chapter  5
12 Pages

The Riddle of the Vase: Ozu Yasujiro¯’s Late Spring (1949)

ByABÉ MARK NORNES

During the 1990s, a re-evaluation of Ozu Yasujiro¯ in Japan stimulated a publishing spree that resulted in a veritable stack of books about the director. Among the most curious of these efforts was a biography of the director which was serialized in Big Spirits Comics Special between 1998 and 1999 and entitled Ozu Yasujiro¯ no nazo [The Riddle of Ozu Yasujiro] (Sonomura and Nakamura 1999). The opening installment of the manga shows an American director named Stan on a visit to Japan. The first request he makes of his young handlers is a pilgrimage to Ozu’s grave in Kamakura, the setting of Late Spring (Banshun, 1949). At the graveyard he finds a modest, black gravestone carved with a single Chinese character: mu. ‘What does it mean?’ he asks. ‘It means “Nothing” ’, his young escorts translate. The director responds, ‘Nothing . . . Why . . . WHY? This giant of world cinema, why “Nothing?” ’ He is rendered speechless, and the remaining 12 installments follow the foreign director as he attempts to uncover the meaning hidden in this obscure message from the dead.