Equinox Flower
(Higanbana) (1958)
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * ½

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Wataru Hirayama (Shin Saburi), a middle-aged banker, expresses modern opinions when dispensing advice to others about their families (even agreeing to visit a friend's daughter who has run away to be with the man she loves), but after he learns that his own daughter, Setsuko (Ineko Arima), hopes to marry a man of her choosing instead of accepting an arranged marriage, he finds that, when it comes to his own family, he is not consistent in applying his progressive views.

Yasujiro Ozu's Equinox Flower is, like virtually any of the director's other films, a charming, touching, and visually appealing work that is sure to draw the viewer into the lives of its protagonists so that he is able to participate in their various troubles and joys.

The director, in fact, conjures up a captivating sense of the profundity of the ordinary. He never even hints at the existence of any great urgency or any terrible threat. While the film's characters do have problems, and the viewer is allowed to immerse himself in these problems, Ozu's light touch always keeps these pleasant and sprightly. He even includes a few genuinely comic scenes. In one, for example, when Wataru visits the bar where his friend's runaway daughter is working, he takes with him a junior employee at his company who just happens to be a regular patron of that establishment, though he does not want his superior to know that. The man's discomfort, unsuccessful lies, and efforts to keep the bar staff from showing that they recognize him are, at once, painful to watch and deliciously funny. This is not the film's only comic sequence, however. In another, to give just one more instance, a young friend of Setsuko tricks Wataru into advising her to follow her heart, and not her mother's wishes, in matters of love, only to reveal that she had been asking for Setsuko's sake, not her own. Again, the scene is truly a joy.

What is more, the movie is as visually engaging as are any of Ozu's other works. The director displays his usual fondness for filming his characters walking down corridors, sitting, chatting, and eating in charmingly simple rooms, or performing some mundane task or another. Happily, the restraint and sensitivity he shows in doing so brings out the loveliness of these ordinary occurrences. Likewise, his frequent portraits of one character or another smiling or talking have an animated authenticity that exposes their humanity and endears them to the viewer.

Finally, I should note that there is not an actor in the film who is not delightful. That said, Shin Saburi still ought to be singled out for praise. Thanks to his subtle performance, the viewer is sure to get a sense of a real man existing at a certain period of time who has worries that undoubtedly were common among persons then living. What is more, these feelings are not simply revealed; they are given such a poignancy that the moviegoer, though separated from Ozu's age, is still able to feel the character's concern. Even if the specifics of the man's situation are not shared, the thought processes that motivate him have a universality that cannot but be noticed. After all, what person is immune to seeing the wisdom of some course of action when others are involved but, at the same time, being incapable of applying that wisdom to himself or those he holds most dear?

There is a sameness to Ozu's films. I will admit that. Fortunately, they are almost uniformly affecting and lovely to see. Unfortunately, few really stand out from the rest either in their quality or with their themes. I cannot say that I have ever seen a bad movie by Ozu, but I have never seen one that I really felt took the director to new places. I do not, however, mean to imply that I am ambivalent about the director. Ozu might not have departed from what he loved, but that very love for particular subjects always shines through in what he does. Equinox Flower is no exception. It really is a lovely, endearing film.

Review by Keith Allen

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