“Human virtues have melted away since the [Second World War].”
Sanma no aji is the final work of Yasujiro Ozu, Japan’s greatest filmmaker and possibly the world’s. With certain tonal and other differences, it is a partial remake of Ozu’s 1949 Late Spring, a tragicomedy that in this updated incarnation is much more comical and emotionally discreet. In Late Spring, another widowed father (again played beautifully by Chishu Ryu), because of outside meddling and social pressure, comes to feel that his 27-year-old, live-at-home daughter ought to get married rather than continue her obligation to him. But does she feel thus obligated? In any case, she marries, thereby abandoning her father to solitude, and possibly ruining her life as well as his. In the later film, the possibility that each is sacrificing happiness for the other’s sake is much less distinct. Traditional (including patriarchal) values having further dissolved, it is less clear that Shuhei Hirayama* is acting unnecessarily in pressing for his 24-year-old daughter Michiko’s arranged marriage; nor is the wedding shown this time, helping to make the marriage seem more like a routine occurrence. We do know, because of Shuhei’s tardiness in untying Michiko’s familial strings, that Michiko ends up with someone other than the fellow she actually loves. (Life as disappointment, as compromise, is a familiar Ozuvian theme.) But it is good that Michiko will not end up like another father’s daughter whom we see, the negative example that inspires Shuhei to take action, and it delights that women routinely speak up to fathers and spouses.
The father in Late Spring was a professor; here, a businessman whose friends had gotten him the job: a sign of social desperation made the best of.
Ozu’s farewell is one of the richest comedies in creation.
* Note the similarity between this name and that of the character that the same actor played in Ozu’s There Was a Father (1942).
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