First things first, I started this week off with an MST3K short: Are You Ready For Marriage? It’s a good one, and topical!
By the way, Sue is pretty hot.
The story is simple and universal. Middle-aged Hirayama is a model of tolerance and the first man his friends, peers, and their children turn to when faced with what is treated as an outstanding social problem of the day – the trend of young women to forgo traditional arranged marriages in favor of choosing their own husbands.
I know, it sounds so quaint. All long-decided social issues do.
At any rate, despite being very happy in his own (and long-established) arranged marriage, Hirayama consistently comes down on the side of letting the children decide for themselves – until a previously unknown young man comes to his office and asks for his daughter’s hand in marriage. It’s a bit of a bomb to be dropped, and now that the situation is hitting home, Hirayama adopts the view that non-arranged marriages are suitable for everybody else’s children, but not his own. He refuses to consent until a friend of his daughter comes to him saying that she herself wants to marry against her parents’ wishes – an idea he supports until she reveals that she’s lying; the situation is not in fact hers, but his own daughter’s.
Hirayama’s reluctance carries through the wedding (which he grudgingly attends) and continues until the end of the film, when we watch him some time later in a train heading out with softened mind to visit his daughter and son-in-law for the first time.
It’s a nice story, and the modern (and certainly future) parallels with any paradigm shift are surely facile, but the most felicitous parallel of all may be with the director’s own story.
Ozu started his directorial career in 1927’s silent film era, and his adoption of the soundtrack came late – in 1936, five years and sixteen Ozu films after the introduction of the talkie in Japan. Even as a young man, Ozu demonstrated a profound reluctance to deviate from the accepted norm when it came to that which was dear to him. It comes as no surprise then that Ozu was also slow to adopt color film, with Equinox Flower released seven years (and five Ozu films) after the first Japanese color film. And Ozu could not have chosen a more appropriate character study for his late-adopted color debut than that of the reluctant Hirayama.
But when Ozu finally embraced color, he didn’t do it as an afterthought, a concession to the new normal. He actively showcased the new medium and its ability to capture a dimension previously missing in film. Not that he incorporated color into the story – that would have been gratuitous – but rather he made sure to color the backgrounds of the scenes so as to take advantage of the new chromatic fidelities. Though I have seen more beautiful films, I have perhaps never seen a film so self-consciously filmed in color as Equinox Flower.
This is what I mean:
Something yellow in the centerpiece, the blue pattern of the china highlighted
The golden beer highlighted against a white shirt, the red beer “coaster”, the painting of green bamboo
The ubiquitous floral centerpiece, the red wine and the white
Blue kimono, red obi, green trees and mahogany table
The red teapot, a staple of the film
The fruit bowl; the orange soda coexisting with wine
Multicolored laundry against the sky
The frivolous tablecloth says hello to old friend fruit bowl and old friend orange soda and old friend teapot
And my favorite, the vial of random green liquid.
One of my favorites. Well worth the two hours the story takes to unfold, even if it only unfolds slowly and halfway, as is the way of all Ozu.