Yasujiro Ozu’s Equinox Flower (1958) seems to me one of the director’s lesser films, both a little too light and a little too plodding. It’s a film not quite suited for the devotee or neophyte: If you’re familiar with Ozu’s oeuvre, the trusty tropes will remind you that the director used them to better effect in better films; if you’re not familiar with his work you might wonder what all the fuss is about.
The conflict involves the subject of arranged marriages, and the plot is overly schematic, even for Ozu, who often arranges familial distress into nearly symmetrical patterns. This time the breakdown goes like this: A father has a daughter who decides she wants to marry without consulting him; another father has a daughter even more rebellious who’s moved out of her house and works in a bar so she can see her unapproved-of boyfriend. A third parent, a mother, has a daughter who humors her and her matchmaking ventures, knowing that when the time comes, she’ll marry whom she wants. The fact that the parents and daughters all know each other in overlapping combinations would suggest a comedy of manners but everything’s played more or less straight.
It’s disappointing that the main character, the father whose pride is hurt because his daughter hasn’t consulted him about her love life, is played by Shin Saburi rather than Ozu’s usual lead Chishu Ryu (who’s relegated to the much smaller part of the father of the bar girl). Ryu always brings a sense of ambiguity to his authoritative characters, and at that inevitable moment when his character has to yield some of his power, Ryu pulls it off with convincing shades of regret and relief. But Saburi makes the main male character seem like a sulky bully who’s brooding much more than the occasion calls for, and when he finally comes around to reining in his ego for the greater good, it seems less a matter of enlightenment than of having run out of steam.
Some people regard this film as another of Ozu’s masterpieces (some people regard any Ozu film as some sort of masterpiece) but I think it’s a lull in a fertile late period, with a handful of Ozu’s excellent films left to come.
In Japanese with English subtitles. Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) Monday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].