There are countless movies about people who are messed up because they were raised by bad parents.
But there is only one film I know that explores the opposite problem: parents that are too good. How is a young adult supposed to move out and move on when she recognizes that her parents are the real love of her life and the best relationship she’s ever going to have?
Yasujiro Ozu’s masterpiece “Late Spring” tells the bittersweet story of Shukichi and Noriko Somiya. Shukichi is a widower college professor. He’s got a pretty good thing going: he earns the money and his daughter Noriko does the cooking and all the chores.
Noriko is happy with this arrangement. Blissfully happy. The problem is that she’s 27 and getting past the age where Japanese women are supposed to get married and move into their husband’s household.
At least that’s what Noriko’s meddling aunt and sister say. We see Noriko’s happy smile become a mask of dread as she gives in to the pressure and allows an arranged marriage to move forward.
The situation is even more upsetting for Noriko because she finds romance distasteful. She may even be asexual.
Professor Shukichi has even more to lose from the marriage. But he convinces himself that he’d be doing his beloved daughter a terrible disservice by letting her stay with him until she’s an old maid. So Shukichi becomes the biggest advocate of the arranged marriage.
In the end, Noriko miserably marries and Shukichi begins the twilight of his life in utter solitude.
On the surface, this is a simple tragic ending. Noriko and Shukichi both made a huge sacrifice and they are both less happy as a result.
But there are more layers.
In the medium run, we know that Professor Shukichi is probably right. He’s going to die one of these decades and Noriko would be in a tough spot – emotionally and financially – if she were to become a 47-year-old spinster.
In the long run, both characters are accepting the inevitability of change. Yasujiro Ozu was a Buddhist. And the unstoppable flow of time – expressed in moving water and the changing of the seasons – is the overarching theme of his work. It isn’t easy, but Noriko and Shukichi might actually be doing the right thing by trying not to cling to the people they love.
There is no one way to interpret “Late Spring.” Ozu was the master of intellectual complexity and intense bittersweet emotion. His movies sneak up and bowl you over with pathos and sorrow.
So, here’s to the fathers out there are who are so loving and so generous that their adult child can’t imagine living with anyone else! No one ever said parenthood was going to be easy.