The genuis of Ozu resides in his understanding and respect for silence. Few directors nowadays, if any, attempt to contsruct emotional scenes around what isn’t said. I believe modern filmmakers, with maybe the exception of Hou Hsiao-hsien, are genuinely afraid of silence. This directly reflects what the audience is looking for and capable of sitting through. People find silence awkward, difficult, or boring.
For the most part viewers want to be shown directly what to think, feel, and understand, wheras Ozu allows silence to reveal the small lifechanging decisions we make everyday. His filmed moments of contemplation reflect human emotion in a way no other director has been able to achieve. Late Spring, a perfect example of Ozu’s mastery of silence, follows a Father and daughter, living together in post war Japan, no mother, only an aunt for family.
This is a film about change, the father wishing for his daughter to marry, move out, and start a family. The daughter, so devoted, entrenched in her current lifestyle, sees no need for change. She loves her father, and knows no one else will be ale to take care of him like she can. The gradual growth of tension within the family structure becomes a thematic roadmap towards disappointment, doubt, and devotion.
Like many of Ozu’s films, the story looks simple, representing a life in transition, a woman coming to grips with inevitable change. But Ozu’s concerns are quite complex, relying on shifts in mood, reaction, situation, and time to tell a very moving and ultimately deeply sad story. The relationship between Ozu’s sense of time (i.e. the seasons) and the silence he bestoys on each scene, produces fascinating character studies that grow in depth and complexity long after the film is done. The haunting last scene shows the Father peeling away the skin of an apple, a perfect metaphor for the loss of his daughter. Shedding away an outer layer of protection might simplify his life, but in times of crisis or mourning, we know the old man will miss his daughter’s gleeful whimsey the most.