Some time ago I watched Yasujiro Ozu’s “Late Spring” again, in part to examine the parallels between that beautiful film from 1949 and a French one released in 2008, “35 Shots of Rum” by Claire Denis. In the bonus section of the DVD, Denis explains how “Late Spring” inspired her film, and indeed, there are many similarities in focus and narrative between the two.
Lots has been written about this quintessential Ozu film, and the very strong, often perplexing to contemporary audiences, bond between the adult daughter and her father. Some critics have suggested that their relationship is incestuous or at least a demonstration of Oedipal urges, but most focus on the director’s subtle but profound representation of changing post-war family relationships.
Myself, I wonder if Ozu wasn’t tapping into the same foundational shift in Japanese culture that in modern times led to kawaii culture and Takashi Murakami’s Superflat art movement, which express Japan’s postwar impotence and infantilism as a response to the blind subservience to a militaristic, godlike Emperor, the trauma of the atomic bombings and an American occupation. There is the famous, apparently random “still life” shot of a Coca-Cola sign in the movie as a reference to WWII and the changes it brought.
Ozu’s films deal with people and emotions, however subterranean, and not trivialities. The daughter wants to remain at her father’s side forever, she is revolted by the idea of sex, and resists pressure to marry and strike out on her own until sadly giving in. Even after her marriage plans are underway, she makes one last heartfelt plea to her father to stay with him. This is a touching story.
Yet all during her struggle, the daughter wears a subservient, childlike smile that presages the forced cuteness of Hello Kitty.
It is an unusual story too. Who among us can relate to a young woman who does not want to break out and be free of her parents? Was Ozu sensitive, consciously or not, to the battered psyche of traumatized Japanese who were nostalgic for the security and familiarity of a father figure but knew they could never have one again?