The sublime final film from Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu is as great in its way as his earlier masterpieces Tokyo Story and Early Summer.
An Autumn Afternoon
Yasujiro Ozu's final film joins such ultimate movies as Robert Bresson's L'Argent and Carl Theodor Dreyer's Gertrud as a great but unintended testament. (At the time of his death, Ozu had another film in the works titled Radishes and Carrots.) "Waste not your thoughts on eternity," a sodden old teacher counsels a class reunion in An Autumn Afternoon, though it is hard to believe that in this sublime distillation of Ozu's central themes and formal means, the director did not have his sights set on the everlasting.
As great in its way as Tokyo Story or Early Summer, and featuring many of the director's favourite actors (including Chishu Ryu, notable as the aged patriarch in Tokyo Story), An Autumn Afternoon returns to a defining trope of Ozu's cinema — a widower's decision to marry off his only daughter, despite her protestations — and intensifies the visual formalism of his final colour works. (The film is keyed to a palette of crimson and blue-grey, the transition sequences alone offering a semiotic splendour of candy-cane smokestacks, blazing baseball-park spotlights, and stylized bar signs.)
Gently humorous in its observations
about a Japan in which postwar deprivation has given way to consumerist abundance,
An Autumn Afternoon registers the end of
things not only in its autumnal title (the
Japanese original translates as "The Taste
of Mackerel," which the French render as
"The Taste of Saké") but also in its many
references to death, funerals, aging, and the
passage of time (e.g., a clock that is about
to stop). At film's end, the widower's son
counsels him not to die just yet, though its
final image portends more than one kind of
passing. Ozu expired on his sixtieth birthday,
leaving An Autumn Afternoon as both
summa and culmination, one of the greatest
last works in cinema.
Digital restoration by Shochiku Co., Ltd., the National Film Center and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. Special thanks to Janus Films. Special thanks to The Japan Foundation, Toronto.