An Autumn Afternoon
The last film by Yasujiro Ozu was also his final masterpiece, a gently heartbreaking story about a man’s dignifed resignation to life’s shifting currents and society’s modernization. Though the widower Shuhei (frequent Ozu leading man Chishu Ryu) has been living comfortably for years with his grown daughter, a series of events leads him to accept and encourage her marriage and departure from their home. As elegantly composed and achingly tender as any of the Japanese master’s films, An Autumn Afternoon is one of cinema’s fondest farewells.
Criterion upgrades their DVD edition of Yasujiro Ozu’s final film, An Autumn Afternoon, to Blu-ray. This new presentation doesn’t reuse the old DVD’s transfer and instead uses a new 4K transfer scanned from the original 35mm negative. The film is again presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc and is delivered in 1080p/24hz.
The original DVD suffered from a few problems but on the whole it offered a highly detailed image, with a lovely restoration that left very little damage behind. The problems were otherwise limited: there were fluctuations in the image that remained, along with odd frame jumps (that may have been related more to the transfer process,) and it was window-boxed. This new presentation actually alleviates all of these issues: the frame jump/skip is gone, as are the fluctuations/pulsating, and the image is no longer window-boxed. Detail is slightly improved upon, with some nice textures in places, and film grain is rendered decently enough. Still, edges of objects just aren’t as sharply presented as I would have expected and some of the tighter patterns, like what is found in some of the suits, aren’t as clear as they probably could be. Admittedly this could be just how it was filmed.
The one aspect of the transfer that threw me off, though, are the colours: they’re darker, leaning more on the green side. Apparently this is truer to how the film would have been processed, so I can only assume it’s correct, but it was admittedly a bit of a letdown initially. Getting past that shock, though, the rest of the image is pleasant enough, looking stable and more filmic in nature.
The soundtrack is limited by its age, but on the whole the lossless PCM 1.0 mono track adequately delivers the sound. Music is flat but rarely edgy, and dialogue sounds fairly natural. The track also seems to have cleaned up any noise or distortion.
All supplements have been carried over from the previous DVD edition.
The first supplement is an audio commentary by David Bordwell. This is an excellent scholarly track that gives a thoughtful examination of the film, and also gives a great amount of information about Ozu and his career. He focuses a lot on Ozu’s style from his framing and compositions to his cutting, which conveys some of the feelings in the scene, and also touches on his use of music (which Bordwell calls “Weather Music” for reasons he explains.) He goes over the themes and situations in the film and compares them to other films in Ozu’s filmography. And he also gives some decent history on Japanese history in general, including working for the Japanese studio system at the time along with theater attendance. He is reading from notes, but it’s not noticeable as he does easily breeze through, making for a very informative and entertaining commentary track.
The next supplement isn’t as good but it has some interesting things in it. Yasujiro Ozu and The Taste of Sake presents excerpts from a 1978 episode of a French program called Cine regards. Running 14-minutes the first half has interview portions featuring Michel Ciment and Georges Perec. The episode appears to be acting as an introduction to the work of Ozu, who was just being discovered outside of Japan (or at the very least in France.) The first half has Ciment and Perec discuss what makes Ozu a modern master, focusing on his style over the span of his career. The last half, on the other hand, is a little heavy handed and, shall I say, absurd. I’ll be honest in saying I’m not exactly sure what the makers were getting at during this last bit (how Ozu’s films fit with modern Japan? With other forms of art in Japan? Ozu's work as poetry?) but it brings the feature to a halt and doesn’t add much. It just seems like an odd piece, with one sequence sticking out to me in particular, involving a narrator talking about how Ozu would shoot many takes with his actors while we see two people practicing Judo. Some okay things but I can’t say I got much out of it, preferring the commentary much more.
Moving on with disc supplements it closes with two theatrical trailers for the film.
Criterion moves over all of the essays included in the booklet on the DVD, though they’re presented here in a not-as-impressive insert. The essays, by Geoff Andrew and Donald Richie, look to be the same otherwise. Andrew’s essay is a nice examination of Ozu’s last film (though he points out, as does Bordwell on the commentary, Ozu was still planning on making more films and was even in the process of making another) and Richie’s briefly goes over Ozu’s diaries that were discovered and published after his death.
It feels slight at the higher price point but I still enjoyed the insert (even if I miss the booklet format) and commentary.
Not a very big upgrade overall, still delivering the same supplements, but the image does offer a noticeable improvement on the whole, though differs a bit in its colour rendering.