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Late Spring: Noriko and the way she moves

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    Ugetsu

    A number of commentators have focused on the way Setsuko Hara moves in comparison to her performances in other Ozu films. In some scenes, she is described as moving a little like an awkward adolescent, not with the usual grace she brought to her best known parts. This leads to some speculation that in some respects, she is portraying a woman who’s development has been stunted by the loss of her mother and her suffering during the war. She is, in effect, younger than her years, and so even at 27, isn’t really mature. It is implied I think that in some respects she may be sexually immature too.

    I do see this in her movements, but I also couldn’t help noticing that when she was walking or cycling, she was particularly elegant, striding upright in a more western manner than a traditional Japanese lady would normally hold herself. In fact, viewed from behind in that scene where she walks away from her father after the Noh, she reminded me a little of Lauren Bacall, with that slightly masculine and very confident way of moving.

    A number of things strike me about this – it does seem deliberate, because I do think that Hara holds herself and moves in a distinctly different way from her other Ozu performances. Her movements in some respect seem to me to be a little more ‘western’ than the women around her, although I assume this was intended to show her modernity.

    I wonder if there is any significance in this? I was thinking that it was intended to introduce an element of sexual ambiguity to Noriko. Was it perhaps intended to suggest that Noriko was somewhat sexually unformed, not so much a lesbian, but with an a-sexuality that would hint at another motive for her dislike of marriage?

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    Vili Maunula

    While I cannot really comment on her movements, not really knowing her other performances too well, also I wondered about her sexuality or the lack of it, and whether that might be one reason for her disinterest in marrying. It would also be easy to extend that line of thought to Ozu himself and then ask whether the film is on some level autobiographical, but I read somewhere that Ozu once got very angry with someone who suggested that he might be transferring his own family background onto the silver screen, and I definitely don’t want Ozu to be mad at me, so I won’t go there.

    But yes, I think that Noriko displays a level of sexual ambiguity. Her relationship with her father is also like a sexless marriage. And then, doesn’t she seem to have something of a double standard about remarriage? She calls her family friend “dirty” for marrying again, but doesn’t seem to mind her younger female friend who is also thinking about remarrying. Could it be because at his age, the older family friend can no longer be hoping to raise a new family, while Noriko’s female friend still can do that. In other words, is he in Noriko’s mind marrying to have sex for pure pleasure, whereas she will still be potentially reproductive? Just thinking aloud here.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    It would also be easy to extend that line of thought to Ozu himself and then ask whether the film is on some level autobiographical

    Its hard not to draw in Ozu’s own life into a film like this – it does seem significant that a man who lived all his life with his mother (I can only assume from choice, as a wealthy and famous film maker I can only presume he had other options) made films on this theme – it isn’t of course the only Ozu film featuring a character who is ambiguous about marriage. In fact, its hard not to see Setsuko Hara as a sort of Ozu surrogate on screen. Its perhaps incidental, but I found it interesting watching 35 Rhum that the ‘Noriko’ character in that film seems the character that Claire Denis was least interested in. Denis instead focuses on the three other key characters, the father, an older women who has relentlessly but unsuccessfully pursued the father romantically, and the handsome but lonely young man who lives in their apartment building.

    But what I find most fascinating about Noriko is this ambiguity. There are so many shades to her, you can read almost anything into her character. I can’t remember who wrote it, but someone theorized that while great technical actors fill out a character fully, the greatest movie stars always leave a sort of void for the audience to fill. I wonder if the ambiguities within Noriko were created deliberately to ensure the audience firmly associated themselves with her, allowing the character to be the vessel for Ozu to communicate with them.

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    cocoskyavitch

    “… the greatest movie stars always leave a sort of void for the audience to fill.” We haven’t had any posts recently from our Japanese friend who called Hara a “bad actress”…but, perhaps he means this-what we applaud as wonderfully nuanced ambiguous, mystery…can also be seen as blank.

    Aesthetic evaluations….still trying to wrap my head around it, but I go with “…void for the audience to fill” and see the void as quite magnificent-I should be bored to tears with “high” Ozu if it weren’t for this.

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    lawless

    Vili wrote:

    I think that Noriko displays a level of sexual ambiguity. Her relationship with her father is also like a sexless marriage.

    She seemed sexually ambiguous to me, too, possibly asexual. But there were times when I felt very uncomfortable with what she was saying to her father; it had close to an incestuous vibe to it, even though she wasn’t acting in an openly provocative manner. It’s also possible, however, to interpret her as overly invested in her father’s well-being, something we in the West would see more if, for example, her father were an invalid she had to take care of. Maybe her clinging to her father is an outgrowth of her illness?

    Vili wrote:

    And then, doesn’t she seem to have something of a double standard about remarriage? She calls her family friend “dirty” for marrying again, but doesn’t seem to mind her younger female friend who is also thinking about remarrying. Could it be because at his age, the older family friend can no longer be hoping to raise a new family, while Noriko’s female friend still can do that. In other words, is he in Noriko’s mind marrying to have sex for pure pleasure, whereas she will still be potentially reproductive?

    Leaving aside the comment in another thread that “filthy” isn’t meant in a negative way, I think the differences in her reactions have something to do with the age gap and the reasons why each character was no longer married. I get the impression that Aya’s husband turned out to be someone other than who she thought she was; perhaps he beat her or perhaps she was merely disappointed in him. But at her age, Noriko felt she deserved another try at marital happiness.

    In the case of her father’s widower friend, I think Noriko felt it was disloyal to his wife’s memory to remarry. Also, I got a hint that the disapproval might be because he was marrying someone much younger than him, and thus for sexual reasons, not companionship, explaining why she found it “filthy.” That would be at odds with your explanation, Vili, because he would conceivably be able to father children if his new wife were young enough.

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    cocoskyavitch

    She seemed sexually ambiguous to me, too, possibly asexual.

    I think Setsuko Hara is rather mysterious, don’t you? She’s the Greta Garbo of Japan…and walking out on her career into a private life…amazing! She’s just had a birthday, making her 91. According to Wikipedia, she’s called “the eternal virgin” in Japan….

    Her last role was in Inagaki’s Chushingura (I prefer Mizoguchi’s 47 Ronin)…she walked away from acting the same year Ozu died.

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    Vili Maunula

    lawless: That would be at odds with your explanation, Vili, because he would conceivably be able to father children if his new wife were young enough.

    That’s a good point.

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