Late Autumn is the third movie I've seen from director Yasujirô Ozu which is to some degree focused on whether or not a character played by Setsuko Hara gets married. As a fan of Woody Allen's, far be it for me to complain that a great director is stuck in a thematic rut, but it's difficult to watch Late Autumn's cannibalization of both Late Spring (1949) and Early Summer (1951) (how does this seasonal math work, BTW?) and not wonder about his obsession with weddings. Still, Ozu in a rut is a very agreeable thing, and there's a lot to like in Late Autumn despite its constant reminders of stronger films.
Three businessmen, at a remembrance ceremony for an old friend, become fixated on finding a suitor for their late friend's 24-year-old daughter (Yoko Tsukasa) as well as one for his widow (Hara), for whom they all once harbored feelings. While Late Autumn touches on the sensitive notion of adult children feeling obligated to forsake marriage in order to act as companions for lonely parents — with Hara here taking the place of the melancholy parent, rather than the dutiful daughter as in Late Spring — this movie is tonally more in line with the lighter Early Summer, which broached an idea echoed here of young women in post-war Japan preferring the modern independence of working and socializing with friends over the more traditional and confining expectations of marriage as seen through their parents' sometimes passive or cynical relationships.
Although there are some touching twinges of deeper feeling in Late Autumn, it's mostly amusing, with Ozu having fun placing the trio of mischievous and randy old men — Shin Saburi, Nobuo Nakamura and Ryūji Kita — in the traditionally female roles of meddling matchmakers. Constantly surrounded by lively and attractive young women in shops and resturants, they jump on the opportunity to involve themselves in young romance, using it as a diversion for their mid-life crises and as a safe vehicle through which they might be able to scratch at their own itchy regrets. There are plenty of small, fun quirky character moments here and there, such as the old men's interactions with their own children, and Mariko Okada gives a spirited performance as an initial bystander who takes the reins of the courting chaos when everything appears to be falling apart. Hara is good, especially in the final act, but her role is frustratingly limited; Ozu regular Chisu Ryu makes a couple of brief appearances, as well.
Technically, Late Autumn is typical Ozu (although my first look at his work in color; which was, unfortunately not well-served by the less-than-sharp standard definition transfer available on the Criterion Channel; I should have watched the BFI Blu-ray), with his trademark low-angled and sedentary camera, his centered close-ups, and his interstitial establishing shots of buildings and nature and the juxtaposition of modernity and tradition. There's also in Late Autumn a focus on synchronized movements that I haven't noticed in previous Ozu films. As usual, Ozu's style is contemplative and unobtrusive, and the ideas he's contemplating are thoughtfully considered and worth going over again a second time.