One of the most powerful of Yasujiro Ozu’s family portraits, Late Spring (Banshun) tells the story of a widowed father who feels compelled to marry off his beloved only daughter. Eminent Ozu players Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara command this poignant tale of love and loss in postwar Japan, which remains as potent today as ever—and a strong justification for its maker’s inclusion in the pantheon of cinema’s greatest directors.
Criterion upgrades their DVD edition of Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring to Blu-ray, presenting the film again in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc in a new 1080p/24hz transfer.
Like a lot of Ozu’s older films (and most films I’ve come across from the Shochiku library) the source materials are a limiting factor in the presentation. The print has plenty of scratches, tram lines, marks, stains, shimmering effects, frame jumps, and fading. It’s typically easy to overlook but there are sections where all of these problems just pile on top of each other and they become hard to ignore. The best aspect of the print is the level of detail present. There are moments where it’s fuzzy and rough around the edges but overall it’s pretty sharp.
The transfer is not without its issues as well but it’s generally clean and stable. Contrast looks fine but boosted a little in some places, and blacks can become severely crushed, wiping out details (though in fairness this may also be a condition of the print.) Shimmering effects are a little problematic with some of the tighter patterns on clothing, and a few dark scenes can look a little noisy.
The digital problems are minor, though, and otherwise the transfer itself is fine, and it does offer an improvement over the DVD’s standard definition transfer. It’s unfortunately the source that holds it back, and this may be about as good as it can get considering the poor conditions of the materials used.
The lossless PCM 1.0 mono track also suffers from age and the condition of the materials. Voices and music are very edgy and harsh. Pops and slight drops are noticeable, and there is a little bit of noise in the background. But like the video it could be a lot worse and I’m sure whatever clean up could be done has been and again this is about as good as it gets.
Criterion ports over the supplements from the 2-disc DVD edition starting with the audio commentary by Richard Peña, program director of New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center. In all it’s a fine if unremarkable commentary track. Peña talks about Ozu’s style of filmmaking, from positioning of the camera to editing techniques (like every other commentary for an Ozu film) and how it compares to his other works. He goes over the themes, offers some contextualizing comments, and talks about the time period, but this can lead to him occasionally falling into the trap of just explaining the plot and commenting on what’s going on on screen. Despite some shortcomings and maybe a “been there done that” feeling it’s a fine enough track, and admittedly Peña is fervent about the subject, but it’s not one I would insist should be listened to.
The second feature, Wim Wender’s 1985 “documentary” Tokyo-ga, which took up the second disc on the DVD edition, has always been an odd inclusion for me. The piece is more or less a tribute to Ozu, filmed while he was visiting Tokyo, mixed in with a look at a modern Japan. For me it doesn’t always work. The stronger aspects are actually when Wenders focuses on Ozu, especially a couple moments where he focuses on the technical aspects of the man’s work: one scene finds Wenders filming an alley full of bars that Ozu had filmed many times before, first filming it in what I assume would be his own style then adjusting it (with the use of a 50mm lens) to match how Ozu would have filmed it. There’s also a great interview with cameraman Yuharu Atsuta who also demonstrates how Ozu set up shots in his later years, and then another interview with Chishu Ryu, who appeared in a good majority of the director’s work. I find the film less interesting when it turns into a stream-of-consciousness travelogue with Wenders looking at modern Tokyo. These wouldn’t be so bad except his rambling narration offers very little but bloat, and the film sort of meanders. I suspect, since filmmaker Chris Marker more-or-less makes an appearance, that Wenders was influenced by the film Sans Soleil, which came out around the time this film would have been shot (Wenders also mentions the film, so he had obviously seen it.) The best moment for me in these non-Ozu sections, sadly, is probably when Wenders visits a factory that makes wax display foods, and that’s probably only because I love television shows like How it’s Made. I find it interesting Criterion went to the trouble to licence it from Anchor Bay (who actually released the film in their own Wenders DVD box set) and then include it as a supplement with this film, of all of Ozu’s films. At any rate, though, it’s worth watching for the material specifically about Ozu and use of the camera, the examples of the camera setup being most especially enlightening, but I find the film as a whole simply an interesting experiment on Wenders’ part and not much else.
The booklet also provides the same essays found in the DVD’s booklet, starting with an essay on the film by Michael Atkinson, a nice little piece about Setsuko Hara and her work in Ozu’s films, and then a short piece Ozu wrote about his co-screenwriter Kogo Noda. An excellent booklet.
So even though we do get a couple of lengthy features I unfortunately still find the supplements a bit skimpy, mainly because I find the material fairly average overall.
Not a substantial upgrade over the DVD but it does offer a slight improvement in image, which is still held back by the rough source materials. Still, this is the best I’ve seen the film and on those grounds I think it’s worth picking up.