The generation before us will always have trouble seeing us as anything more.
We may grow, may find success, may well leave to stretch our legs in wider spaces. However, to our elders, we will be stuck in stasis. It can make being treated like an adult challenging…and creates obstacles for living a modern life.
What to do?
LATE SPRING is the story of Noriko (Setsuko Hara). This woman is in her late twenties, and taking care of her father Shukichi (Chishu Ryu), a widowed professor. She makes sure he’s fed, provides another income for the home, and keeps both her father and her childhood home presentable.
She’s hardly a homemaker though, often found moving here and there with others (both platonic and romantic encounters). Her ambitions have nothing to do with homelife (much to dad’s chagrin), and instead she is just trying to get the most from life.
However, her community is still chocked full of old folks. And to the old folks, if you aren’t married, you aren’t.
Thus, the dilemma presents itself for Noriko.
What’s gorgeous to see in a film like LATE SPRING is the way it constantly employs so much visual shorthand to describe Japan at a cultural crossroads.
There is a long lingering shot on the cables above a train as it shuttles along the track. The sharp black lines cut through the grey skies like a pen and ink in the hands of a gifted artist. The lines all lead towards excitement, connection, opportunity, and progress. By comparison, we occasionally look in on people working on brushed calligraphy. The contrast is striking. The ink is just as black, but the slow gentle swoops suggest what is behind us…not what is ahead.
The bicycles are similar symbols of what lay ahead for Japan just four years after the end of the war; the exciting possibilities that were coming for all. One could move towards it with greater ease, greater enjoyment, and better speed. Hop on a bike and you could even pedal past all of that tradition and legacy. When you tell people who you hope to be “anything you can”, you will soon realize that you can achieve just that if only you pedal faster.
The countryside is even dotted with Coca-Cola signs – something I’d usually call an eyesore in the rural areas of a country. But in LATE SPRING, the sign is a welcome sight. After all, in the face of such patriarchy and tradition, Coca-Cola becomes a harbinger of modernity and exuberance.
After such a vicious attack on a country’s way of life, it’s important to look to the future…and sometimes that future can involve whimsies like bicycles and Coca-Cola. One might love Noriko as a person depending on preference; one loves her modern life because they have eyes.
The greatest difficulty any modern viewer will face with LATE SPRING is the monstrous pressure on Noriko to marry.
Considering that my first experience with this film was the same week that I read Rebecca Traister’s “All The Single Ladies”, it’s safe to say that I wasn’t all that disposed to watch an independent woman get bullied into settling down. Matter of fact, it made the film a bit of a bitter pill to swallow.
After all, here we sit nearly seventy years later, and Noriko still seems ahead of her time. She is fiercely self-sufficient in an era and society that didn’t promote that. She is truly content in all areas of her life. She is even strong enough in character to rebuke most of the early questions and pressures. This, of course, is never an easy thing. Many women of Noriko’s era – and plenty since – become the subject of gossip and suggestion if they dare to follow a different sequence in their life’s pursuits. They get little support from their friends, their families, or even their government and society.
So what to make of the pressure on Noriko then?
While it’s valid to take offence to those pushing her, and even feel a rotten feeling in her ultimate fate, one has to consider the whole story one great big condemnation of both marriage and the pressure to enter into it. Never is the union painted as a place of true love, nor something that will help either party become a better version of themselves. Instead, it seemed (to me, and several others) to be the sad ending of a sad story.
Noriko’s agreement, her acceptance, is a cautionary tale. It is a regression to conservative life in a region that is quickly evolving. This film doesn’t advocate its conclusion; it wants us to heed its warning. It’s bitter pill to swallow, and one that isn’t clear at first. However, it’s a pill that must be taken though in order to truly understand Ozu’s ideas with LATE SPRING.
Once upon a time, people grew into happiness (if they were lucky). They were paired-off to people for convenience, or by arrangement, with the idea that they would learn to love each-other. Sometimes they did; look around and you’ll hear story after story about arranged marriages that blossomed into caring partnerships.
We may look at such things and scoff, but our modern sensibility has leaned on the opposite too…the couples that split at the first sign of trouble. Sure, there are all sorts of terrible implications that come with marrying practically…but the opposite is no picnic either.
The ultimate point of LATE SPRING is to be wary of those who confuse quiet and conservative with comfort. As the story moves to Kyoto, Norio’s father talks about how much more wonderful it is because it’s “relaxing”. What he means to say is that it is still “traditional”
What is “traditional” usually only benefits the straight male (see: Those who would “Make America Great Again”). And while I am a believer in totems and customs from days gone past, I believe it’s the way we blend them with modern offerings that makes them so worthwhile.
Women like Norio might well enjoy certain elements of traditional domesticity; but if it doesn’t fit in with their modern sensibilities…why on earth should she be convinced otherwise? After all, this is the film that does refer to marriage as “life’s graveyard”…so make your own conclusions.
I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for November so far…
Rebecca watched THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES
Keisha watched SCARFACE
Coog watched THE CONVERSATION
Katie watched THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE
Joshua watched AU HASARD BALTHASAR and PARIS, TEXAS
Natasha watched ALIENS
Brittani watched GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?
Sean watched THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN
Melissa watched CHUNGKING EXPRESS
Kristina watched THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP
Zoe watched CHINATOWN
Steven watched ROMAN HOLIDAY