One of my favorite video essay youtube channels Nerdwriter1 just did a fabulous essay on Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu’s 1949 film Late Spring.
For a general understanding of the story Late Spring is the story of Noriko, played by late actress Setsuko Hara, who is idyllically and indepedently happy living with her widowed father, Shukichi, played by actor Chishû Ryû. She has no plans to marry until her aunt Masa, played by Haruko Sugimura, convinces Shukichi that unless he marries off his 27-year-old daughter soon, she will likely remain alone for the rest of her life. When Noriko resists Masa’s matchmaking, Masa emotionally manipulates Shukichi into believing he must deceive his daughter. Shukichi tells Noriko that he himself is getting remarried. Heartbreaking he is sacrificing his own happiness of the paternal love of his daughter living with him, to do what he believes is right to make sure she is taken care of by someone after he eventually passes away. But its not what either of them want. Noriko is independent, she is not one to be put down, she is in post world war 2 occupied Shōwa era Japan, she is embolden and able to work and does not have to be submissive. Her father raised her to be bold and it pleases him to see her as such. She is very much the start of a modern feminist idea of a woman in Japan.
It is this that the movie has a scene toward the end of film. Where Noriko and her father are about to go to sleep. They are both laying down in the room on the floor with bed rolls. Noriko looks up and is becoming aware her life as she knows it is coming to an end. She starts to talk quietly to her father, not knowing if he is awake or asleep. She says how she hated the idea of her father remarrying, but she is now OK with it, she says she is happy for him. During this time you see this look of forced happiness, her eyes are fighting back tears. She is trying to keep a happy face. But you can see she doesn’t want this.
This is when scene cuts to a single frame of a vase, cast in shadows while still cast in light.
I always thought Ozu was showing the vase because that is how Noriko saw what she was gonna become. She is alone in a house, she is meant to look pretty but the vase doesn’t show anything, its just there to look pretty. Its cast in shadows though. What is it being pretty for and it has no purpose other than that. The world outside is just cast by shadows, not seeing the real world anymore as she is kept inside. Kind of a Plato’s Cave Allegory of sorts. I always thought it was Noriko feeling dehumanized and that why she starts to cry, she is now just a vase that is meant to just look pretty and has no function and hidden from the real world, once she gets married.
Ozu focuses in on ideas of change and death. And Nerdwriter1, who’s always great in his videos, makes sure to mention this in their video essay.
If you want to see Late Spring you can find it as part of the Criterion Collection. You can follow the link and buy it on Blu-ray at Amazon. It is also streaming on several other platforms.