For a better experience on MUBI, update your browser.

Ozu’s Cinephilia

A cinephile citation by Ozu in his masterpiece Late Spring (1949).

Yasujiro Ozu's cinephilia has been well known for some time now, especially his love of American movies. His existent early films are filled with gags and posters directly referencing Hollywood cinema. Recently, I found an unusually specific citation.

I always thought this bit of dialog in Late Spring (1949) was strange. It happens between unmarried Setsuko Hara and divorcee Yumeji Tsukioka; they're discussing Hara's recent meeting with a potential husband. When asked what she thinks of him, Hara replies, according to the subtitle translation, that he "looks like that American...the man in that baseball movie," which Tsukioka identifies as Gary Cooper. No doubt they are talking about 1942's The Pride of the Yankees. However, then comes this odd joke:

A weird, roundabout joke. Especially since we have yet to see—and never will—the man Hara met and eventually marries. But, to take the joke even further, one may remember that we do indeed see the electrician Hara refers to. We see him just once in a shot which obscures his face, making the comparison to both Cooper and her husband-to-be amusingly perverse:

A nice joke, case closed. But then, some time later, I watched King Vidor's The Wedding Night (1935), where Cooper plays a writer who travels to a house in the country where he intends to write a new novel. At the beginning of the film, Cooper is fixing up his house. A beautiful immigrant neighbor, played by Anna Sten, shows up at his house and is greeted with this vision of Cooper:

Does Ozu directly cite Vidor's film in Late Spring? You decide!

ha! that’s great
Wonderful discovery!
- -
Oh man do I love this film. Thanks for this.
Nice, Danny!
A lovely find.
It seems important to know where the stairs lead in the Vidor film, and what follows the Ozu image to really discern the distinction between these moments. Fascinating!
Hmm, I’ve never seen either film, but now I’m tempted to do a bizzare double feature….
Lovely, Danny! Were it a Sternberg that the Ozu resembled, I’d say it’s only a coincidence (when would Ozu have time to go to Morocco?). That’s it’s a Vidor closes the case. “It may be possible for Japanese directors to make films like Sternberg’s, but we can’t become the master like King Vidor who made The Stranger’s Return (1933)” – Yasujiro Ozu, 1934
Interesting Daniel! Even more so for some of the connection in plot between The Wedding Night and Late Spring. Both feature a family interested in arranging a marriage for a daughter who does not desire it and the two women also each essentially reveal themselves as they take care of an older man; Noriko her father, and Manya, Cooper who is already married. There is some tension or ambivalence in each regarding the sexuality of the daughter, with Cooper filling something of the place of both the father and Hattori. The similarities between the two films are just enough to let one reflect a little on what might remain unsaid in Ozu in contrast to the more direct Vidor film and wonder if there isn’t some further unstated connections that could be drawn regarding the events. Even if none of this is intentional, the comparison is still fruitful as a path for further examination.
Nice catch there, Danny. American cinema is so often mentioned by the characters in Ozu’s films but ironically he was supposed to be the “most Japanese” director.
Thanks, everyone! @Andy: ooh, anecdotal evidence, thanks! David Bordwell told me that this is the era and Ozu and his buddies were watching a lot of American films, so things line up (obliquely)… @greg: thanks for that thematic comparison!
You’re welcome Daniel. Your post reminds me that Wedding Night deserves some more attention, not just for the possible Ozu connection either. It’s a pretty interesting little film in its own right.
What’s the European film the mother and son watch in THE ONLY SON?
Andy: It’s Unfinished Symphony, Dir. Willi Forst.

Please to add a new comment.

Previous Features