December 17, 2016
In Late Spring (1949) Noriko is a 27 year old girl who lives in post-war Japan with her father. They lead a very happy existence until her aunt decides that the time has come for Noriko to get married. The film is one of the best I've ever seen (it now occupies the #1 spot on my 2016 new-to-me favorites list.) It's breathtakingly beautiful, subtle, and gentle... cinema at its absolute finest. If you want to learn more about the movie, the themes, the camerawork, definitely look at the reviews on letterboxd or imdb. There's a lot of good, insightful stuff there. As usual, though, if you're looking for "good" or "insightful" I'm not your girl. If you want to read more about why I connected with this movie and completely dried out my tear ducts in the process, however, please continue...
I watched Late Spring (1949) for the first time last weekend, and it was the most emotional experience I've ever had watching a movie. About forty or so minutes in I could tell my eyes were getting watery. Then I felt the slick stream of tears cascading down my cheeks... a steady flow of water traveling my face and landing in little droplets on the collar of my shirt. By the end of the movie, I was actually ugly-face sobbing. I've been an obsessive movie fan for close to two decades now and this has never happened to me before.
I loved this movie so much that I knew instinctively when it was over that it was one of the best movies I've ever seen in my entire life. It wasn't even a thought, just a truth that had to be acknowledged. I loved this so much. I actually haven't stopped thinking about it all week. I haven't even watched any other movies since last Saturday, because I just don't feel ready to part with it yet. Does that sound crazy? I just connected to this so much.
I turned 30 a couple weeks ago, and actually handled it better than expected (and way better than I handled 29.) This time last year I was so full of self-doubt about my path in life. I've been single for my entire life. I've never even been on a date. It's partially because I'm really shy, partially because nobody ever asked, and partially because I like being alone. But I didn't realize just how important that last part was until this year. I REALLY like being alone.
My solo trip to Europe this summer made me fall in love with solitude. I've always known how much I enjoy alone time, but to me that always meant having to stay home and read or watch movies (both of which I love, but I assumed things like trips and concerts had to be buddy activities. They don't.) Suddenly my future started shifting in my mind, changing from "reclusive, lonely old maid dies in her apartment and nobody discovers her body for 2 months, during which time her cats ate her face" to "awesome solo adventurer dies in her apartment and nobody discovers her body for 2 months, during which time her cats ate her face."
This stuff was all blossoming in my subconscious since I got back from Rome. When 30 approached, I wasn't as unnerved as I thought I'd be, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why I was suddenly okay with what had previously been a terrifying milestone.
Then I watched Late Spring last week.
I related to Noriko so much that her fate -- resigned to an arranged marriage -- was almost unbearable. I realized how incredibly happy I am with my life, how much I love being around my family (she lives with her father, I live with both parents and my younger brother) and how society often forces us into one-size-fits-all life events, even if it's not what we actually want. The main difference is that Noriko lived in 1949 Japan and I live in 2016 America. I don't have a pushy aunt trying to marry me off. I don't have friends pestering me about finally settling down. While it's still obviously common to couple off and start a family, it's not expected. It's not required. I have a choice. And as I watched Noriko being nudged into a future that she didn't desire, I suddenly realized how fortunate I am to be able to decide my own fate.
I may be interpreting this movie all wrong (although I'm of the belief that there's actually no wrong way to interpret a movie, we all should be able to get from movies whatever we personally need) but it seems to me like Noriko and her father both end up unhappy because of the way things "should be." When her father tells her that her mother wasn't happy, and he often found her crying on the kitchen floor, I imagined Noriko following in her footsteps, pushed into marriage and away from a life she loved. Most movies perpetuate the notion that "happily ever after" only happens after a trip down the aisle, but Late Spring tells a different tale, and it's one that resonated very strongly with me.
I'm dedicating all of my future single adventures to Noriko, a heroine ahead of her time, an independent spirit trapped in a traditional time, a glowing light snuffed out by societal conventions. She didn't get a happily ever after, but she helped me discover my own, and for that I'll always be grateful.