomatoes.

In the 35mm print with his signature abrupt cuts, static camera and low-level “tatami shots,” the restrained hundred-eight minutes is short on dialogue and movement (the longest is a patently fake bicycle ride) but long on extended scenes and angled facial expressions such as at a character-wordless Noh performance.

The story occurs mostly in the still-undeveloped outlying area of Tokyo where Ozu would live with his mother and where he would be buried under a stone bearing only the character for “nothingness,” and where his leading lady still lives, at ninety-five and under her birth name of Masae Aida. Her LS Noriko is now recovered from wartime illness resulting from “conscription by the navy,” surely an uncensored reference to countrymen exposed to A-bomb radiation and its yet unknown effects.

She is totally happy caring for her scholarly professor father. Marriage, children of her own, and leaving the nest could not be further from her mind. Family friend Jo Onodera’s (Masao Mishima) taking a second wife strikes her as repellent and, playfully but in earnest, renders him “unclean, filthy,” although her Samuel Johnson objections are later tempered by meeting the agreeable new Mrs. O. Nor is she dissuaded by daring personal friend Aya Kitagawa (Yumeji Tsukioka), whose cynical practicalities are the result of experience with life and men.

Pushing most insistently of all is aunt Masa Taguchi (Haruko Sugimura), who arranges for her niece to meet the family of a desirable eligible man who are wisely not seen in the film because they and the concluding ceremony are beside the point.

Noriko remains indifferent to tradition, security, respectability and others’ hopes and whispers and is ambushed by their wishful thinking that she consider father’s attractive but engaged assistant Shoichi Hattori (Jun Usami) as more than a friend. But that father’s rumored and then confirmed plans to marry Akiko Miwa (Kuniko Miyake) surprise, alarm and disgust her, especially when he, too, appears anxious to force her out of his life and house and into another man’s.

Sadness is tempered with humor, even to a “good luck” wallet found under a policeman’s nose, just as, tempered by the unknown and unforeseeable, life itself is sweet as well as bitter. Father and daughter’s happy last tourist trip, to Kyoto, moves towards pathos topped by his sane counsel, there and soon afterwards at home, to an above all dutifully obedient daughter. In Angela’s Ashes young Frank McCourt reflects on Saints Brigid’s, Wilgefortis’ and Ursula’s sanctifying refusals to marry their opportunistic fathers’ choices. But this is the world of civilized Japan, not barbarian Christian Europe. Paternal love, white-lie sacrifice, and loneliness are marvelously embodied in the mere act of peeling an apple, though it would be pleasant to believe that Aya’s fifth-saké enthusiasm presages something more. The calm cycle of life is in the waves breaking on the closing beach: parents, offspring, mating, birth and parting, joy and promise and sorrow.

(Released by Criterion Collection and rated "G" by MPAA.)

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