A group of middle aged friends gather at a local temple to pay tribute to their recently deceased friend Miwa, who has left behind a widow, Akiko (Setsuko Hara), and a daughter, Ayako (Yôko Tsukasa). After the service, the three friends sit with the two ladies and wonder what they will do next and when they leave, the men decide they must take action. They can't very well let their late friend's daughter remain unmarried, she's twenty-four after all, and so they begin to plan, all this being unknown to Ayako. For what Ayako wishes is not to marry, but to take care of her mother, and with her showing no interest in an upcoming wedding, this will make the three friends' schemes turn out to be harder to implement than they first anticipated... but things have a way of working themselves out.
That's not to say you'll get a happy ending, it's the usual Yasujrô Ozu dose of the bittersweet. Ozu scripted Late Autumn, or Akibiyori as it was known in Japan, with regular collaborator Kôgo Noda, and here, as with many of his other films, his accustomed preoccupations rise to the surface: themes of the modernisation of Japan, how the family copes with grown up children gaining their independence, and a certain sentimentality over daughters and giving them away to be married (whether they want to be or not, seems to be the unwitting implication).
The young women here are far more independent than their mothers ever were, with their own jobs and opinions they are quite happy to make plain. Although Ayako is quite content living with her mother, with trips together and nights out in restaurants providing something to look forward to, Akiko realises that she'll have to let her daughter go at some point, even if she doesn't accept it herself. This is where the three friends of her husband come into their own, and devise a way to get Ayako hitched; they know that while her mother has nobody to look after her she'll never leave, so how can they remedy that situation?
By getting Akiko hitched, of course. And it just so happens that one of the meddling friends is a widower of a few years and considering how they all go on about how attractive not only Ayako is but her mother as well, and they do go on, the widower will be delighted to step in and marry her. His son approves, so why not? Because Ayako thinks it's a terrible idea, that's why, leading to a muddle which her best friend Yukiko (Mariko Okada), who she subsequently falls out with, has to step in and sort out. If this sounds light hearted, then the undercurrent of approaching loneliness tends to do away with the laughs, with Ayako musing over losing her friends as they get married off, and Akiko facing a life alone if she doesn't take up the marriage offer. It's impeccably done, naturally, but so often with Ozu leaves a melancholy mood behind which you may or may not respond to. Music by Kojun Saitô.
[This film can be found on Region 2 DVD accompanied by An Autumn Afternoon as part of Tartan's Ozu Collection Volume 4 box set.]