On the death anniversary of the Miwa family patriarch, Miwa’s gracious and noble widow Akiko (Setsuko Hara), their 24-year old daughter Ayako (Yôko Tsukasa), and brother Shukichi (Chishu Ryu), host a reunion with Miwa’s longtime friends for a memorial service and intimate reception at a seaside resort. The three middle-aged friends, who once competed in their younger days for the affection of the captivating Akiko, then a familiar presence at her family’s pharmacy store in Hongo, have now resolved to find a suitable husband for their former romantic adversary’s equally beautiful daughter Ayako, despite her own casual indifference on the subject of marriage. The disorganized Taguchi (Nobuo Nakamura) believes that he has found a good candidate among his wife’s acquaintances named Shige, and upon arriving home (to the humorously all too frequent sight of his newly married daughter’s suitcase near the entrance after running home following a quarrel in the household), mentions the idea to his wife only to be reminded that the young man had been recently married and that they had even sent him a wedding gift. Chagrined upon hearing Taguchi’s embarrassing oversight, Mamiya (Shin Saburi) proposes a substitute prospect to Akiko, a young man from the office named Goto (Keiji Sada) whom he readily admits, “Well, he’s not an eye catcher, but he’s a fine lad who works hard.” Mildly disconcerted by the seemingly aggressive matchmaking efforts of her parents’ well-intentioned friends, Ayako refuses Mamiya’s offer to act as an intermediary between the two families, but is put in an awkward situation when she visits Mamiya at the office in order to deliver one of her father’s old pipes, and is given a gibing, ill humored introduction to the shy young man.
Reflecting themes from Yasujiro Ozu’s earlier film and personal favorite work, Late Spring, on the inevitable separation of a widowed parent and a devoted, adult child, Late Autumn is an understatedly poignant, captivating, and elegiac film on the dissolution of the nuclear family. Ozu’s juxtaposition of green color tones – synthetic, often brighter hues (in particular, turquoise and aquamarine) contrasted against more muted, earth toned, tea shades – creates a curious visual dichotomy that obliquely symbolizes the diverging seasonal and existential stages in Akiko and Ayako’s lives. Dour, green-gray scaped commercial interiors of Mamiya’s and Ayako’s offices and the exterior corridor leading to the Miwa’s apartment convey an perceptual contrast to the warmer tones of the Mamiya home as Mrs. Taguchi (Kuniko Miyake) pays a visit to Mrs. Mamiya (Sadako Sawamura), and similarly, the private dining room of the resort where family and friends assemble for the memorial ceremony. In the exquisitely composed final sequence, Akiko subtly betrays an enigmatic smile after a brief visit from Ayako’s spirited friend and colleague, Yukiko (Okada Mariko) – a serenely indelible and bittersweet affirmation of life’s immutably evolving, but ultimately, constantly renewing process.
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