Yasujiro Ozu Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is possibly risky to say, but the chief reward in Late Spring is not in its materials, gratifying though they are. The highest benefit—as in Tokyo Story, though less strong—is appreciation of the artist himself. One is moved by a great deal in the film, but the ultimate and most moving of responses is one's regard for Ozu. This is in no way due to exhibitionism; most certainly it's not because of virtuosity à la Fellini. It's because everything in an Ozu film derives from his utter subscription to a view of life as infinitely sacred and of art as the most sacred exercise in life. He serves, rather than making anything serve him. (p. 127)

The motion of this quiet-motion picture is in the effort by which the widowed father, a professor, turns his daughter away from the security-and-resentment ambivalence of her life with him toward a life of her own, gently urging her toward a marriage which she both wants and dreads. Ozu's touch is so implicative that we never even see the fiancé; our last sight of the girl is in her traditional wedding dress. Our last sight of the father, which is the end of the film, is when he sits alone after the ceremony, peeling an apple, in one long peel; and by his daring in ending here, Ozu crystallizes retrospectively the design of his film. Another way to put it: we don't know how good the picture is until it finishes. When we see [the father] sitting there alone, we comprehend how much Ozu has staked on a simple design to contain a great deal, what courage he has, what indifference to conventional demands.

His method is one of non-drama, but not in any prosy, naturalistic, flattened sense. He believes, with many Japanese painters and draftsmen, that if you select the right details and present them realistically, you have created an abstraction that signifies a great deal more than detailed realism. The drama, for Ozu, is in life itself, and his task is not to contrive but to reveal. (p. 128)

Stanley Kauffmann, "'Late Spring'" (originally published in The New Republic, Vol. 167, Nos. 6 & 7, August 19 & 26, 1972), in his Living Images: Film Comment and Criticism (copyright © 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 by Stanley Kauffmann; reprinted by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.), Harper, 1975, pp. 127-29.