WORLD CINEMA: Late Spring (1949)

For this month’s WORLD CINEMA, we go to Japan with one of Yasujiro Ozu’s greatest films, Late Spring (1949). A beautiful, sweet, simple tale with some of the greatest emotional depth ever put to film, Late Spring is the first film in the Noriko trilogy.

Noriko (Setsuko Hara) is a 27-year-old single woman who lives at home with her father Shukichi (Chishu Ryu). Everybody, including her aunt Masa (Haruko Sugimura), says it’s time for her to get married and settle down, but Noriko wants to stay at home and take care of her father instead.

Not an uncommon theme for films of the era, Late Spring deals with Noriko’s plight in a way that feels fresh, genuine and compassionate. She’s a free spirit. An unapologetic young woman who values her freedom and especially the choice to be at home with her father which, to her, is the epitome of happiness. But, of course, society won’t have it. A constant struggle between an older and a younger generation, society’s norms vs one’s needs and desires and, of course, the harsh reality of the passage of time and how we’re hopeless in the face of it. Throughout the movie, we are confronted with all of these things, and in a simple and rather quiet way, which makes it even more poignant. Beautifully shot and wonderfully acted, Late Spring reveals itself to us slowly, calmly, letting us breathe and take our time getting to know these characters and their stories. A truly moving film and one of Japanese cinema’s greatest achievements.

Max Steiner and Now, Voyager (1942)

When you have Casablanca and Gone With the Wind under your belt, it seems strange that anybody would pick any other film score as their favorite. And yet, here it is: Now, Voyager is my favorite Max Steiner score. Now, I’ve already talked about Bette Davis’ incredible performance in the 1943 Best Actress Oscar nominees article, but the recent BFI season dedicated to her – if you live in London, don’t miss it! – made me think, again, about that magnificently wonderful score.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, Now, Voyager (dir. Irving Rapper) tells the story of Charlotte Vale (Davis), a single and, by society’s standards, unattractive woman who, after freeing herself from the controlling claws of her mother (Gladys Cooper), finds the love she never had with architect Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid). I mean… only Max Steiner could have scored that. And boy, did he! One of THE greatest weepies of all time, Now, Voyager is beautifully enveloped by that melancholic, ultra-romantic melody that thankfully pops up every ten minutes or so, much to everyone’s delight. Every heartbreak and every desolation that Charlotte goes through, every moment of joy and every moment of pain she feels comes with Steiner’s rousing masterpiece. And nobody understood this better than Bette. In 1939, during the making of Dark Victory (dir. Edmund Goulding), Bette stopped the climactic scene and asked Goulding if Steiner was going to score the picture. He said he didn’t know and asked what the big deal was. She famously said, ‘Either I’m going to climb those stairs or Max Steiner is going to climb those stairs. But I’ll be goddamned if Max Steiner and I are going to climb those stairs together!’. They did and she always referred to him as ‘my beloved Max Steiner.’ He scored 21 of her movies. And won an Oscar for Now, Voyager. Beautiful.