I've been watching 'The Story of Film: An Odyssey' lately, which is a fascinating 15 episode documentary series on the history of film narrated by the Irish film critic Mark Cousins. In it the Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu (小津 安二郎) is mentioned several times (Episodes 1, 2, 3 and 13) for many of his films including I Was Born, But... (1932), Tokyo Story (1953), The Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947), I Flunked, But... (1930) and Late Spring (1949). An Autumn Afternoon (秋刀魚の味/ Sanma no aji, meaning 'The taste of mackerel'), was Ozu's last film made one year before he died.
Yasujiru Ozu is widely recognised as one of the world's greatest directors and as it states in 'The Story of Film' he had a very original style of shooting scenes from below the actors eye level, often showing the floor (which most films would cut out). He also shot from between actors who were speaking giving the viewer a sense that the character was talking straight to them (looking right into the camera). His shots were always static and in 'An Autumn Afternoon' it is apparent how Ozu prioritised showing the space around the characters as an essential part of the story. In one scene it opens with a view down the hallway at the entrance to a house and we see the sliding door being pushed to the side and shut again before we see the character appear. Every shot in 'An Autumn Afternoon' is level with something straight within that shot such as the floor or a telegraph poll or table.
'An Autumn Afternoon' is the story of how a father comes to the decision to marry his daughter off rather than keeping her at home to look after him. Rather than being about a set of events that make him send his daughter to be married, it is very much about the small things in his daily life which contribute to him coming to an emotional decision. This makes it a slow paced but interesting watch as you try to understand how he is perceiving the actions of those around him and what isn't being said. Ozu is said to have focused on the relationships between parents and children a lot in his films but I found that there was also a lot of questions being raised about the different roles of males and females and the solitary nature of the human conditon.
At first I was surprised by the acting style as I've never encountered anything quite like it. For the most part the actors seemed to be trying not to let their faces express any emotion. After a while though it grew on me as I found myself paying more attention to the dialogue and their voices as they delivered it. When I finished watching the film I watched a documentary on Ozu which came with it and in it the actress's and actors mentioned how he used to ask them to act like they were wearing a Noh mask. I suppose that's why Ozu is referred to as 'the most Japanese of Japanese directors'. His consistent theme of parent and children is also a very strong part of Japanese culture and the very considered, neat way in which he shoots seems reflective of many kinds of Japanese art forms such as tea ceremony and simplicity within design.
I would recommend 'An Autumn Afternoon' as a great starting point for those who would like to look into Ozu's style of work and the uniquely Japanese themes he dealt with.