Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu and written by Ozu and Kogo Noda, Early Summer is the story about a woman who gets a visit from her uncle who thinks she should get married as her family tries to find a good prospect for her while she deals with issues in her own life. The film is an exploration into the changing ways in postwar Japan as well as the rise of women taking their own roles with their lives. Starring Setsuko Hara, Chishu Ryu, Chikage Awashima, and Kuniko Miyake. Early Summer is a glorious yet touching film from Yasujiro Ozu.
The film is about the life of a family living in suburban Tokyo where they all support each other when they get a visit from a relative. There, the man suggests that it’s time for his 28-year old niece Noriko (Setsuko Hara) to find herself a good husband as the family tries to find men who is worthy of her yet Noriko isn’t so sure about getting married. Even as she is a modern woman with friends who had gotten married but aren’t happy about it while times are also changing in Japan prompting the family to face reality of what is happening. It’s all set in a postwar Japan where the country is coming into its own again economically though the social traditions is still in tact. Yet, there’s this emerging sense of modernism that is prevalent where the ideas of tradition might fall by the wayside as Noriko is someone who represents this conflict as she wants to make her own decisions but doesn’t want to upset her parents and older brother Koichi (Chishu Ryu).
The film’s screenplay by Yasujiro Ozu and Kogo Noda take its time in the dynamic of this family where Noriko and her brother Koichi live in a home with their parents Shukichi and Shige (Ichiro Sugai and Chieko Higashiyama, respectively), Koichi’s wife Fumiko, and their sons Minoru (Zen Murase) and Isamu (Isao Shirosawa) as Noriko is a secretary and Koichi is a prominent physician. The visit from their uncle (Kokuten Kodo) who keeps asking about why Noriko isn’t married raises a lot of questions as Noriko is often asked by her boss Satake (Shuji Sano) about meeting a friend of his whom Koichi would see if he’s good enough for his sister. Yet, Noriko is confused as her friend Aya (Chikage Awashima) who is unmarried as she is also unsure if she wants to play into tradition. Then there’s Noriko and Koichi’s childhood friend Kenkichi Yabe (Hiroshi Nihonyanagi) who is a widower with a child as he lives with his mother (Haruko Sugimura) as he also helps out though he’s got moments in his life that is changing where it would also complicate things.
The script also revels in this world that is changing where Noriko’s parents are aware that having Noriko getting married would also cause a splinter in the family as they would live with Shukichi’s brother while Koichi and Fumiko would stay at the house with their kids. It would lead to this third act about the decision that Noriko would eventually make yet it becomes clear that it’s not going to be an easy one. Yet, her eventual decision doesn’t just play into this conflict about traditionalism and modernism but also about what Noriko wants in her life. Of course, the family’s reaction isn’t just mixed but also a bit shocking as they have no idea what to think but it’s also clear that there’s some things that traditionalism can’t deal with as times are changing.
Ozu’s direction is definitely wondrous in the way he captures the life of an ordinary family in Tokyo. Notably as it plays to that very evocative yet simplistic approach to the way he presents a scene. Much of it is shot in a single, static shot where the camera doesn’t move as it’s positioned in a wide or a medium shot to display what is going on in the scene. It all plays into this world that this family live in as there’s an intimacy that is prevalent throughout in some of light-hearted moments but also in some dramatic moments such as scene where Minoru and Isamo are upset that their father brought home a loaf of bread instead of the train tracks they wanted. Even in the way Ozu positions the camera for a dinner scene with Noriko, Aya, and their married friends is unique to showcase not just a sense of division that is emerging but the sense of the fact that times are changing.
Much of the way Ozu presents this conflict is told very subtly where he doesn’t do a lot of movements with the camera with the exception of a few dolly shots in a scene where Noriko’s parents are watching a play with Shukichi’s brother as well as a shot where Noriko and Fumiko are walking on the beach. Still, Ozu maintains something that is quite simple and poignant where he knows where to put the camera in a scene and to play out a certain reaction shot. Much of it has him not wanting to use a lot of close-ups by focusing more on a conversation scene as he knows where to put the actors into a frame. Especially for the film’s eventual scene where Noriko makes her decision as Ozu’s framing and the way he puts the actors into the frame becomes crucial for the film’s dramatic climax. Overall, Ozu crafts a very exhilarating yet engrossing film about a family dealing with changing times as well as dealing with a young woman’s future.
Cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography with the low-key look of the scenes at the beach and some of the daytime interior and exterior settings to the scenes set at night with lighting by Itsuo Takashita to help set the mood. Editor Yoshiyasu Hamamura does nice work with the editing where it‘s mostly straightforward to play out the drama and some of its humor while using fade-outs to help structure the film. Art director Tatsuo Hamada and set decorator Shotaro Hashimoto do amazing work with the set pieces such as the home the family lives in that is quite spacious but also quaint in its look.
Costume designer Taizo Saito does terrific work with the costumes as it‘s mostly straightforward with the exception of the robes that Noriko‘s parents wear. Sound recorder Yoshisaburo Seno does superb work with the sound to capture the intimacy of what goes on in the house as well as some of the scenes set in Tokyo and in the train stations. The film’s music by Senji Ito is just exquisite for its serene yet somber orchestral score to play into some of the drama without embellishing it as it is one of the film’s major highlights.
The film’s brilliant cast includes some notable small yet effective performances from Haruko Sugimura as Kenkichi’s mother who ponders about her son’s life as he is still a widower, Shuji Sano as Noriko’s boss Satake who suggests to Noriko about meeting a friend of his as a potential prospect, Kokuten Kodo as Shukichi’s brother who brings up the subject of marriage, and Chikage Awashima as Noriko’s friend Aya who ponders about the idea of marriage as she isn’t sure after learning from friends on the downside of it. Zen Maruse and Isao Shirosawa are terrific as Koichi and Fumiko’s young sons Minoru and Isamu, respectively, as they’re two boys obsessed with trains as they test the patience of their elders. Hiroshi Nihonyanagi is excellent as Koichi and Noriko’s childhood friend Kenkichi as a fellow doctor who helps the family with some problems while dealing with his own circumstances in his career.
Ichiro Sugai and Chieko Higashiyama are amazing as Noriko and Koichi’s parents in Shukichi and Shige, respectively, as they carry a sense of warmth and wisdom as two parents who want what’s best for Noriko while dealing with the fact that times are changing as it would play into Noriko’s eventual decision. Kuniko Miyake is wonderful as Koichi’s wife Fumiko as the observer of sorts in the family as she also voices her opinion on a few things while wondering the effect of Noriko’s eventual decision. Chishu Ryu is fantastic as Noriko’s older brother Koichi as a doctor who tries to see if the prospect that Satake suggests is any good while dealing with his own family as well as up holding a sense of tradition in that family. Finally, there’s Setsuko Hara in an incredible performance as Noriko as a 28-year old woman dealing with the ideas of old and new ideas as she is eager to make her own decision but wants to respect the wishes of her family as it’s a truly mesmerizing performance for the actress.
Early Summer is a majestic film from Yasujiro Ozu. Thanks to its cast and touching portrait of a family going through changing times while finding a prospective husband for their daughter. It’s a film that is truly engaging for the way it explores tradition clashing with modernism as well as the life of a family that is truly universal for an audience to relate to. In the end, Early Summer is a remarkable film from Yasujiro Ozu.
Yasujiro Ozu Films: (Sword of Penitence) - (Days of Youth) - Tokyo Chorus - I Was Born, But... - (Dragnet Girl) - (Passing Fancy) - (A Mother Should Be Loved) - A Story of Floating Weeds - (An Inn in Tokyo) - (The Only Son) - (What Did the Lady Forget?) - (Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family) - (There Was a Father) - Record of a Tenement Gentleman - (A Hen in the Wind) - Late Spring - (The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice) - Tokyo Story - Early Spring - Tokyo Twilight - (Equinox Flower) - Good Morning - Floating Weeds - Late Autumn - (The End of Summer) - (An Autumn Afternoon)
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