Yasujiro Ozu’s films remain an acquired taste, but for those who hunger after his exquisitely composed yet modest tableaus, little else satisfies. “An Autumn Afternoon,” a color pic from 1962, is Ozu’s last completed movie (he was working on another when he died, at age 60, in 1963), and its release as a stand-alone DVD – Criterion excluded it from a late-Ozu box on its no-frills Eclipse line – is entirely justified. Extras, though not bountiful, lend insights into the director’s creative process and the meaning of his work.
Pic is typical Ozu and features many thesps from his earlier films, including stalwart Chishu Ryu, who stands at the center here as family patriarch. The plot – and there is one, no matter what Ozu’s detractors say – concerns a factory executive who must decide whether to push his 24-year-old daughter toward marriage or accept her future spinsterhood. Of course, there is never any doubt he will see her married, for though bittersweetness is basic to Ozu’s aesthetic, parents act selflessly in his world, just as children (even grown ones) often don’t.
Modern viewers uninterested in the vicissitudes of family life essential to Ozu will still likely be captivated by the simple beauty of his camera angles, the economy of his cutting and the meticulous way props and actors are deployed – excerpts from a 1978 French TV program featuring critics Michel Ciment and Georges Perec among this disc’s bonus features reveal that Ozu rehearsed scenes 20 to 30 times before shooting.
And though some will consider characters like the aging schoolmaster nicknamed the Gourd (Eijiro Tono) or the seaman-cum-mechanic played by Daisuke Kato fairly ridiculous, it’s hard to imagine anyone unaffected by the painful, universal experience of a parent and child going their separate ways.
Ozu scholar David Bordwell’s dense commentary provides much useful information – he considers Ozu a high-functioning alcoholic – but viewers may need to parcel out his detailed thoughts on tableware and camera height to fully digest them.
Two trailers offer brief glimpses of Ozu at work and help identify the film’s stars for those interested in matching actors’ names to faces.
Transfer is less stunning than some Criterion issues but mostly first-rate, with bright colors contrasting vividly against bland backgrounds – some graininess, occasional flicker and a brief lack of synchronization near the opening notwithstanding.