Sunday 14 April 2013

1,001 Films: "An Autumn Afternoon" (1962)

An Autumn Afternoon provides a variant on Ozu's adopted theme of fathers and daughters, shot in bright primary colours, possessed of a couple of novel ideas, and let down by sitcom-flat staging and a plodding pace. It starts with two characters very familiar from this director's work - a respectable salaryman widower (Chishu Ryu) and his straight-laced, unmarried offspring (Shima Iwashita) - though, here, the scenario is skewed towards light, bittersweet comedy. Ozu sees laughs rather than tears in the figure of a daughter so domesticated she's all but taken on the role of a wife, nagging dad to get back home in time for tea; in what was to be his final film, the director enjoys the reversal of saddling the young with responsibilities (keeping house, paying bills) while their elders get tipsy. (There's quite a funny gag in the way the camera keeps having to return to the signs and logos outside the bars the father frequents, though equally this might be understood as a critique of men who'd rather stay out carousing than be at home with their loved ones.)

Through the widower's naval past, the film can also, briefly and gently, touch upon the fate of a generation who fought (unsuccessfully) for their country; interestingly, there's far less agonising or handwringing than there is in an equivalent post-War American drama like The Best Years of Our Lives, and when Ryu meets up with a fellow sailor who served under him, the occasion cues jokes about the military defeat and a jaunty dance. The skittishness overwhelms any real insight, though, and you still sense Ozu is that much more interested in the salarymen boozing their way across town or testing their new golfclubs than he is in the passive, pinny-sporting women pottering about behind them. Cosily funny - with much nudging humour about old boys who require special pills to satisfy their young brides - and finally even rather touching in its awkward and formal sort of way, but again the suspicion (as with all too many of Ozu's so-called timeless works) is that it won't mean a thing to anybody under the age of fifty.

An Autumn Afternoon is available on DVD through the BFI.

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