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Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.
Yasujiro Ozu is one of only a handful of directors with two films in Sight & Sound’s top fifty. In addition to his empathic yet unsparing Tokyo Story, Late Spring, his rich portrait of a father and daughter’s close bond, also made the cut. Ozu had been directing films since the mid-1920s, plying his trade on silent comedies, gangster pictures, and family dramas, so by the time he made Late Spring in 1949, he was well rehearsed. But this exquisite jewel of a film represented a leap forward for him in terms of style: it is a masterpiece of balance, pared down to the point that every delicate cut and camera angle feels pregnant with meaning yet unforced. It also signaled the beginning of a new phase of his career, as in the coming decade, Ozu would focus more than ever on the intricacies of family life.
Chishu Ryu, already one of the director’s standby actors, and Setsuko Hara, in her first of many roles for him, play Shukichi and Noriko in Late Spring. Though they were naturally gifted, warm performers, it is often the way Ozu places them in the frame that is responsible for the lasting imprint they have made on film history. In this effortlessly poignant clip, watch how much Ozu communicates about the gulf opening between the two characters by simply separating them as they walk down a long stretch of road.
When you start conjuring up images of Ozu’s films, Ryu’s kindly, weathered face is bound to come to mind before too long. The actor often played characters who were years older than he was; he was only in his mid-forties when he took on the role of the elderly father in Late Spring. In 1985, Wim Wenders visited Ryu for his documentary about Japan, Tokyo-ga (available as a supplement on our release of Late Spring). In this clip from Wenders’s film, the ever humble actor reminisces about working with the master director.