Setsuko Hara, Mariko Okada, Keiji Sada, and Yôko Tsukasa in Akibiyori (1960)


(director/writer: Yasujiro Ozu; screenwriters: Kôgo Noda/based on the novel by Ton Satomi; cinematographer: Yuharu Atsuta; editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura; music: Takanobu Saito; cast: Setsuko Hara (Akiko Miwa, The Mother), Yoko Tsukasa (Ayako, The Daughter), Chishu Ryu (Shukichi Miwa, The Uncle), Mariko Okada (Yuriko Sasaki, The Daughter’s Friend), Keiji Sada (Shotaro Goto, The Young Man), Shin Saburi (Soichi Mamiya), Nobuo Nakamura (Shuzo Taguchi), Ryuji Kita (Professor Hirayama), Miyuki Kuwano (Michiko), Shinichirô Mikami (Koichi), Yuriko Tashiro (Yoko), Sadako Sawamura (Fumiko); Runtime: 129; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Shizuo Yamanouchi; Criterion Collection; 1960-Japan-in Japaneses with English subtitles)
“A brilliantly conceived and acted melodramatic film filled with a quiet middle-class family’s glow in love and conflict.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Yasujiro Ozu (“Early Spring”/”Tokyo Story”/”Late Spring”) shoots in his usual way with a stationary camera and many close-ups. He tells a domestic comedy/drama about arranged marriages and parents making sacrifices for their children. Ozu, in the third film covering this theme, said “I wanted to show life, which seems complex, reveal itself as simple.” It’s a reworking of his 1949 masterpiece Late Spring. This time Setsuko Hara goes from playing the daughter to the mother. This is the sixth and last film the director’s favorite actress made for him, choosing to retire at the age of 40. It’s in color, youth oriented and cowritten by the director with his longtime collaborator and companion Kôgo Noda. It’s based on on the novel by Ton Satomi.

It’s a brilliantly conceived and acted melodramatic film filled with a quiet middle-class family’s glow in love and conflict. Ozu seems fascinated with conveying the growing generational gap between the young and old, and comes down on the side of youth and the need for change without changing everything.

It opens with the memorial service for the husband of the pretty 44-year-old widow Akiko Miwa (Setsuko Hara), whose husband has been dead for seven years. She lives happily with her loyal 24-year-old office worker daughter Ayako (Yoko Tsukasa). Attending the ceremony are three businessmen-types, Mamiya (Shin Saburi), Taguchi (Nobuo Nakamura) and the widowed college professor Hirayama (Ryuji Kita), all longtime friends of the family and all smitten with Akiko ever since they knew her when she clerked in a drugstore and they were college students. The meddlesome men decide it’s time for the daughter to marry, and they arrange for a suitor. But she resists, saying she’s not ready for marriage. They learn it’s because she doesn’t want to leave her mom alone. The men then connive to arrange for Hirayama to marry the mother, but bungle the matchmaking request by not telling their proposal to Akiko. They then complicate things further by misleading Ayako into thinking her mother is remarrying without telling her. This angers the daughter, who assumes her mother is not faithful to the memory of her father and is only marrying so she can get married (it seems the parents need the approval of their children, just like the children need parental approval). Ayako’s feisty friend from the office, Yuriko (Mariko Okada), takes charge and confronts the men; she dresses them down for their destructive rumors and their unwanted interference. Through her, Ozu is showing that he takes the side of the younger generation who want to make their own life decisions. When the misunderstanding between mother and daughter is patched up, they bond again and go on a vacation to a country spa. There the mother tells the daughter she doesn’t wish to remarry, but would want her daughter to find happiness by marrying. The daughter returns to Tokyo and marries the nice boy, Goto (Keiji Sada), who works for Mamiya and was the original one he fixed Ayako up with. It ends with Akiko stoically accepting her loneliness as part of life, and Ayako having a large traditional wedding.

There’s both a firmness and gentleness in the way the story plays out, showing that change is inevitable but it would be foolish to throw out all the traditional values. It also shows the cracks in a patriarchal society, where the women prove wiser and more in control. Ozu elicits profound emotion from something ordinary that faces many families. He stated “I want people to feel without resorting to drama.” This beautifully developed film easily meets that purpose.