This beautiful film by Yasujiro Ozu was made in 1949 and stars Chishu Ryu as Professor Shukichi Somiya and Setsuko Hara as his daughter Noriko. It’s essentially a domestic story about a child’s relationship with their widowed parent.
The season in the title refers to Noriko’s age. If she doesn’t get married now, Noriko’s aunt tells her father, she will be alone for the rest of her life. The scenes are set so gently and quietly; time and space used to establish the routine and serenity of the household, neither father or daughter wants their lives to change.
But this beloved father agrees to sacrifice his own happiness for his childs and so with the help of the aunt he sets about deceiving Noriko into believing that he is going to marry, so there will be no need for her to stay with him and she will be free to marry.
Both troubled they set out one evening for a Noh play, Noriko looks around her and sees the women she believes her father is going to marry. In that moment she sees her father as not just a parent but an actual person, one who could get married and have a life beyond her! This scene is the heart of the film, I think. Played out over several minutes, there are no words spoken and the performance of the play they’re watching is integral, it’s not just going on in the background – through the silence we get the full impact of this realisation for Noriko. Is she also realising that in the end we’re all on our own? She accepts that their lives will and must part and so agrees to marry, sacrificing her happiness for the sake of her father’s.
This is Japan in 1949, under US occupation and although this is never mentioned, there are subtle signs of change. I wondered what the back story was – Noriko has been suffering from an illness that is never explained, we’re only told that she is ‘looking better’ and I wondered what had happened to her mother, I don’t remember any mention of her. As well as the Noh play we watch the graceful movements and delicate choreography of a tea ceremony and the quiet formality of traditions within the home. Nothing is rushed, everything is given time and space. But when we see Noriko in western clothes cycling through a landscape featuring a Coca-Cola sign her face is full of joy – as if Ozu is saying everything will be ok; the traditional can be reconciled with the changes coming and he is concentrating on the future, not filling up space with back stories.
This is the first Japanese film I’ve watched and it was a very different experience, I think because everything was so slow and considered. The final scene is one of complete tenderness, and perfectly epitomizes the film for me. I realise that I’ve given away the entire plot but I just don’t think that matters here, in fact I think it helps!