I'm getting closer to the point in my life where having children is more of a reality than a far-off thing meant only for "real adults." This means that every time I watch a film by Yasujiro Ozu, I am liable to identify a bit more with the older characters than the younger ones. Ozu built a cottage industry in mid-century Japanese filmmaking from focusing on generational divides, and his late masterpiece, appropriately titled Late Autumn, is no exception.
Ozu shifted towards focusing on the generational divide and, ironically, identifying more heavily with the new generation of adults, in his late career. Even earlier on, the titles of his films shifted towards more abstract concepts, like seasons and conditions of the weather. 1960's Late Autumn is a remake of his 1949 opus, Late Spring, in which an aging widow and his daughter must accept the reality that the young woman is of marrying age and that she must move on with her life. The earlier film starred Japanese superstar and Ozu regular, Setsuko Hara, as the daughter. In an ironic twist, Autumn brings Hara back, except in the parental role (also reflecting Ozu's increasing sympathy for female characters).
A consistent theme between the original and the remake are the bonds between children and their parents. While reading biographical details into the characters can tend to be a futile pursuit, it is worth mentioning that Ozu lived his entire life with his mother as a bachelor, implying a close relationship between the two. Similarly, Late Spring and Late Autumn concern themselves with the strong bond between parent and daughter, thus completing the imitation of life in art.
Having watched every Ozu film in the Criterion Collection up until this point, I can safely say that all the Ozu hallmarks are represented here: pillow shots, emphasis on character development over plot, casual sexism and alcoholism on the men's part, clear intellectual divide in favor of women over men. In these respects, Late Autumn si about as formulaic as Ozu films go. But there is a comfort that I derive in watching an old master ply the very same trade in a slightly modified story. Ozu's films remind me of the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which focuses on an elderly master of sushi who has plied his trade near his entire life. Everything comes second nature to him, but it is apparent that his has occurred only through decades of dedication and practice. Although Ozu lived until he was just over 60 (far less than Jiro Ono, who still lives at 90), you can see the markings of an artist who knew exactly what he sought to create and cared only to create that object for his entire life.
Let's hope that Ozu's final two films are just as wonderful as his third-to-last.