Underlining every film by the late Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu is a sense of community, of people who share more than just a workplace, a neighbourhood, a past. The continuous need to balance your own needs as an individual within a larger community is, again, at the heart of the gently heartbreaking dilemmas in Late Autumn, a film that can be seen as a sort of "first draft" for the director's later (and final film) An Autumn Afternoon.
To be blunt, Late Autumn may seem unfocussed and sprawling throughout its somewhat excessive length, almost as if Mr. Ozu's usual masterful hand for elegantly bringing together multi-stranded narratives had failed him here. Not quite true, of course, though seeing it after An Autumn Afternoon clearly plays up the similarities; as in that 1962 tale of a widower marrying off his daughter, but also as in so many other of the director's films, marriage, the ultimate social contract, is the plot engine.
The enchanting Ayako (Yoko Tsukasa) won't even consider the idea so as not to leave alone her widowed mother Akiko (Setsuko Hara). To the rescue come three "gallant knights" - Messrs. Mamiya (Shin Saburi), Hirayama (Ryushi Kita) and Toguchi (Nobuo Nakamura), college friends of her late husband who have always harboured a soft spot for Akiko, and who decide not only to help Ayako find a husband but also to find one for her mother as well. What plays out next, under the guise of a comedy of errors in sustained slow-motion where the community around both women is both a hindrance and a help, is in fact a melancholy meditation on the inexorable passage of time, as Akiko and Ayako both accept and resist the roles attributed to them while reserving the right to make their own decisions and live their own lives.
The Autumnal nature of the plot - underlined in the film's titles, both original (meaning "a cold Autumn day") and international - is another of the links to An Autumn Afternoon, certainly the better film of the two; the plot here may admittedly be creakier than usual (the script is credited to Mr. Ozu and his regular screenwriter Kogo Noda, from a story by Ton Satomi, who also inspired the vastly superior Equinox Flower), but it's no less moving for that and it is also a good excuse for the director to deploy his superb control of mood and rhythm, with some of the most poignant ellipses in his work.
Cast Setsuko Hara, Yoko Tsukasa, Mariko Okada, Keiji Sada, Miyuki Kiwano, Shinichiro Mikami, Shin Saburi
Director Yasujiro Ozu; screenwriters Kogo Noda and Mr. Ozu; based on the novel by Ton Satomi, Akibiyori; cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta (colour); composer Takanobu Saito; art director Tatsuo Hamada; costumes Toshikazu Sugiyama; editor Yoshiyasu Hamamura; producer Shizuo Yamanouchi; production company Shochiku Eiga
Screened July 23rd 2014, Lisbon (DVD)