HIGANBANA (Equinox Flower)

It can be said of many acclaimed auteurs that, if you've seen a couple of their movies, you've seen them all. The late Japanese maestro Yasujiro Ozu's reliance on a tight-knit core of actors and technicians, as well as his unique, delicately austere style and his apparently limited choice of themes, can indeed suggest his movies are essentially variations on a theme. But, even if that were true, what delightful, elegantly diverse variations they are, and how remarkable it is that his apparently identical films seem to reveal new facets and open new doors with each viewing!

     His first colour film, the exquisitely delicate Equinox Flower posits Mr. Ozu's constant theme of the passage of time under the guise of a wise, understated comedy of manners about a father (Shin Saburi) whose tolerance for modern mores seems to vanish when it's his daughter (Ineko Arima) defending them. As so often in Mr. Ozu's work, it's the silent struggle between tradition and progress that lies at the heart of its dramatic plotting, with Setsuko, the daughter, unwilling to follow through with the arranged marriage his father is thinking of for her, without even pausing to consider what it is she wants. Hirayama's dilemma is reflected in two parallel plots involving two other girls: Fumiko (Yoshiko Kuga), who left home at odds with her father to fend for herself, and Yukiko (Fujiko Yamamoto), who is very much in charge of her own life.

     Structured to perfection, the film's gentle ebb and flow of daily, apparently small events leads up to a patiently designed mosaic of life, heightened by Yuharo Atsuta's dazzlingly restored palette, whose colourful expressionism is almost as rich as Douglas Sirk's contemporary Universal melodramas (though Takanobu Saito's violin-soaked score may be a bit too heavy-handed to work at times). It's a supremely elegant film, an almost effortless transition into colour for Mr. Ozu, whose contrasting setups of family homes and modern skyscrapers underlines the film's main theme of a new generation that will not follow blindly in their parents' footsteps. And, though the story circles the three girls in marrying age, the real hero is Mr. Saburi's Wataru Hirayama, the salaryman who will change his curmudgeonly ways with a little push from the women around him. It's another wondrous slice of life from a director that elevated such tales to high art.

Japan 1958
118 minutes
Cast Shin Saburi, Kinuyo Tanaka, Ineko Arima, Yoshiko Kuga, Keiji Sada, Teiji Takahashi, Miyuki Kuwano, Chishu Ryu, Chieko Naniwa, Fujiko Yamamoto
Director Yasujiro Ozu; screenwriters Kogo Noda and Mr. Ozu; based on the novel by Ton Satomi, Higanbana; cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta (colour); composer Takanobu Saito; art director Tatsuo Hamada; costumes Yuji Nagashima; editor Yoshiyasu Hamamura; producer Shizuo Yamanouchi; production company Shochiku Eiga
Screened July 21st 2014, Lisbon (DVD screener)


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