Late Spring (Banshun) (Directors Suite) (1949)

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Released 1-Jul-2009

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Ross Gibson-Professor of Contemporary Arts
Trailer-Ohayo, The River, Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, Russian Ark
Notes
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1949
Running Time 103:29 (Case: 108)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (61:18) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Yasujiro Ozu
Studio
Distributor
Shochiku
Madman Entertainment
Starring Chishu Ryu
Setsuko Hara
Yumeji Tsukioka
Haruko Sugimura
Hohi Aoki
Jun Usami
Kuniko Miyake
Masao Mishima
Yoshiko Tsubouchi
Yôko Katsuragi
Toyoko Takahashi
Jun Tanizaki
Ichirô Shimizu
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Senji Itô


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English
English Alternate Subtitles
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Twenty-seven year old Noriko (Setsuko Hara) still lives at home with her widowed father Shukichi (Chishu Ryu). He wants her to marry and to that end her aunt tries to find a prospective groom. But the girlish Noriko wants to stay at home and take care of her father.

    Out of this simple scenario Yasujiro Ozu fashions what may have been his masterpiece. At the very least it is a film that was to provide the template for most of his subsequent films, which were essentially variations on the same themes and story elements.

    There are several misconceptions about Ozu and his films, the most egregious of which is the suggestion that he uses a static camera for all of his shots, with the camera positioned at the eye level of an adult or child observer seated on a tatami mat. The camera is far too low for this to be the case, so low in fact that the camera looks up even at seated children. I have seen photographs of Ozu looking through the camera viewfinder, with his head practically on the floor or hunched over double. Also, as can be seen in this film, the camera is not always static. There are several travelling shots and even a pan at one point.

    It has often been suggested that Ozu is "the most Japanese of directors", but to a great extent this is not so. Ozu is quite unique even in Japan. Typical Japanese directors would alternate between period dramas and modern stories, while after his first film, a swordplay epic now lost apart from a short fragment, Ozu never made another period film. The film director who seems closest to him in terms of his subject matter was Mikio Naruse, yet Naruse's films are more melodramatic and usually based on literary sources (for example the novels of Fumiko Hayashi or Yasunari Kawabata) while Ozu would develop his stories from scratch with co-writer Kogo Noda. Cinematically, Ozu was heavily influenced by Western films and he often includes references to American films and stars. In his silent films there would invariably be a photograph of a Hollywood star or two on a wall in the background of at least one scene. In Late Spring there are a couple of references to Gary Cooper. His earlier films made use of many of the techniques of Western cinema, but by the time of Late Spring he was starting to pare back his style to bare essentials, removing anything that was overtly cinematic.

    Ozu also developed his own cinematic techniques that are neither Japanese nor Western. Standard practice in filming a scene is to use a 180-degree plane, where the action is on one side of an imaginary line and the camera on another, with all shots in a scene adhering to this delineation. For example, in showing a conversation between two people face-to-face, a director will show both people from side on to set up the scene, then show each in close-up from over the other person's shoulder, in both cases from the same side as the original shot. There will almost never be a shot from the other side of the two people unless it is preceded by an establishing wide shot. Ozu ignores this convention by having eye line shots and camera angles that could be on any side of this imaginary plane. Sometimes the actors are shown from speaking directly to the camera or at a slight angle. There are several scenes of conversation among two or three people in this film where you can see how the camera angles move about the scene regardless of any imaginary demarcation.

    Removing this "natural" point of reference has the effect of limiting the illusion that the viewer is a participant in or observer of the story. I guess that the low camera angle is intended to do the same. You might not notice on a TV screen, but on a big screen you can see that the actors look even larger than life, and in the cinema the viewer would be looking up at an enormous screen with this effect even more pronounced. On the other hand, having the actors often speak directly or nearly so to the camera during a conversation might make the viewer have more sympathy with the characters that they play. Also these techniques force the viewer to concentrate more so than usual in order not to be surprised by the position of the actors in the frame.

    Ozu also tends to frame scenes with walls and objects. While normally directors might follow the actors as they move through a space, Ozu shows the space and then has the actors move into it, through it and out of it, sometimes filmed with deep focus from one or two rooms away. The architecture of the sets and settings forms natural boundaries within the film frame. In a sense this is like the tableau presentation of early silent films, but those films look very flat while Ozu's set-ups have considerable depth. This could be considered as an aesthetic preference or as another distancing technique. It may well be both.

