Where Spring Comes Late


Tribute to Baisho Chieko

Where Spring Comes Late 

家族 (Kazoku) 

Japan, 1970, 106’, Japanese
Directed by: Yamada Yoji 
Screenplay: Yamada Yoji, Miyazaki Akira 
Photography (color): Takaha Tetsuo
Editing: Ishii Iwao
Music: Sato Masaru 
Producers: Mishima Yoshiharu, Ozuno Tsuneo
Cast: Baisho Chieko, Igawa Hisashi, Ryu Chishu, Maeda Gin, Hana Hajime, Atsumi Kiyoshi, Morikawa Shin, Misaki Chieko, Hanazawa Tokue

Date of First Release in Territory: October 24th, 1970 


Released in 1970, Yamada Yoji’s Where Spring Comes Late features faces familiar to fans of his iconic Tora-san series, which started the year before, including Baisho Chieko, Ryu Chishu and even the Tora-san himself, Atsumi Kiyoshi. 
The film, though, has no narrative connection to the series. And in place of the series’ nostalgia for an older, simpler Japan (though it was ostensibly set in the present), Where Spring Comes Late spotlights the real problems of the country in 1970s, from the coal mine closings that threw thousands out of work to the rapid growth that brought environmental destruction in its wake.
But for all its documentary-style shots of empty coal cars and belching smokestacks, the film is less an exposé than another of Yamada’s many dramas with a family at its center. (In the Tora-san series the feckless hero has no family of his own but is forever returning to his aunt and uncle’s dango (dumpling) shop in Tokyo’s Shibamata district, where he reunites with his affectionate, worried half-sister Sakura, played in every episode by Baisho.)
The story follows a poor family from a Christian community on a small island near Kyushu as they travel the length of Japan to Hokkaido to seek a new life as dairy farmers. The excitable paterfamilias, Seiicihi (Igawa), came up with this plan after he lost his job at the local coal mine. His wife Tamiko (Baisho), who is caring for an infant and toddler, at first opposes the move, but at last gives in. Together with Seiichi’s elderly father Genzo (Ryu Chishu), they depart the island by ferry.
Thus begins an eventful journey punctuated by the family’s brushes with the new, ultra-modern Japan on its rocket-like ascent to economic superpower status, exemplified by the 1970 Japan World Exposition in Osaka and the Shinkansen, popularly known abroad as the Bullet Train. 
The film, however, is not a travelogue: The Expo, which the family only glimpses from the outside, is crowded and chaotic, while their arduous trip on packed long-distance trains takes them past a procession of industrial hellscapes. The Japan of temples and hot springs found in tourist brochures is nowhere to be seen.
More importantly for Seiichi and Tamiko, the trip is marred by discord and tragedy. Seiichi’s younger brother, who works at a steel mill in Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture, balks at Seiichi’s request to take in their father and Genzo is forced to continue traveling. 
Then, when they reach Tokyo, the baby falls ill and Seiichi begins a desperate nighttime search for a hospital that will treat her. This ordeal ends with a funeral and Tamiko’s collapse on the street in tears and grief. 
There is more yet to come after they arrive at their destination. The locals give them a warm welcome, but after a boisterous party, at which Genzo sings a coal-mining song, the old man dies in his sleep.
The film, however, ends on an upbeat note, with the birth of a calf and the stirring of new life in Tamiko, as spring finally arrives in the frigid north.  
Where Spring Comes Late won Best Picture, Best Actor (Igawa), Best Actress (Baisho) and Best Director and Best Screenplay (Yamada) at the Kinema Junpo awards, Japan’s most prestigious film honors. Abroad, however, it has been overshadowed by both the Tora-san series and Yamada’s later work, including his 2002 drama The Twilight Samurai, winner of the Audience Award at Udine FEFF. Now is the time for the rediscovery of this film, with its heart-rending, heart-warming human drama and its incisive indictment and celebration of contemporary Japan.  


BIO & FILMOGRAFIA: see Tora-san, Our Lovable Tramp

Mark Schilling
Film director:  YAMADA Yoji
Year: 1970
Running time: 106'
Country: Japan
27/04 - 06:30
Visionario, Via Asquini 33
27-04-2023 18:30 27-04-2023 20:16Europe/Rome Where Spring Comes Late Far East Film Festival Visionario, Via Asquini 33CEC Udine cec@cecudine.org