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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » An Autumn Afternoon: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
An Autumn Afternoon: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Criterion // Unrated // February 17, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted February 11, 2015 | E-mail the Author

Though a majority of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu's films share similar themes and his trademark "slow and steady" visual approach to storytelling, An Autumn Afternoon (1962) has the most in common with his 1949 drama Late Spring. Both feature a widowed patriarch living at home with a fully-grown, unmarried daughter who is prodded into seeking a husband. Both patriarchs are played by Chishu Ryu, who appeared in a whopping 52 of the director's 54 films. And both are, in the best sense of the word, bittersweet examinations of regular, working-class family life.

This man in question is Shuhei Hirayama, and his unmarried daughter is Michiko (Shima Iwashita); his younger son Kazuo (Shinichiro Mikami) also lives at home with them, while eldest son Koichi (Keiji Sada) is married and living with his wife. Michiko acts as the unofficial mother of the house: she's tasked herself with looking after Shuhei as he grows older, while unmotivated Kazuo persistently asks for help despite being routinely turned down. It's evident that Michiko spends most of her time at home: both men have their own circle of friends, and Shuhei's circle goes all the way back to grade school. There's a lifetime of stories between the old friends, which they regularly share over rounds of sake at a local restaurant. One day an old teacher drops in on one of their casual reunions, and it's through his own family situation that Shuhei sees both his current life and his possible future: Michiko has been sacrificing her own youth to make her lonely father happy, so he hopes to arrange a husband for her to make amends.

Completed just one year before the director's untimely death on his 60th birthday, An Autumn Afternoon carries an expected weight that the final film in a long, celebrated career usually assumes. Ozu's subtle variations on similar family relationships undoubtedly have autobiographical roots: his mother died during An Autumn Afternoon's production in 1951, and the director's lifelong addiction to alcohol is obviously reflected in Shuhei's near-constant social drinking. Like most of Ozu's other films, outside conflicts are virtually absent during An Autumn Afternoon, as family relationships usually grow or dissolve through actions inside the home. From start to finish, it's obvious that father and daughter truly care for one another: they put their own personal lives on hold for stubborn and unselfish reasons, but it eventually becomes obvious that accepting change and letting go are byproducts of holding on for dear life.

An Autumn Afternoon was first released on DVD by Criterion in 2008, roughly a month before the studio's first wave of Blu-ray titles. That original release was, aside from the main feature, hardly anything to get excited about: the 1.33:1 image was picture-boxed to compensate for TV overscan and the bonus features were minimal aside from an audio commentary. Almost seven years later, at least one of these problems is corrected: An Autumn Afternoon has since been blessed with a 4K restoration and the resulting image, though slightly odd from a color perspective, is as strong as you'd expect. A lack of new supplements, unfortunately, may slow down the need to upgrade.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, An Autumn Afternoon looks substantially different than Criterion's 2008 DVD...and not just because it's no longer picture-boxed, thank goodness. There's obviously a notable boost in quality via this 1080p transfer (sourced from a new 4K digital restoration), but colors exhibit a noticeable green push from start to finish; the overall image is also few shades darker. Based on limited research, this may be a more accurate representation of the film stock used by cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta (and thus, An Autumn Afternoon's theatrical appearance), but those weaned on the DVD's palette may have trouble adjusting to these "new" colors. Overall, I'll give Criterion the benefit of the doubt based on their consistently strong track record. Either way, Ozu's trademark low and stationary camera shots appear stable and rich with detail; black levels are consistent, no flagrant digital imperfections were spotted, and a pleasing layer of film grain is visible from start to finish.

DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.

The uncompressed Japanese PCM 1.0 mono track is perfectly acceptable overall, as neither the dialogue nor Kojun Saito's sporadic music cues fight for attention. The dynamic range is obviously a little thin in comparison to newer films, but there are very few technical issues and the studio undoubtedly did what they could to preserve the original audio's strengths. Optional English subtitles---advertised as a "new and improved translation" on the packaging, just for the record---have been included for Japanese audio and partial text translation only.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

As usual, Criterion's interface is smooth and easy to navigate on both formats. This one-disc release is locked for Region A/1 players only; it's packaged in Criterion's standard "stocky" clear keepcase and includes artwork almost identical to the 2008 DVD release. The fold-out Insert includes essays by critic Geoff Andrew and scholar Donald Richie.

Bonus Features

Everything from Criterion's 2008 DVD; nothing more, nothing less. These recycled supplements include a feature-length Audio Commentary with author David Bordwell, the sporadically pretentious TV excerpt ""Yasujiro Ozu and The Taste of Sake", and two different Trailers for the film. Aside from the commentary (which the only worthwhile bonus feature, to be completely honest), these are presented in French or Japanese and include optional English subtitles.

Final Thoughts

Released just one year before his untimely death, An Autumn Afternoon is the last film from one of Japan's most prolific and influential directors; for that alone, it carries a weight that elevates the story to greater heights. This deceptively simple production, like the majority of Ozu's work, has no bells and whistles; instead, it presents realistic characters in realistic situations that, in some respects, have a timeless quality that some audiences should be able to relate to more than 50 years later. An Autumn Afternoon was only Ozu's sixth color film, which presents its own set of challenges for Criterion's Blu-ray: replacing their own 2008 DVD, this new 1080p transfer exhibits a greenish tint and a darker image that (might) reflect a more accurate presentation. But there's not much else new here: aside from lossless audio and "new and improved" subtitles, no extras are added to the limited collection included here. Die-hard fans may want to indulge, but those new to Ozu's work should rent it first. Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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