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EQUINOX FLOWER (Higanbana) (director/writer: Yasujiro Ozu; screenwriters: Kogo Noda/from a novel by Ton Santoni; cinematographer: Yuharu Atsuta; editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura; music: Kojun Saito; cast: Shin Saburi (Wataru Hirayama), Kinuyo Tanaka (Kiyoko Hirayama), Nobuo Nakamura (Toshihiko Kawai), Ineko Arima (Setsuko Hirayama), Miyuki Kuwano (Hisako Hirayama), Keiji Sada (Taniguchi), Fuiiko Yamamolo (Yukiko Sasaki), Chieko Naniwa (Mrs. Sasaki, Kyoto innkeeper), Chishu Ryu (Shukichi Mikami), Nobuo Nakamura (Kawai), Yoshiko Kuga (Fumiko Mikami), Teiji Takahashi (Kondo), Fumio Watanabe (Naganuma); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; New Yorker Films; 1958-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“Yasujiro Ozu’s first film in color is his usual engaging family drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Yasujiro Ozu’s first film in color is his usual engaging family drama. The domestic comedy about the old and new cultures colliding is cowritten by Ozu and Kogo Noda, and is based on the novel by Ton Santoni. It’s about the tension in a traditional father, Hirayama (Shin Saburi). When his westernized oldest daughter Setsuko (Ineko Arima) is getting married without telling him first, it leaves him feeling slighted.

This lighthearted, spare and gentle romantic comedy is set in contemporary Tokyo. It opens with a wedding celebration, where successful businessman Hirayama gives a generous speech recalling he married his old-fashioned wife Kiyoko (Kinuyo Tanaka) in a “prosaic” arranged marriage and then compliments the young couple for marrying for love. Afterwards Hirayama drinks a toast with the bride’s father Kawai (Nobuo Nakamura) and another old friend, and they talk about their old schoolboy friend Mikami (Chishu Ryu) being unable to attend because his daughter Fumiko (Yoshiko Kuga) ran away from home three months ago to live with her boyfriend Naganuma, a nightclub musician, and take a job in the Ginza district’s Luna bar as a hostess. They are all dutiful fathers and have marriageable daughters, and are concerned that things work out for the best in these changing times.

Hirayama has found an acceptable marriage partner for his oldest daughter, someone who is wealthy, nice and comes from a well-connected family. His feisty younger daughter Hisako (Miyuki Kuwano), not of marriage age, says that she will only marry out of love, and mentions she thinks her sister already has picked out a mate. At work, a young man named Taniguchi (Keiji Sada) visits the director in his office and asks permission to marry Setsuko. The couple are coworkers in a chemical plant and Taniguchi is in a rush to get an answer because he’s being transferred to Hiroshima. When the father rejects him, Setsuko plans to marry anyway declaring: “I’ll find my own happiness.” In the meantime, Mikami, a somber, gentle widower, asks Hirayama to visit his daughter in the bar and see if she’s okay. Hirayama also gets involved with Mrs. Sasaki (Chieko Naniwa), a pesty neurotic Kyoto innkeeper, who keeps trying to arrange a marriage for her reluctant daughter Yukiko (Fuiiko Yamamolo)–an old friend of Setsuko’s–but meets with no success.

Since Setsuko’s mother and her friend Yukiko understand her feelings (with Yukiko exposing Hirayama’s double-standard, being open-minded for a stranger to marry for love but not offering the same chance to his daughter), they each work to convince Hirayama to offer his consent. Yukiko concocts a story that tricks Hirayama into giving his consent. But he refuses to attend the ceremony until he thinks about it more and suddenly agrees to. When accused of not looking happy on the wedding day, the workaholic businessman decides to pay the married couple an unexpected visit in Hiroshima to reassure them of his approval. In Ozu’s eyes, Hirayama is very human–even when recalcitrant and being inconsistent in his views on marriage. He’s viewed as someone who is not always right but is intelligent, practical and deeply cares about doing the right thing, which is what matters most in the end.

This very pleasing and warm film uses the fall season to reflect on the older generation and how they must now learn to be flexible to cope with postwar Japan’s many cultural and social changes. That Japanese society must move away from an irretrievable past is a given. It’s Ozu’s hope that the vanishing traditions will not be altogether lost, as he has presented a balanced picture of Japanese family life and has not taken sides or said one way is better than the other way. The film was made with a loving irony that held out hope for better days, as Ozu acknowledges that things continue to change and that is inevitable.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”