An Autumn Afternoon (Sanma no aji)

An Autumn Afternoon

These are our best years; you mustn’t let them slip by.

Yasujiro Ozu is best known for Tokyo Story, but he had quite an extensive career, and a couple other films of his also made the list. Both of them, unlike Tokyo Story, are in color, so it’ll be, at the very least, interesting to see what he ends up doing with it. This, An Autumn Afternoon (a lot of Ozu’s films are named very similarly to this), is his last film; he would pass away the following year. While this may not be the swan song his fans might’ve wanted for him, this is still a pretty typical Ozu film, which means it works to a very standard degree, and doesn’t put one toe out of line. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you.

This is another one that you really shouldn’t be watching if you watch films purely for their plot, because there really isn’t one. What there is is a main character, a widower named Hirayama, and various things happen to him and the different members of his family over the course of a few days, contrary to the singular title. Really, that’s all I can do to describe the plot of this film, and I don’t begrudge you if said plot description doesn’t exactly have you stirring in your shoes. So, then; what does a typical Ozu film have to offer, if it seems to be so fruitless with its story? The best answer to that question, that I could come up with, is: timelessness. Ozu’s films are truly films that stand for all eternity. They are so stoic, almost frigid in their construction, that to expect any sort of frills or shiny baubles like camera movement is to deny Ozu’s filmmaking heritage to his face. Seriously, though; I looked up some trivia facts about the film out of curiosity, and found a good one: there is not a single camera movement throughout this entire film. No wonder the film feels so basic. This often felt like a Hollywood production of a decade or so back, with its saccharine musical score (that even played when the moment was supposed to be dour or affecting) and modest production value; the indoor locations really felt like sets more than they did locations. Once again, Ozu displays his habit of framing the actors (or the mean area between them) in the dead center of the frame, so they speak either to the camera or just off-center of the camera. Along with that, his editing style of cutting between actors after they’ve completed their lines, with very little to no overlap between sound and corresponding images, made for a slightly off-putting feel. It was this, and the film’s bare-bones construction, that gave the film its principal mood; one of simple-minded pleasure, amidst the realities and circumstances of life.

This is another one that deserves a little clarification as to why I gave it the rating I did, and it’s a clarification I’ve used several times before, and likely will again. I understand why Ozu’s films are so well received; they are very nearly perfectly done. But, they are so because the films, and Ozu himself, almost never, if at all, take any chances to make the film greater than it would otherwise be. He is content to merely make a contented work, and leave it at that. Thus, the film isn’t really stellar in any respect, entertainment or otherwise; it merely… is. It does its job, and walks away satisfied. Maybe it’s just the American culture that’s been pounded into me my whole life talking, but I was always taught that real greatness, and real happiness, comes from taking risks; risks that can lead to even greater heights than merely meeting the quota of life and that be that. Contentment is just contentment; it is different from happiness. Likewise, the truly great films, the ones that cause people to almost lift into the stratosphere at the mere thought of them, are different from the films that merely get the job done, no matter how perfectly they get that job done. Ozu’s remaining list film notwithstanding, his films seem to be of the kind to merely get things done. If that doesn’t seem like it will satisfy you enough, you may unfortunately be right.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10


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