Aki tachinu / The Approach of Autumn (1960)

3 08 2013

During the 1950s, there were very few directors more consistent than Mikio Naruse.  As he did for most of his career, his focus was on lower-middle class adults, particularly women. While the economic context of his characters shifted somewhat as his career progressed (not nearly as dramatically as Ozu’s, of course), the protagonists of his films have never been dramatically different. For this reason, it’s particularly interesting whenever Naruse’s films are centered around men (The Road I Travel With You from 1936 comes to mind) if only because of the inherent difference with the majority of his work. To mix things up further, The Approach of Autumn is strictly about children.


Young Hideyo moves from the country into Tokyo. Living with relatives that aren’t particularly invested in him or his interests, he struggles to fit in with his surroundings. With some bad luck, he becomes enemies with all the boys his age. He does however develop an interest in Junko. Despite being from a family with more financial stability, she faces the same problems as Hideyo. She wants her parents to adopt Hideyo, but societal pressures seem to turn them off from the idea of even having Hideyo spend time with Junko.


One obvious problem that the film runs into is the performances of the children, neither of which are particularly good. Naruse has a pretty good track record with young performers, but he has no luck here. In all likelihood, it’s a symptom of the story being built around them too much. They have to carry too much of the weight, and they struggle more so than any performer in a Naruse film. It’s here that one begins to take for granted the performers that populate most of the filmmaker’s world. They’re so effortlessly perfect that it takes a film where most of the interactions are so awkward and forced to remind you how crucial the performances are to Naruse’s best work.


There are a lot of nice things about this film, though. The black and white, scope cinematography looks nice, especially in the sequence where Junko and Hideyo walk around the neglected parts of the city. It seems Naruse might have been aware of the limits of these young performers, which motivated him to have a scene where they do little else but walk around. This is probably the “heart” of the film, if I had to choose such a thing. It’s visually stunning, and the performances manage to not really get in the way.


I struggle to tag this film as even being good, as I would have quickly forgotten it had Naruse’s name not been attached. It is still his film though (and interestingly, his first as a producer) and because of this it provides an interesting shift in perspective from the rest of his work. Here, it’s the child of a struggling mother that gets the most time and how this works into the collective Naruse landscape is genuinely interesting. Particularly, in the fact that this young boy becomes numb to the cruel behavior of men (well, boys) much like any Naruse woman. The themes of the filmmaker’s best work are still there, they just take a different route.