    The third and probably least important of the misconceptions about Ozu is that he was gay and made films with a gay subtext. The evidence offered up for his sexual orientation is scant - usually the fact that he never married and lived with his widowed mother until her death not long before his own, as well as his expulsion as a teenager from an all-boys school for writing a love letter to a fellow student. In the latter case Ozu strenuously denied that he wrote the letter, and Japanese film scholar Donald Richie states that there is evidence that he did not write it. The letter was used as a pretext for Ozu's expulsion - he had been skipping classes to see movies, drinking and was generally a disruptive influence. However even the expulsion story seems to be untrue - according to classmates in the documentary I Lived, But... he was not expelled but was put on a form of probation. Ozu was reported to be enamoured of the actress Kuniko Miyake (who appears in Late Spring as the woman Noriko's father says he will marry) and is even supposed to have proposed to her. A circumstantial case could be made that Ozu was gay but there is no conclusive proof. Short of one of those surviving people who knew the director personally making a public statement about his orientation the case will probably always remain unresolved.

    The claims about his proclivities are used to bolster an argument that his later films depict sons or daughters being reluctantly cajoled into unwanted marriages, and that this is a metaphor for Ozu's own experiences as a gay man. This argument quite ignores the historical context in which his films were made, and which shaped the narrative choices available to him. There was a shortage of men following the devastation of war, so there were many women who were unable to find husbands. This led to a situation of women staying at home longer and being married later, as is the case with Noriko in this film. Also the occupying authorities and the Japanese government were keen to speed up the emancipation of women as part of the process of de-militarising Japan and recasting society as a modern democracy. These changes were expressed in films of the era by the depiction of women seeking careers for themselves, choosing who they married and marrying for love rather than being forced into arranged marriages. In Late Spring Noriko's aunt works as a go-between in arranging a marriage for her; but Noriko has to approve the match and it is up to her to decide whether she will marry the man (who we never see). The choice facing Noriko is the same one Ozu himself faced: whether to seek one's own personal happiness or to take care of an ageing parent. The difference is the paths each took. Noriko could hardly have chosen otherwise. Ozu could not easily have depicted someone choosing parents over self at this time, and even as late as 1949 the film would have needed the approval of the censors before it could be shown. And essentially the story that is being told here is that of a parent putting aside his own selfish needs so that his child can be happy.

    I've probably waffled on too long about these relatively minor points. Back to the film, which like many of Ozu's works makes a virtue of seeming economy. While each shot is densely packed with visual information with carefully placed objects in a painstakingly framed image, the film feels light and while there is a sense of melancholy and the subtle and simple ending is almost overwhelmingly emotional, there is a sense of life and hope within it.

    The film features several members of the Ozu stock company. Chishu Ryu appeared in practically all of Ozu's films, either in key roles as here or in small parts. Setsuko Hara was his regular muse in the 1940s and 1950s, while Haruko Sugimura (as the matchmaking aunt) was another familiar player as a mother, aunt or neighbour. This film seems though to have been the only appearance in an Ozu film of the character actor Masao Mishima, who plays the "unclean" uncle.

    Ozu would often spend several weeks cloistered away with Kogo Noda, sharing many bottles of sake until they came up with a final, polished screenplay. As a result of this immersion in the screenwriting process much of the storytelling is revealed in the visual details rather than in dialogue. Examples of this can be seen in the lengthy Noh performance that Noriko and her father attend, where there is no dialogue but much seems to be happening under the surface, and in the sequence of the father peeling an apple, which resonates far beyond that simple act. It's such subtle moments that make Ozu one of the great film directors, and Late Spring is one of his finest achievements.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, close to the original 1.37:1, in black and white.

    A number of Madman's Asian film releases have been standards conversions from NTSC to PAL, so it is pleasing to note that this appears to be a native PAL transfer. That being said, what can be seen here is nowhere near ideal. I suspect that with one exceptions that the faults are due to the state of the source materials, not to Madman's treatment of the film or to Shochiku supplying a substandard transfer to a foreign distributor (something Japanese companies have often done in the past).

    In terms of clarity the transfer is not very sharp. It looks a little blurry and outlines are not clean. Contrast is not great. The film has a hazy look, with some blown-out whites and muddy blacks. The film is full of scratches and other minor print damage. These are not as pronounced as might be expected, possibly in part due to the blurriness of the image, but probably also due to wet-gating or some other simple method of damage mitigation. The frame is slightly jerky throughout, sometimes with a wobble indicative of shrinkage or stretching of the source material. There are also quite a few missing frames.

