Yasujiro Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon is the legendary Japanese director’s final film, a fitting swan song to a long and illustrious career. It’s a poignant film about the pains of growing old and loneliness. Ozu is the only director who has used and recycled the same themes in many of his films and still succeeded in not boring his loyal fans. An Autumn Afternoon is not that different from his 1949 film Late Spring and even stars the same actor, Chishu Ryu,as the protagonist.
This character he plays, Hirayama, is very much alike the one he played in Late Spring, that of a middle-aged widower with a young daughter of marrying age. Here in addition to a daughter, he has two sons who are elder to her. The eldest son is already married and living with his wife somewhere in the city. In the beginning of the film, we see Hirayama meeting one of his friends at his office and discussing about the impending reunion of one of their teachers, Sakuma, and also about finding a nice groom for his daughter Michiko.
Hirayama thinks she is still a child and considers waiting a while longer. When Hirayama and his friends invite Sakuma for the reunion, they discover that he lives alone with his embittered and unmarried daughter. One of Hirayama’s friends constantly remind him of Sakuma and caution him against ending up like him in the future. Here, we are shown how Sakuma’s reluctance to be lonely has made his daughter’s life miserable as result. She is way past her marrying age and seeing this makes Hirayama want to hasten up the process of finding her a good prospect.
The most striking line in the film is spoken towards the end when the same friend tells him how parents struggle so hard to bring up their children only to see them leave you and you are left all alone. Hirayama thinks that sons are better than daughters but he is told that sons too will leave us some day. This is a scene that got me all contemplative and I’ve even discussed it with others, including my parents. I mean, we get married and have children in the hope that doing these things will bring us happiness but in the end, it only makes us sad. So, why do we chose to do something if in the end, it’s going to take us back to where we are, feeling lonely and sad. There are several scenes in this that is evocative of a time and place that has already happened and that may yet happen.
We put ourselves in the shoes of these characters and wonder if the same thing is going to happen to us. The film begins and ends with the shot of a man alone. In the beginning, Hirayama is alone working in his office and in the end, he is alone in his home drunk after the marriage of his daughter. Ozu repeats some shots here, to show the monotony of similar situations but with different characters. The female characters in the film seem headstrong and independent. The men want them to make their bed and prepare their dinner but they don’t always do as their told and the men are left to do that on their own.
It’s very obvious that some of the characters in the film actually represent Ozu, especially Hirayama and his daughter. Ozu was deeply attached to his mother and never married. Hirayama’s daughter exhibits some of these traits because at one point, she asks him how he’ll manage if he marries her off. Also, I hear that Ozu was a heavy drinker and Hirayama could very well be a stand-in for the director. The film was made in the same year that Ozu’s mother passed away and you can clearly see it’s effect in the film. Every Ozu film has a calmness to them that, cannot really be described in words. The late critic Roger Ebert felt the same way about Ozu’s films and remarked that whenever he felt the need to be calmed and restored, he decides upon watching an Ozu film.