Have you ever been scared to jump into life? Timid, shy, perhaps cowardly, but presenting a cheery smile and a gay demeanour to the world? I have. It took a vociferous old Mrs Jack to drag me from my torpor with energy, sensible slacks and curves that wouldn’t stop. Life would have been awful had she not been there to reach into the shadows and pull me into fresh sheets and suspiciously expert shaggy-times. Not so Noriko in last Sunday’s slice of post-war Japanese, floor-up domesticity. For she is loyal to her father, a widower who is pootling through an easy life with impressive flexibility and a gentle detachment. Noriko, aged 27 and resistant to all advances, is barrelling into Late Spring without love.
This film is mundane, weird and utterly lovely. From the same observant eyes as Tokyo Story, it knows the war has been and gone, and reverts to the domestic to tell a story of people not warriors and monsters. I doubt there was any appetite for the latter had the American censors even allowed it. We meet Noriko played by Setsuko Hara, apparently known in Japan as their Eternal Virgin as she didn’t get married and dropped no sprogs. Flattering. Anyway, she smiles through daily life with an air of sexless cheer. Her Dad, Chishū Ryū as Professor Shukichi Somiya, does his writing and thinking and doesn’t seem to give much thought the gathering stultification of her life.
Not that she minds. Noriko goes for a drink with a not-creepy family friend, she has remarried, and with light-hearted earnestness explain that she thinks his remarrying is bad, wrong and, utterly strangely, “filthy”. That girl got issues.
The film ambles along, shot from the carpet, as people come and go in their lives, not least her tiresome aunt Masa (Haruko Sugimura as full-on busybody) who is set on getting the girl married. She forces her onto dates, but Noriko gradually pleads for her status quo. She is happy with her Dad. It is her job to look after him. And so on.
Oh, the Prof mentions at one point that he is nearly fifty-six. Really. Old, my arse. His problem is intellectual distraction and glacial verbal stylings. A haircut and a cut of the nails and he could be on the marriage index himself.
But old Jack here warmed to father and daughter and resented the intrusions on their lives, even as the aunt gets her way and Noriko is slowly cornered into accepting a Gary-Cooper-a-like. The Prof tells her he is getting remarried, plainly not without the kind intention to influence his daughter, and…well, watch the movie.
Late Spring is agonisingly slow in places. There’s a performance of what I understand is ‘noh‘ theatre that forced me to grow as a human being, not least because of the effort it took to hold in the screams. But, you know…it’s a delicate thing, beautifully made, telling a rare and special story about excessive loyalty of the young to the old. And that’s a good thing and an unusual angle.
Give it a go. Once you get past the eternal virgin’s eternal grin, you’ll find a sweet story of a house of decency invaded by a crass world that, ultimately, is pushing for change and doing the right thing.
Perhaps that’s okay.