It’s at the wedding reception for a friend’s child where Hirayama is tapped to give a brief speech. He’s surprised and flustered. To the crowd he compares the courtship between the newlyweds to his own arranged marriage. He sums up his experience as much more “prosaic” and formal. He blesses the new custom, wishing happiness. But Hirayama speaks with a quiver. Perspiration covers his face. This is a man not quite resigned to the new order even if he can admit to its virtues.
One of Hirayama’s friends, Mikami, was conspicuously absent from the wedding. Not soon afterwards Mikami materializes in Hirayama’s office like a spectre. He skipped the wedding out of shame. After disapproving of his own daughter’s dating she left the household, supporting herself by working in a dive bar. Mikami asks if Hirayama will check up on the bar, as he no longer can speak with his daughter.
Before Hirayama can fulfill the task, a young man comes to visit unannounced. He bows. He asks directly for consent to marry Hirayama’s daughter with whom he loves. And so now Hirayama must choose. Swallow his pride and acquiesce to the new custom, or chose Mikami’s path of dropping completely out of society in protest. The answer isn’t easy...
So many Ozu films share similar themes, and so many are equally brilliant that separating one out for greater acclaim becomes a tough task. Equinox Flower is a great film, and it can boast a bit more novelty than the other Ozu features in that it was the director’s first color feature.
As you might expect, the transition for black and white to color is handled gracefully by the master. An additional bonus, the early color process for films boast a richness of pallette that modern technology won’t attempt to replicate. Even in a washed out print, the colors run like fine pastels. The reds hum on the screen.
Ozu films are master classes in framing and composition. It could take multiple viewings to break apart his complex staging. In Equinox Flower, for instance, Hirayama and other men of the old guard are often shown in simple, single chamber rooms. The walls are painted in a single muted color. When women enter the frame the rooms become multi chambered, full of complex lines.
Perhaps the biggest criticism you could level at Equinox Flower, if not all of Ozu’s films, is that they’re hopelessly old fashioned with little bearing to modern concerns--that women should find fulfillment and happiness in men, that marriage is a necessity--these concepts have been under assault for decades in western thought. Equinox Flower nods a bit in that direction with its self assured coterie of Kyoto women, but by and large this is a story of the first steps toward social acceptance of female self determination. It’s valuable then as a time capsule, a view into a staid world just starting to fracture into modernity.