Bakushû [Early Summer]

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #240: Yasu­jiro Ozu’s Ear­ly Sum­mer.

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As con­tem­po­rary dra­mas go, Ozu’s Ear­ly Sum­mer man­ages to select issues that are both time­less and prac­ti­cal in the instant of their gen­e­sis. It is at once a sto­ry of post-war Japan and fam­i­ly cri­sis, and a chance to exam­ine both rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and res­ig­na­tion to the alter­ing sta­tus quo. [Can you tell I’m try­ing to sound as pompous as pos­si­ble?]

Ozu’s vision of post­war Japan is a good ful­crum for com­par­ing Japan­ese cin­e­ma that focus­es on the tra­di­tion­al lifestyle, and that which takes rapid­ly assim­i­lat­ed West­ern cul­ture as its focus. In this film, women in tra­di­tion­al garb vis­it mod­ern offices and sit in chairs and white-coat­ed doc­tors of inter­nal med­i­cine come home to paper walls and extend­ed fam­i­ly. Lanes are still made of dirt, but women ride the train into Tokyo to earn their pay­checks. It is the chang­ing role of women, and their imme­di­ate and con­fi­dent embrace of oppor­tu­ni­ty [at least in the film’s world] that ends up caus­ing the rel­a­tive­ly minor prob­lem that loose­ly serves as the plot.

Three gen­er­a­tions of the Mamiya fam­i­ly live in the same house, a not uncom­mon set-up in tra­di­tion­al Japan. Noriko, how­ev­er, is the untra­di­tion­al fam­i­ly mem­ber. At twen­ty-eight, she remains hap­pi­ly unmar­ried. Every­one, includ­ing her boss, wants to get her hitched. They focus on men who have good prospects, not wor­ry­ing about love in the slight­est. The match-mak­ing is meant to improve the family’s lot, any hap­pi­ness would be a mere byprod­uct. Noriko, main­ly through her silence, is polite but unwill­ing to com­mit to mar­ry­ing a man her boss has rec­om­mend­ed to her. Despite all of this, her fam­i­ly acts as if she is already as good as mar­ried, and there is a pal­pa­ble sense of relief. Then, Noriko choos­es to mar­ry a wid­ow­er with a child, a man who also has good prospects and is her child­hood friend. She doesn’t admit that she is in love, but she says she knows Yabe well enough that she can trust him all her life.

The fam­i­ly doesn’t like the fact that she made this choice with­out con­sult­ing them, nor do they like that Noriko will have to move to Aki­ta. Noriko’s par­ents had promised Uncle that they would move to Yam­a­to when Noriko mar­ried. Through her own deci­sion for mar­riage, some­thing all want­ed for her, she scat­ters the fam­i­ly. Yet despite all of this anger and poignan­cy, the love of the fam­i­ly sus­tains. The grand­fa­ther is resigned to the changes but thank­ful for the hap­pi­ness he’s had, Koichi is focused on his doc­tor­ly ambi­tions, and Noriko ful­ly embraces the new world that is open­ing for her. They all know the changes are inevitable.

I have to say that I real­ly like Ozu’s style. Appar­ent­ly he only used two height setups for his cam­era on a tri­pod, and cam­era move­ment is almost nonex­is­tent, and serves more as a end-of-scene flour­ish and segue than as any­thing else. Since he only uses two heights, the fram­ing of his shots is deter­mined only by the dis­tance he puts the cam­era from the action. Cuts in retain the same height but alter the frame sig­nif­i­cant­ly, nonethe­less. He also likes to hold shots after the scene is end­ed to allow a brief moment of palate cleans­ing before the next action begins. I’m quite inter­est­ed in watch­ing more by Ozu.

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Cri­te­ri­on Essay by David Bor­d­well
Jim Jar­musch on Ozu [from Art Forum mag­a­zine]
An Ozu fan page