    Film to video artefacts are mainly areas of banding in dark scenes or low contrast portions of the image. Unfortunately this occurs almost constantly during the film. I have not seen this amount of posterization on a film very often and this is the least palatable aspect of this transfer. The banding is particularly bad when there are areas of transition in shadows from dark to light. Instead of a slowly graduated change from dark to light the result is several bands of shades of grey. There is also some aliasing. However I did not notice this aliasing when viewing the film through the projector but on my television from a different player, in both cases upscaled to 1080p. Also, in the latter case  the contrast seemed much better and the transfer much clearer and sharper, so viewers should be warned that they may not have the same video experience. However the posterization remains.

    Subtitles are provided in a choice of yellow or white, with white as the default colour. They are easy to read and well-timed with the dialogue and there do not appear to be any instances of untranslated dialogue.

    I did not notice the layer change which occurs at 61:18.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio is monophonic as would be expected, in a Dolby Digital 2.0 configuration.

    I suspect that some allowance needs to be made for the state of the source materials, as the audio would have to be considered poor by any objective standard. The audio quality varies from muffled to strident, with an occasional sharp jump between the two. There is a constant hiss and crackle as though someone was frying a pan full of bacon just outside of camera range. Also some scenes have a low rattling or clattering sort of sound, which at first I took to be part of the original soundtrack as background noise but actually seems to be a problem with the source sound. Dialogue is generally able to be understood (well, at least I could hear the words if not understand their meaning).

    The music score comes across as thin, like a very old phonograph recording. The score is by Senji Ito and is consistent with the slightly melancholic tone of the film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

 Main Menu Audio and Animation

    The opening credits music from the film appears over a series of sometimes moving images of the lead actors.

Audio Commentary-Ross Gibson-Professor of Contemporary Arts, University of Sydney

    The only substantial extra on this disc. It is good to see some local content with Sydney academic Gibson providing the commentary with his pleasant speaking voice. However I don't find this a particularly good commentary. To me it feels like Gibson has a tendency to use loose terms and ideas referring to the emotional content of scenes that make the commentary seem like it has a high waffle factor. He also regurgitates the canards about the camera being three feet off the ground which is the position of an observer on a tatami mat and that Ozu is the most Japanese of directors. As the film progresses the gaps between comments grows. I also note that if you select the commentary from the extras menu the film plays without subtitles and there is no option to switch them on. Finally I should mention that he pronounces the director's name as Oz-oo, whereas the correct pronunciation is Oh-zoo. Well I assume this is correct as it is the way that the director's colleagues pronounced it.

Trailers (10:31)

    No trailer for Late Spring but a quite poor-looking one for Ohayo, as well as The River, Monsieur Hulot's Holiday and Russian Ark. Trailers are preceded by yet another of those annoying anti-piracy pieces that you would probably also see on a pirated copy.

Liner Notes

    The slick includes some biographical liner notes and a partial filmography.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This release has to compete with several others.

    In Japan, the Region 2 release from Shochiku, released to coincide with Ozu's centenary in 2003, has no English subtitles.

    The Region 3 release from Panorama has some lesser quality English subtitles and the transfer seems to be poor. The only extra is a text biography of the directory, presumably the same one that appears on other Ozu films from this source. There is another Region 3 release from Bo Ying which has no extras. Both discs have no region coding and are NTSC.

    The Region 2 release is from Tartan. This has a photo gallery as an extra. Unfortunately this release is a standard conversion from NTSC to PAL.

    The Region 1 release comes from the Criterion Collection. In comparison to the Region 1 release, the Region 4 misses out on:

    In comparison to the Region 4, the Region 1 misses out on

    Although I haven't seen the Criterion, from the reviews and screen captures available on the internet I strongly suspect that the source materials used for the transfer are that same as that of the Region 4. However the Criterion seems to have some digital cleanup but also contrast boosting. On the other hand I have heard no reports of the posterization artefacts that are present on the Region 4. On this basis I think the Region 1 is to be preferred.

Summary

    One of the great Japanese films of the post-war occupation era.

    The video quality is acceptable given the state of the surviving source material, but the posterization artefacts are annoying.

    The audio quality is similarly acceptable.

    The extras don't add up to a great deal.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Monday, September 14, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony Playstation 3 (HDMI 1.3), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW60 SXRD projector with 95" screen. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt into BD player. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationReceiver: Sony STRDA5400ES; Power Amplifiers: Elektra Reference, Elektra Theatron
SpeakersMain: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

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