Monday, December 16, 2013
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu and written by Ozu and Kogo Noda, Early Spring is the story of a married salary man who begins an extramarital affair with a co-worker to escape his monotonous life of marriage and work. The film is an exploration into the world of adultery as well as the trappings of marriage. Starring Ryo Ikebe, Keiko Kishi, and Chikage Awashima. Early Spring is a fascinating yet touching melodrama from Yasujiro Ozu.
The film is an exploration into the life of a married salary man who becomes bored by not just his life at work but also in his marriage which has lost its passion. Upon meeting a typist at the building he works at, the two begin an affair which they keep secret until gossiping among their co-workers and the suspicions of his wife begins to take its toll. It’s a film that explores not just a world that is changing but also attitudes where a man named Shoji Sugiyama (Ryo Ikebe) is a salary man who lives a pretty mundane life as his relationship with his wife Masako (Chikage Awashima) is still loving but seems to be lost as they’re still dealing with the death of their son several years ago. When Shoji chats with this young typist whom everyone call Goldfish (Keiko Kishi) during a hike with fellow co-workers. He finds someone he can talk to which leads to this affair.
The film’s screenplay explores not just the idea of extramarital affairs and marriage but also the world of being a salaried officer worker who does his job and gets paid. It plays into not just some of the constraints of postwar Japan where its economy starts to flourish but also the expectations that Shoji has to deal with. In his affair with Goldfish, he finds an escape in his work life and in his marriage yet he and Goldfish keep it a secret so that no one can gossip and such. Unfortunately, the gossip would emerge where Goldfish is confronted at a party while Masako keeps asking her husband why he’s been coming home late while he is also dealing with a friend (Junji Masuda) that is dying. The growing distance between Shoji and Masako becomes evident in the second act where Shoji comes home drunk with a couple of old friends who served the war with him as it would upset Masako. The third act would involve Masako knowing the truth but also the drawbacks of Shoji’s affair with Goldfish as it would affect his career and his life.
Yasujiro Ozu’s direction is mesmerizing not just in his simplicity but also in the way he captures a typical modern life in Japan where a lot of it is shot in Tokyo and suburbs nearby. While there are a few scenes and shots where Ozu moves the camera on a dolly shot such as the hike or a slow zoom at an office. Much of the direction has Ozu rely on his trademark, low-angle static shot where he would shoot much of the action that occurs throughout the film. Notably in the way he presents Tokyo and its nearby suburbs as this world that is becoming modern with relics of the past still around. Much of which has Ozu using a lot of wide and medium shots to present that world while maintaining an intimacy in the scenes between the actors where he would get them in one single short or a two-shot in a medium shot.
Much of the intimacy that Ozu creates play into the drama as he often has the camera right at the faces of the actors without the need of a close-up. It plays into a lot of the drama that occurs including the scenes where Shoji and Goldfish’s co-workers are eating in bars and such talking as Ozu has everyone in that room in the frame. Most notably the scene where Goldfish is being questioned by Shoji’s co-workers about their relationship where Ozu just has the camera be in place to see how Goldfish would react. Things become much wider in its scope in its full-frame presentation in the film’s third act to play into not just the decisions that Shoji has made but also the future that he will face as it’s one that he would have to deal with. Overall, Ozu creates a very rich yet compelling film about a man’s journey into adultery and its impact.
Cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to capture the look of Tokyo in its emerging, modern setting as well as its use of lights for some of the scenes at the bar and at the home of Shoji and Masako. Editor Yoshiyasu Hamamura does nice work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward while emphasizing on a few rhythmic cuts for its dramatic moments. Art director Tatsuo Hamada and set decorator Kintaro Yamamoto do amazing work with the set pieces such as the home of Shoji and Masako as well as the place where Shoji and Goldfish work at.
Costume designer Yuji Nagashima does terrific work with the clothes where it is a mixture of traditional Japanese robes and casual clothes to play into the world of postwar Japan. The sound work of Yoshisaburo Senoo is superb for the natural approach to sound that is played throughout the film. The film’s music by Kojun Saito is just brilliant for its serene yet somber string-based score to play into some of the film’s melodrama with its emphasis on traditional Japanese string music as well as other pieces that is played in the background.
The film’s incredible cast includes some notable small performances from Haruko Sugimara as Masako’s mother, So Yamamura and Teiji Takahashi as a couple of Shoji’s co-workers, Junji Masuda as Shoji’s dying friend Miura, and Chishu Ryu as a widower that Shoji befriends who would later have Shoji face some truths about himself. Keiko Kishi is wonderful as the young typist Goldfish who has an exuberance that Shoji is attracted by as she is willing to keep their affair a secret until gossip starts to emerge. Ryo Ikebe is excellent as Shoji Sugiyama as this man feeling repressed by his environment at home and at work where he would engage into an affair only to question the decisions he’s made. Finally, there’s Chikage Awashima in a fantastic performance as Shoji’s wife Masako as this woman who is this representation of tradition as opposed to Goldfish’s more modern persona as a woman who becomes annoyed by her husband’s lateness and neglectfulness while dealing with some of the cracks that are emerging in her marriage.
Early Spring is a remarkable film from Yasujiro Ozu. Thanks to its cast and its sensitive approach to the themes of adultery and social oppression. It’s a film that is among one of Ozu’s quintessential films as well as the way he can create something so simply in a story that has huge questions about postwar Japan as it emerges into the modern world. In the end, Early Spring is a phenomenal 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 - Early Summer - (The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice) - Tokyo Story - Tokyo Twilight - (Equinox Flower) - Good Morning - Floating Weeds - Late Autumn - (The End of Summer) - (An Autumn Afternoon)
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