An Autumn Afternoon (Spine #446) is the final film directed by Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. Theatrically released in 1962, Ozu’s swan song saw its initial Criterion release on DVD on September 29, 2008, before being subsequently remastered and released on Blu-Ray on February 17, 2015. The following Ozu films are also in The Criterion Collection: Good Morning (Spine #84), Tokyo Story (Spine #217), Floating Weeds (Spine #232), Early Summer (Spine #240), Late Spring (Spine #331), The Only Son/There Was a Father (Spine #524), Early Spring (Eclipse Series #3), Tokyo Twilight (Eclipse Series #3), Equinox Flower (Eclipse Series #3), Late Autumn (Eclipse Series #3), The End of Summer (Eclipse Series #3), Tokyo Chorus (Eclipse Series #10), I Was Born, But…(Eclipse Series #10), Passing Fancy (Eclipse Series #10), Walk Cheerfully (Eclipse Series #42), That Night’s Wife (Eclipse Series #42), and Dragnet Girl (Eclipse Series #42).
An Autumn Afternoon tells the devastating epilogue of the life of Shuhei Hirayama, a widower dedicated to finding a suitable husband for his youngest daughter Michiko. It is set amidst the glow of the final twilight of Shuhei’s life, the reverberation of his daughter’s wedding day bells simultaneously symbolic of both life and death.
Like much of Yasujiro Ozu’s preeminent filmography, his last film is engaged with the tranquil repetitions of domesticity, life and death, circling around a cycle of marriage and fatherhood. His film’s engagement in Post-War Japan is imbued with a melancholy never entirely acknowledged, lending its protagonists an unspoken bond in sorrow felt both nationally and individually.
In the Hirayama family, Ozu appears to be looking back on his own life and career through the formality of his visual style. Individual shots of smokestacks and car tires are implemented throughout in order to denote the passage of time amid the familiarity of home. In the film’s visual sparseness and lack of overt dramatic action, Ozu reveals through his authorial gaze, and yet affords the viewer a peek into a remarkably poetic Japanese pastoral. The tranquility of Ozu’s tableaux amid the minimalism of Japanese aesthetics intimate a turbulent human soul that only ever appears foreign, kindred spirits found in any house bound by more formally recognized traditions. While Shuhei may not wish to see his children go, the film’s final shot foreshadowing the imminent desolation of nonexistence, Ozu’s moving meditations on death in this his final film pulsate with a contentment at heaven’s door, the great Japanese director boldly knocking to gain entrance into that final threshold.
Given the abundance of films released over the course of Yasujiro Ozu’s lifetime, it’s not surprising that there is plenty to talk about regarding this seminal director of Japanese cinema. This Criterion release holds only a small sampling from a much larger discussion. Starting with the glossy, twenty-five page booklet, featuring full color photos from the film and appended with essays from film critic Geoff Andrew and Ozu biographer Donald Richie, this is quite a singular release. The video supplements are equally impressive, with feature commentary from film scholar David Bordwell, in addition to archival footage from the 1978 French television program “Yasujiro Ozu and The Taste of Sake,” with featured critics Michel Ciment and Georges Perec.
Yasujiro Ozu’s final film is summarily descriptive of his entire career, engaged with the humble tranquility of the Japanese home, while masking a subterraneous engagement of the soul, the fear of death intimately tied to the levity of life, well lived or not.
Criterion Grade: A+
Film Grade: A+